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Pasture Grass Seed

Pasture grass seed, such as orchard grass, bermuda grass, and timothy grass, are typically what we plant. Pasture grass should make up about 80% of the camelid diet. So it's important to select pasture grass seed that will grow well in your climate. Then maintain your pasture grasses with the proper nutrition and soil addtitives. The ideal pasture grass and hay provides 10-13% protein, 55-63% TDN, and has a balanced calcium and phosphorus of 2:1. Potassium should be 1.75% or less. A good pasture can support 8 to 10 male alpacas or mini-llamas, or 6 to 8 producing female alpacas or mini-llamas per acre.

To select the best forage pasture grass for your area, you should first consult with your County Agriculture Extension Agent to select the best grasses for your area.

Feeding Your Pasture Grass

Like all living organisms, pasture grass needs nourishment and water. Primary grass nutrients are nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, calcium, and magnesium. Trace nutrients, such as copper, iron, selenium, and others are also necessary for good grass. Grass gets all its nutrients from the soil. Your County Extension Agent can help you with obtaining soil, hay, water, and pasture analysis. He can also advise you about local soil conditions, toxic plants in your area, types of grasses that thrive in your area, fertilizer, and water conditions. Once you know what additives are needed, you local feed and seed dealer can help you to purchase the required fertilizers. Lime is usually spread in the Fall or Winter, and fertilizers are usually spread in the Spring.

Most grasses prefer soil that has a neutral PH level. PH refers to the soil's acidity or alkalinity on a scale of 0 to 14, with 7 being neutral. Numbers below 7 are acidic, and number above 7 are akalinic. Acidic soils are conducive to weed invasion. So raising your soil's PH level to 7 or 8 will also help retard weed growth. Spreading lime in your pastures will raise the soil's PH level.

Pasture Rotation

Pasture rotation is vital to good herd management and farm efficiency. By fencing your acreage into several pastures, you create a farm system where animals will not over graze and destroy the life grass life cycle. Over grazing occurs when a plant is bitten twice before it has had time to regain its energy store that was lost from the first bite. Camelids are stupid. They first will eat the plants that taste best. Then before their favorite plants have had a chance to restore its energy source, they bite them again. The plants that get eaten last are the ones that taste less good -- usually noxious weeds! By leaving the weeds to last, weeds have the opportunity to form seeds heads, which will engender even more weeds.

Rotation provides pasture grasses to rest and to replenish their energy store. Rotation also aids in parasite control. In a well-developed pasture, you can graze plants that are 6 inches tall. In a newly seeded field, you can graze when the grass is 8 or 9 inches tall. Rotate your camelids to a new pasture when the grass has been grazed down to 3 inches.

How Many Paddocks Do You Need?

At a minimum, you'll need separate pastures for the males and females. But as your herd grows, you'll also need a paddock for weanlings, a paddock for junior herdsires, and a small paddock for dams that are near time for birthing.

Types of Grass

The following list describes the characteristics of various grasses that are well suited to the East Texas climate.

  • Orchard Grass is an excellent forage and hay grass, and there are 50+ varieties of orchard grass seed in the U.S. That means there are several varieties that will be well-suited for your area. Orchard grass is very palatable to camelids. It needs to be reseeded every 4 or 5 years, and it does not tolerate close cutting or grazing. Seeding rate is about 10 to 15 lbs per acre to a depth of ¼ to ½ inch.
  • Bermuda Grass is a warm season perennial that is well-suited to the Southern U.S. It is very heat and drought tolerant. Over-mature bermuda makes low-quality hay, having only about 5-7% protein. Bermuda grass is best planted as sprigs of 40-50 bushels to the acre.
  • Bahia Grass is an import from South America, and once started, can easily take over your pastures. It is drought, heat, and insect resistant. It is also quite palatable to camelids, but has only about 9% protein.
  • Annual Rye Grass is planted around Oct 15 as a winter forage that is highly nutritious. It has high nutritive value and tolerates close grazing. My alpacas love their annual rye.

    Note: Never plant perennial rye grass! Perennial rye grass may contain endophytes that may affect the camelid nervous system with "rye staggers" and seizures.
  • Alfalfa is a legume that is high in protein (17-22%) and calcium. Camelids love alfalfa, but over-eating can cause obesity. The calcium to phosphorus ratio in alfalfa can be 6:1, as opposed to the ideal of 1.5:1. This high calcium content may cause crooked legs in crias, and it also ties up zinc, which may cause skin problems.

    Alfalfa can be 8-10% of the camelid diet. I prefer to purchase finely shredded alfalfa, and mix it 50-50 with my camelid pellets. So each camelid gets approximately 2-3 cups of shredded alfalfa per day.

Cutting and Storing Hay

Hay production machinery is very expensive. Rather than tie up your money in this equipment, it's best to hire a rancher to cut and bale your hay. If you have enough acreage, you can make a trade deal that gives him all your excess hay in exchange for cutting and baling. Always use the small square bales, not the big round bales. The small square bales weigh about 70 lbs. The big round bales weigh about 700 lbs and require special equipment to move them. Leave the big round bales to the cattle ranchers.

When pasture grass is plentiful, alpacas and mini-llamas will eat about one flake of hay per day. There are about 7 or 8 flakes per square bale, so that is just about 1 square bale per animal per week. In the winter, your camelids will eat 3 or 4 times that much, especially if you have not planted a winter forage. So calculate your winter hay requirements and add an extra 10% as contingency.

You'll need to store your hay in a storage facility (hay barn) to keep it dry and out of the rain. Well-stored hay can be used for 25 or more years. But moldy hay is useless and should be destroyed.

You'll also want to periodically check stored hay to ensure that it is not smoldering. Hay that is baled too early, before it is properly field dried, has too much moisture that over heats and may cause combustion.

This page was last updated on June 10, 2009.

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