When you’re first looking at buying alpacas, there are lots of things you’ll want to consider, however one of the big ones is cost! If you’re looking to keep alpacas as pets and nothing more, the costs and returns on alpaca breeding and fleece products probably aren’t too much of a concern! However, many alpaca… Read more »
Alpacas are wonderful creatures with so much personality and a very naturally friendly nature, which is just one of the reasons they are so popular! Compared to other types of livestock, including sheep, cows and horses, they are also very low maintenance, and don’t need any expensive feed or housing to be perfectly happy! Alpacas are at their best on a diet of mostly grass and hay, and are happy to be left to graze in a spacious field with the rest of their herd.
Alpacas are a member of the camelid family, which means they are closely related to camels, vicunas, guanacos, and of course, llamas. Alpacas, like llamas, originate from South America, and are descended from the wild vicuna, which is actually a protected species in South America today. Llamas on the other hand, are descended from the wild guanaco, which is very common on the continent. Many alpacas today are reared on the plains of the Andes, in Peru, a few thousand feet above sea level, where they have adapted very well to the high altitude and variable conditions of the area.
Back here in the UK, this makes alpacas very hardy animals, and they don’t mind staying outside in cold and wet conditions, or in hot conditions in the summer! Most of the time, as long as they have ample food, shelter and shade in their habitats, alpacas are happy to look after themselves and their herd. In general, there isn’t much the UK can throw at your herd that the Andes wouldn’t! However, we can never really predict the great British weather, and as alpaca owners and lovers, we want to be sure of their safety and comfort year round, so there are a few things you should know about looking after your alpacas when conditions are more extreme than usual.
Alpaca Care in Cold Weather
In the UK we’re lucky to have relatively mild winters (though it doesn’t always feel like it!), which means that most of the time, your alpacas will be perfectly happy to stay outside throughout the winter months.
When it gets particularly cold outside, you should make sure that your alpacas have enough space in the shelter – while they’ll naturally group together in the cold, if there isn’t enough space for all of your animals, some may get left outside by the rest of the herd. You should also make sure that they have additional straw and bedding to help preserve heat, and change their water more often when the temperatures drop below zero, just to make sure it isn’t frozen and your animals can easily drink as normal. Finally, giving your alpacas a little extra food will help them to stay warm and healthy, particularly if there is snow covering the grass in their field.
While you might think that shearing your alpacas is only really relevant in the summer months, it is very important to make sure you shear early enough in the year, which allows your herd’s fleece to grow back in time for winter. If you leave shearing too late in the year, it can be difficult for animals with slower-growing coats to stay warm enough in the winter months.
Alpacas need some form of shelter throughout the year – a 3-sided field shelter, barn or repurposed stables are all fine for this! If you’re using a field shelter, make sure the open side faces away from the prevailing winds, and the shelter should be positioned at the highest point of the field, in case of heavy rain. If the alpaca’s field becomes severely waterlogged, moving the animals to higher ground if possible will help them continue to graze as normal. In general, even in bad weather, letting your alpacas out in the day is better for them than staying cooped up inside!
Alpaca Care in Hot Weather
As you can easily see, alpacas have a lovely thick, soft coat which helps to keep them warm in the winter months. Of course, in summer, this means it can be hard for them to keep themselves cool enough! As alpacas are completely domesticated and don’t actually exist in the wild, they’ve never needed to develop a mechanism to shed their fleece like some animals can do. This means that as an alpaca owner, it’s your responsibility to make sure that your animals are sheared at the right time to keep them safe and healthy. Shearing your alpacas in the spring will help to make sure that they don’t overheat in the hotter months.
While it’s not that common in the UK, extended hot periods can be difficult for alpacas. You should make sure that there is plenty of ventilation in their shelter, to allow air to pass through and keep your alpacas cool. Alpacas also need to be able to access some natural shade, which allows them to cool themselves down in hot weather. Trees and hedgerows in and around your field are perfect for this!
As we’ve mentioned, alpacas are pretty hardy animals and are happy to look after themselves most of the time, which is one of the reasons they’re so popular! To find out more about how to care for your herd, or to expand it, please feel free to get in touch with our team who will be happy to help wherever we can!