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How To Care For Your Alpaca
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How To Care For Your Alpaca

Critter Culture Staff

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Alpacas are hardy pack animals native to the high altitudes of the Peruvian Andes. They've been living and working with humans for thousands of years—indigenous Andeans used them for packing, wool, and food long before the Inca civilization arrived. Now kept both as working animals and as pets, alpacas are loyal and intelligent and surprisingly easy to care for. It only takes some basic knowledge and the right environment for alpacas to thrive as pets. Learning about their needs is the first step to becoming a successful alpaca owner.

1

Determine the breed you want to buy

There are two predominant alpaca breeds in the Americas: Huacaya and Suri.

The Huacaya is the most common breed of domestic alpaca and accounts for about 90% of the species. These alpacas have soft, fluffy fleece and are raised primarily for their wool. When you think of alpacas, this is probably the breed you picture.

The Suri is much less common than the Huacaya, accounting for only about 10% of the species. They have long, shiny fleece that makes exceptionally soft fabrics. Suri wool is generally considered the highest-quality alpaca wool on the market.

Alpacas Standing In A Field Thiemi Higashi / EyeEm/ Getty Images

2

Create a safe and secure enclosure

Alpacas are mild-mannered and are generally content to stay within a fenced area. They don't need much space—you can keep three or four alpacas on one acre of land. However, you need to account for predators such as coyotes, cougars, and aggressive dogs. If you live in an area where these predatory animals are common, erect a fence at least six feet tall.

Alpacas in a farm of New Zealand. gracethang/ Getty Images

3

Provide your alpaca with a healthy diet

Alpacas are relatively easy to feed. During the spring and summer months, they can graze without much fuss. However, it's essential not to put them out to graze with sheep or goats on a regular basis. Both of these animals can sheer grasses to stubble, leaving the less-competitive alpaca with too little to eat.

During the fall and winter months, you can feed your alpaca a basic diet of grass hay. Just be sure to avoid alfalfa, which is too rich in protein for alpacas. Pregnant and nursing animals might need special supplements—your vet can tell you when and how to supplement your alpaca's diet.

Cute toddler girl, two little school kids boys and young mother feeding lama and alpaca on a kids farm. Three children petting animals in the zoo. Woman with sons, daughter together on family weekend. romrodinka/ Getty Images

4

Get familiar with grooming guidelines

Alpacas have been specially bred to produce wool. In fact, you might be shocked by how thick your alpaca's wool gets. Animals who aren't sheared annually are more likely to develop parasites and skin diseases than their properly groomed peers. Their coats can even become so thick that they can barely move.

You can avoid these issues and ensure your alpaca doesn't overheat in the summer by having your pet sheared at the end of every winter. If you don't want to hire a groomer, invest in good shears and do the job yourself. Your alpaca's hooves also need to be trimmed every three to four months.

Woman Reaching Out to Pet an Alpaca JeffGoulden/ Getty Images

5

Be prepared to do basic training

Alpacas are both intelligent and easy to train, and taking the time with your new pet is worth the effort. Use a harness with a lead rope to walk your alpaca when it's young. Regular walks will help you bond with your new pet while teaching basic obedience.

It's also important to train your alpaca to travel without fuss. You want your pet to feel calm and secure if it needs to be transported to the vet or taken to a show. Be gentle. Try gently ushering your pet into the back of a truck or SUV and encouraging them to lie down.

Young woman walking with an Alpaca on a lead Edwin Remsberg/ Getty Images

6

Teach your alpaca a few tricks

Once you have basic training down, you can teach your pet some tricks. Many alpaca owners set up an obstacle course for their animals, and you can even take them to compete at alpaca shows. Of course, teaching your alpaca how to negotiate obstacles is more than just fun. It's also a great way to prepare your pet for emergencies.

Young farm owner with little daughter leads alpacas through field on her farm . Tatsiana Volkava/ Getty Images

7

Make sure you can provide appropriate shelter

Alpacas don't demand much, but they'll need at least a three-sided structure to hide from the elements. If you live in an extremely cold or hot area, a barn that offers full shelter may be a better choice. However, you should never force your alpaca into its shelter. Some animals enjoy being out in the elements.

Cute alpacas and lamas at animal farm MelanieMaya/ Getty Images

8

House your alpacas with the right animals

Alpacas are friendly, sociable animals that can be housed with llamas, sheep, and goats. However, while they can shelter in the same barn, they should not be fed together. Other animals can be more competitive, and your alpaca may be deprived of adequate nutrition.

White Alpaca with offspring, South American mammal fotorince/ Getty Images

9

Know how to protect them from predators

Alpacas will spit if they are threatened, but they are not aggressive animals. If you live in an area with predators, it's essential to erect a tall fence and use motion lights to discourage predators from attacking.

Group of alpacas grazing in the mountains. Wirestock/ Getty Images

10

Take your alpaca for regular veterinary visits

Like any other pet, your alpaca should visit the vet annually. Your alpaca needs a full physical checkup and up-to-date vaccinations to stay healthy. Choose a veterinarian who specializes in livestock animals to care for your pet.

Young woman feeding and cuddling her alpacas Carlo107/ Getty Images

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