Basics of alpaca keeping

Page last updated: Thursday, 13 January 2022 - 6:27pm

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Many Western Australians are drawn to the alpaca's versatility and the low impact they have on the natural environment.

Alpacas can be used as guard animals and can produce fleece and meat but before bringing alpacas onto your property there are a number of considerations.

Reasons for keeping alpacas

Alpacas as a guard animal

Alpacas are often used as herd guards and are very effective against foxes which might attack lambs or sheep that are down. However be aware that they are in just as much danger from wild dogs as sheep.

As a business

It has been estimated that alpacas are 30% more efficient grazers than sheep.

Income from alpacas is generated from selling animals or their fleece. Many breeders value-add and sell finished products made from their own fleece.

The Australian Alpaca Association (AAA) assists with a centralised collection service for Australian Alpaca Fleece Ltd who ship fleeces directly to Peru for grading and processing into garments.

These are then returned to Australia for sale to the retail industry. The finest fleeces attract the higher value.

Work is underway to develop an alpaca meat industry. Alpaca meat is high in protein and low in fat. Alpaca meat products are already for sale from some businesses in eastern Australia.

Paddock essentials

Alpacas require similar fencing to sheep, preferably without barbed wire and shade in each paddock.

It is important to have a suitable yard or catch pen for welfare checks, to administer injections or to catch animals for shearing.

Fenced laneways between paddocks will help facilitate the movement of animals with minimum stress for animal and owner.

When breeding alpacas landholders need to have quarantine and nursery paddocks.

Nursery paddocks should be situated in a sheltered location, preferably near the house. This will facilitate the monitoring of females as they go into labour.

The quarantine paddock should be either on the boundary of the property or near key animal handling facilities. It should also have wash down facilities.

New or sick animals should be held in the quarantine paddock until they improve or have been vet checked and have excreted any weed seeds they may have brought from their place of origin.

Feed and water

How many alpacas a property can support will depend on what sort of pasture and how much pasture your land is capable of producing. Alpacas will eat about 2% of their body weight in feed per day.

Alpacas should be pasture fed at all times. They do well on native pastures, however alpacas can be supplemented with good quality hay and/or various grains.

Like other livestock, alpacas can also be affected by perennial ryegrass toxicity, annual ryegrass toxicity (ARGT) or phalaris toxicity.

Check with your vet for information on all diseases, the likelihood of occurrence and testing opportunities.

Alpacas need to have access to fresh water at all times. Each animal may drink as much as 4L/day.