Help

Alpaca nutrition and feeds

Alpacas have three stomachs and digest forage using a rumen and microbes, much the same as ruminants such as sheep and cattle. Despite this similarity they are not true ruminants but rather are pseudo-ruminants and belong to the Camelid family. However, as they contain a rumen many of the same principles applied to feeding ruminants can also be applied to feeding alpacas. This includes a requirement for fibre to maintain proper functioning of the rumen.

A healthy population of microbes in the rumen ensures that high levels of 'volatile fatty acids' are produced which is very important as it is the energy source for the alpaca. The microbes themselves are also a source of protein for the alpaca. A 'healthy' rumen also ensures that the microbes in the rumen also produce high levels of B vitamins of which vitamin B1 or Thiamine is one of these. A lack of thiamine causes Polioencephalomalacia (PEM), so making sure that the rumen is functioning properly is a good place to start in preventing PEM.

Pasture

As pasture represents the main proportion of the feed for the alpaca it is important to know what the pasture's fi bre, energy, protein and vitamin/mineral levels are. Pasture tests can be carried out to get an idea of the nutritional value. If the pasture does not meet the requirements of the alpaca, then extra feed in the form of pelleted feed is required to maintain the level of production. The level of feed needed will depend on the physiological status of the alpaca (e.g pregnant, lactating, and growing).

Wethers and non-breeding females

Maintenance requirements for empty, non-breeding adult alpacas are quite low (around 10.5MJ ME/day - 10.5MJ ME/day and 9-10% protein depending on body weight). Providing there is sufficient pasture of high enough quality to ensure good dry matter intakes, there should be no need to supplement with pellets. If pasture quality is low then alpacas can be fed with up to 150g/head/day, but care needs to be taken so alpacas do not become overweight.

Pregnancy and lactation

The best outcome from an alpaca pregnancy is a healthy, vigorous cria with no health complications of the dam during birth, and successful cycling and rebreeding within 30 days. As with other ruminants, the colostrum quality and quantity, milk yield, cria viability and fertility of the dam is linked to nutrition during pregnancy. In the case of alpacas the wool fibre quality (in terms the ratios of primary and secondary follicles) is also determined in these last four weeks of pregnancy.

Therefore it is important that the pregnant alpaca receives the correct level of energy and protein in relation to its requirements as well as supplementation with minerals and fat soluble vitamins (A, D and E). In the last trimester of pregnancy the energy requirements of the dam increases to approximately 1.5 times the maintenance energy requirement (to around 15-16MJ ME/day depending on body weight). The issue is at the end of the pregnancy the foetus competes with gut space so the alpaca cannot physically eat enough unless it is high quality pasture.

During lactation the requirements increase up to two times maintenance energy (to around 21MJ ME/day depending on body weight). At this stage feed up to 1kg/animal/day of alpaca pellets or up to 2kg/animal/day of lactating mix depending on pasture availability, quality and alpaca weight. As the lactating alpaca mix is a higher fibre lucerne hay mix it can be substituted for pasture if required. Like any other animal, alpacas need to be gradually introduced to the new feed over 7 to 10 days to reduce the risk of digestive upsets and make sure the rumen adapts to digesting the feed.

Growing cria and juveniles

Growing animals require a high quality diet that is high in energy and protein to maximise growth and weight gain. Reliance Alpaca pellets contain protein for muscle growth as well as added vitamin and minerals such as vitamin D, calcium and phosphorus to aid bone development and density, biotin to help with lameness and added vitamin B1 (Thiamine) which has been implicated in Polioencep halomalacia (PEM). Suboptimal nutrition of weaners will lead to low weight gains and delayed onset of puberty. Weaners can be fed around 50-75g/head/day depending on body weight for increased growth rates.

It is important when feeding pasture and/or supplementary feed that body condition scoring is carried out to monitor the feeding practices and ensure that alpacas are not overweight or underweight as both can aff ect fertility and milk production. If you have any concerns around which alpaca feed to use and how much to feed then please contact Farmlands by emailing nutrition@farmlands.co.nz Regardless whether the alpaca is growing, pregnant, lactating or empty, it is important that good quality, clean water is available at all times. Like all other animals, if alpacas cannot drink then feed intake decreases.