Alpacas are amazing animals that can capture your heart in an instant, so it’s no wonder that many people are interested in getting some alpacas to care for on their own property. Alpacas are relatively easy to care for, and they are a very eco-friendly type of livestock to welcome onto your farm or homestead. Alpacas are fun-loving, playful creatures that truly are a joy to watch as they interact with one another and display their own unique personalities. But before acquiring some alpacas of your own, it’s important to understand their needs, both physical and psychological, so you can give them the best life possible.
One fact about alpacas that many new caretakers often miss is that they are herd animals by nature and need to be kept in groups of their own kind.
How many alpacas should you start off with?
As herd animals, alpacas must be kept in groups of three or more in order to fulfill their social needs. Alpacas need direct social interaction with their own kind, so if you intend to have both female and intact male alpacas, you should have a minimum of three of each gender so that every animal can have the proper social environment.
Even though alpacas are relatively easy to care for, they are quite complex animals that can be strongly impacted by prolonged stress and other emotional factors. So it’s important to make sure that every alpaca in your care has the proper social setting: within a herd.
The amount of land you have available for your herd is another factor that will impact the number of alpacas you can have on your farm. It’s suggested that the maximum herd size is five alpacas per acre for novice caretakers. This acreage/alpaca density will allow space for split pastures so you can rotate your alpaca’s grazing pastures and have enough space for a dry lot.
Many experienced alpaca farms have systems that allow for a higher density per acre, but it’s best to have a high level of understanding of what is required before implementing a higher acreage/alpaca density on your farm.
Alpacas are not meant to be alone
As mentioned above, alpacas are herd animals that require a specific social setting among their own kind in order to thrive. Many people around the world have fallen in love with alpacas, and too many have rushed into acquiring one without realizing that they should not be kept alone without other alpacas. It’s important to understand that alpacas are not pets. Well, at least not in the traditional sense. Sure, you can still love them the same as any pet; you can take them for walks, and you can interact and bond with them, but the social interaction they get with humans or even other kinds of non-alpaca livestock will never be a sufficient replacement for the interaction they need with their own kind.
The majority of alpaca farms that sell animals will not sell less than three alpacas unless they know for sure they are going to a home with an established herd. This is done out of care for the alpacas, as these breeders understand that alpacas need to exist in a proper herd dynamic in order to thrive. Even if you come across a rescue situation or a seller that is willing to sell just one alpaca, please do your part in caring for these precious creatures and make sure that they will have the proper alpaca companions as soon as possible after taking them in.
The alpaca herd social dynamic
Alpacas have a strongly engrained herd instinct within their nature. And they are actually very social animals within their own herd. Alpacas have long existed in a hierarchical herd social structure, and by nature, they have the need to continue in it. This means that every alpaca herd, or even each separated group within a herd, will usually have a clear leader.
Within each group of male alpacas, there is often a challenge between the most dominant animals for who the leader will be. Everything falls into line behind whoever establishes himself as the leader. Even in groups of females, a matriarchal leader will arise.
If alpacas are separated into groups smaller than three, the inability to exist within this natural herd dynamic will cause stunted mental stimulation and, subsequently, poor overall health – even if the average person doesn’t notice the physical signs.
Understanding the needs of your alpacas
Before you dive into getting alpacas, make sure to do your due diligence and research so you can effectively understand and provide the needs that alpacas have. You want to be ready and capable of considering the needs of each animal under your care and providing them with the appropriate assistance.
Alpacas are amazing creatures, and they deserve the best care we can give them. Caretaking for a herd of alpacas is a great responsibility, but it doesn’t have to be intimidating — and it’s not all that difficult either! Once you take the time to properly understand what alpacas need to thrive, and prepare yourself for providing those needs, you will be ready to invite these wonderful animals onto your farm and will be equipped to help them flourish in their new home.
When can an alpaca be kept alone?
There are a few situations that may call for the need to quarantine or isolate an alpaca on your farm. For example, if an alpaca in your herd develops a skin condition or disease that is easily spreadable, you may have to quarantine them until the issue is resolved.
Another common situation is when a juvenile male alpaca is too old to be penned with its mother and other females but is still too small to be kept with the bigger males. He may be mature enough to risk impregnating the females but still too small to hold his own in fights and quarrels with the full-grown males.
If there are health concerns or there are no appropriate pen-mates to keep one of your alpacas with, it could be necessary to keep them alone for a short time. No circumstances that call for alpaca isolation or quarantine should be permanent, though. The focus should be to get the animal back with the herd as soon as possible.
Alpacas will typically live for about 15-25 years if cared for properly. But herds can lose animals before these ages for several unforeseen reasons. If you find yourself in a situation where a loss on your farm brings your herd down to less than three in any group, please don’t let the remaining animals live out their lives alone. Do your part to either rehome your remaining alpacas or replenish your herd numbers to at least three so that your alpacas can have the social lifestyle they need.
What makes alpacas a good choice for small hobby farms?
Alpacas are a popular choice of livestock for hobby farms because they are quite easy to care for when compared to many other large animals – much of the daily care that is required revolves around providing them with proper hydration and nutrition.
Some of the regular care required includes:
Good pasture to graze on
Clean and fresh water
A healthy and balanced diet
Trimming their nails and teeth
Monthly and yearly shots and vaccinations (such as CDT and Ivermectin)
Helpful tip: Many professional alpaca shearers provide teeth and nail trimming services as an extra while on-site for a shearing job, which means that the routine responsibilities you're left with can be easily manageable.
But before you jump right into getting alpacas of your own, it’s essential to educate yourself on their exact needs and to consider a few things. Foremost, that alpacas are herd animals and need to always be kept in groups of their own kind
Can alpacas live with other kinds of animals?
Alpacas can live and get along with a variety of livestock and other animals, but first, you should consider a few important things and ask yourself these questions:
Are there any parasites or spreadable illnesses that are common among the animals you want to mix with your alpacas?
Are there any dangers of fighting or risk of harm being caused from one to the other?
Will there be unnecessary stress caused to the alpacas by the other animals?
It’s important to note that sheep, goats, and other livestock are not an adequate substitute for alpaca companion herd size.
Alpacas are like potato chips; you can’t have just one. In fact, you should almost always have at least three alpacas grouped together! But even if you start with just three, you’ll likely be wanting more sooner than later. Alpacas are such quirky and fun animals, and it’s a joy to care for them. So what are you waiting for? Are you ready to add alpacas to your farm? Get some fencing and shelter up, do your research, find a knowledgeable alpaca mentor, and get ready to begin your journey with alpacas!