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What do alpacas eat?

Pasture grass and hay is the primary diet, representing 80% of what the animals eat. Pasture grass and hay with about 12% protein is ideal. The feeding program at Able Oaks Ranch is based on body scoring and monthly weigh-ins to determine if an animal is gaining and/or maintaining weight appropropriately.

The Camelid Digestive System

Camelids (alpacas and llamas) have three stomachs. The first stomach is primarily a big fermentation vat that breaks down the cellulose in the hay and grass that the alpacas eat. The second and third stomachs extract the nutritional components. This type of digestive system is very efficient, enabling alpacas and llamas to get every last bit of nutrition from what they eat. So to keep your alpacas and llamas healthy, you must keep their first stomach working in a good, steady working state. If an animal gets sick, weak from parasites, or ingests the wrong feed, then the digestive process in the first stomack will be disrupted.

Pasture Grass and Hay

Eighty percent(80%)of the alpaca and llama diet should be quality pasture grass and/or hay. There are situations where pasture grass is not available, for example in winter. Your pasture grass or hay should have about twelve percent (12%) protein. You can contact your county agriculture extension office for information on how and where to test your pasture grass. A grass or hay analysis will cost about $15 to $20. If you are buying hay, get "horse quality" hay. You'll need about one square, 70 lb bale per animal per week, plus another ten percent (10%) contingency. For example, if you need to buy hay to 6 adult alpacas for 16 weeks, you would buy (6*16) = 96 plus 0.10 * 96 = 9.6, or 106 bales.

For more information about estimating hay needs, see Estimating Hay Needs.
For more information about establishing and maintaining good grass pastures, see Pastures and Hay.

Do not buy moldy hay because it is unhealthy and lost much of its nutritional value. Do not let the hay deliverer unload any hay from his truck until you have smelled several 8 to 10 random bales. It should have a sweet, grassy smell. If it smells moldy, it is moldy. So don't buy bad grass. If you have a small herd do not buy the large 1000 lb bales because they will get moldy on the outside. Buy the small square bales.

Regular Meal Schedule

Alpacas and llamas like to have a regular time to eat their supplemental pellets. They really look forward and enjoy their pellets. It's a big event in their day! It doesn't matter what time of the day you feed the supplemental pellets, provided that you offer the pellets at a regular time each day. This helps to keep their first stomach in good working order.

My regular schedule is to feed early in the morning. The boys get about 1/3 lb of pellets sprinkled with about 1 tablespoon of minerals offered in individual food pan for each alpaca. The girls get a mixture of 2/3 pellets 1/3 alfalfa sprinkled with minerals, again offered in indivual pans. I also provide a few extra food pans for the inevitable "musical food bowls" dance each morning. That way, if a submissive animal gets intimidated off her bowl, another bowl is available.

The alpaca stomach generates a lot of heat. So you can change the feeding schedule to best suit the season. For example, if you live in a very hot summer climate, you might feed them in the evening, rather than the day, to avoid generating unnecessary body heat during the hot part of the afternoon.

Supplemental Pellets

Many alpaca owners are feeding far too many supplemental pellets. Their alpacas and llamas are too fat. There is a relationship between how much an alpaca eats and the production of fine or coarse fiber. Overfeeding alpacas and produces coarse fiber! While you don't want to starve the animals to produce fine fiber, the goal is to feed then efficiently.

There are different brands of quality alpaca pellets, which usually come in 40 to 50 lb. bags. A pellet with about fifteen percent (15%) protein is recommended. Each bag has an end label that gives the various nutritional values, amount of pellets for males, non-pregnant females, pregnant and lactating females, and crias (babies). Typically, pregnant and lactating females should get 1 lb of pellets per day. Males and non-pregnant females should get 1/2 lb a day, and crias should get 1/4 to 1/3 lb of pellets per day. If you have either fat or underweight animals, you'll need to feed them in a separate catch pen to better control the amount of pellets they eat.

In winter, when no pasture grass is available and the alpacas are eating hay, I increase the amount of daily pellets by about fifteen percent. In Summer in my area (East Texas), I cut way back on daily pellets because the animals have access to an abundance of pasture grass. (I usually get three hay cuttings a year.) Moreover it is so hot in the Summer that the animals don't stand in the hot sun to eat. Rather they sit before fans all day. So they are not moving very much, and consequently not burning as many calories. So they need less food in Summer.

Alfalfa

I like to mix shredded alfalfa with my pellets for certain animals, at certain times of the year. However, you want to be careful with overfeeding alfalfa. Too much alfalfa interferes with the balance of available calcium and potassium in an animal's system. I typically feed 5 parts pellets to 1 part alfalfa for my pregnant females. Males only get alfalfa in the winter. Alfalfa has about 15% protein. From a business perspective, alfalfa helps extend the dollars that I spend on supplemental feed.

Other Supplements

Other food supplements include minerals, probiotics, electrolytes, and "treats." Alpacas and llamas need selenium and other trace minerals that are not available in some North American soils. Minerals come in the form of loose granules and as compressed blocks. I have found that mineral blocks are significantly less expensive than loose granules, yet contain the same trace minerals. When you buy mineral block, do not buy salt blocks. You probably will not find mineral blocks that are made specifically for alpacas and llamas. So buy either the equine or goat mineral blocks.

Electrolytes help keep the alpacas and llamas hydrated--very important in Summer. I put electrolytes in the animals' water bowls in Summer and when I take them to a show. Electrolytes reduce stress.

Probiotics are another important food supplement. Probiotics have micro-organisms that help the alpaca's first stomach break down the tough cellulose in hay and grass. There are two categories of probiotics: those based on lacto-bacillus, and those that are primarily brewers yeast. Both are excellent. If you see that an alpaca has diarrhea, probiotics help get its digestive system back to normal. You can sprinkle probiotics over the daily pellets for several days. I always offer probiotics to my alpacas and llamas after administering oral worming medication.

Food Treats

The favorite food treat for alpacas is more pellets! However if you want to offer something special that they will eat from your hand, offer raisins, cut up apples and pears, dandylions, crisp lettuce, etc.

This page was last updated on June 9, 2009.

 

Able Oaks Ranch 6167 FM1857 S. Rusk TX 75785 | 903-530-1009