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 Herd Management
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Alpacas have only been in the U.S. since the 1980s. We are always improving on our ways of doing things and always have our eyes and ears open to new recommendations from fellow breeders and researchers. You will be given lots of information and recommendations as you meet fellow breeders in the industry. You will have to decide for yourself what your herd management plan will consist of. As you find what works successfully for you, please share what you learn with fellow breeders. The information we are giving is what we are doing on our farm. Again, this is merely a recommendation from us and by no means implies it is the only way of doing things. You will hear lots of different opinions, especially on worming. This is what we do here at Strawberry Fields.

  • Give lots of attention to your animals. Halter train them. This will make your maintenance a lot easier on you. Animals that receive your attention and have your hands on them routinely, will learn to be trusting of you. This makes shots and shearing and toenail trimming much less stressful for you and your alpaca.

  • Water. Make sure your animals always have clean, fresh, cool water to drink. Keep buckets filled and clean routinely. Make sure buckets are accessible to smaller animals. In the winter, you will have to dump the ice buildup and replenish often or use coil heaters. We use automatic heated waterers. Initially, there is some setup that involves running electrical and plumbing. However, I can honestly say that it is well worth it. Not only for your own convenience, but for the health and safety of your animals. They always have a supply available, so you do not ever have to worry about them going dry or the water freezing. When you weigh the costs, place value on your time, your back, the cost of an animal dying from heat stress and dehydration should for some unfortunate reason, you are unavailable to check their water or buckets get turned over.

  • Hay. Orchard Grass hay. We have it available at all times. If the pasture gets heat stressed, we put it out in the pasture. I don’t like barn potatoes, so it at least gives them incentive to take a walk out in the pasture. They will pick through to the tastier parts. In the winter, let the remnants lay. It makes for warm bedding. Ask around and find you a supplier with good quality hay. Do not give pure alfalfa or you will have problems such as bloating. I found that it has been unreliable when suppliers say “it’s only a percentage of alfalfa-say 10%”. Some people will tell you what you want to hear to move their product. I do treat moms occasionally with a little alfalfa. They like the taste and I hear for nursing moms that the extra protein is ok. However, I regulate their consumption. I purchase pure bales of alfalfa and only take a small amount and blend it with the orchard grass. Ideally, your pasture should be orchard grass. Inevitably weed seeds comes. Pastures may have to be reworked occasionally. If you are new to farming, enlist in the help of a local farmer. Feedings and grazing is all about balance and what your pasture, hay and feed has to offer. This will vary farm to farm. I know farms that have super rich pasture and regulate how much time their animals can spend grazing. Other farms, such as ours, leave it open all day. Monitor your animals. Weigh them routinely. Check their body score. Check their dung piles for abnormalities. Watch your animals and if they seem to be uncomfortable or having difficulties with bowel movements.

  • Feed. We lean in favor of a local blend. It has cracked corn and molasses. Price your feed carefully or set up a coop with another ranch or two and compare different vendors. I’ve found it vary by as much as $4.00 per bag. This is a significant difference when you have several animals. Again, you will hear different opinions on this. Keep in mind the quality of your pasture and your hay. Monitor your animals by checking weights and body scores. Adjust your feeding appropriately. We give feed twice per day at the same time. This is a good routine to get your alpacas into. They come running! It’s also a good way to know you can easily corral them if you need to. We give small and large animals at least 3 cups per day and in the winter when the pasture is sparse, 4. Bred females get 4. In addition we add mineral supplements at the evening feeding. 1 Tablespoon sprinkled on feed. People call this “free choice”. I don’t because that’s not an option when you put it on the feed. Though it tends to sift to the bottom of the feed bin-then it becomes “free choice”. I put it on the feed to ensure they get some regardless. Then it’s up to them. The bins are always empty and they all are very healthy. Our feed has mineral supplements. Mineral supplements are recommended if you live in a selenium deficient area. Selenium deficiency can cause health problems and physical abnormalities.

  • Bedding and housing. NO WOOD CHIPS! This gets tangled in the fleece and you will never get it out-ruining your fiber! We use crushed rock 1/4 to 1/2 down. You can get this in bulk rather inexpensively from any rock quarry. The trucking is the bulk of the expense. If you have your own dump truck, all the better. It’s easy to handle, easy to rake; it allows urine to filter down away from the animals. It packs for a nice level surface. It’s easy on the alpacas padded feet. In the summer, we wet ours downs. This makes for a cool resting place for the alpacas. Our animals spend 98% of their time in the pasture. With our climate, it is seldom necessary to put them inside the barn. In the winter we have made sure our shelters are on high ground to give them a dry place. Our barn is used mainly for new moms and their cria or medical maintenance, shearing. As well, we have it organized as an efficient and clean work area for ourselves where we store medicines, feed, and equipment. We spend a good part of the spring in the barn on “baby watch”, so we took it a step further and put in a cot and a television, a water fountain, a frig and a table. We have concrete floor in some areas in our barn. This is ok since our animals do not spend a majority of their time in their. It helps keep their toe nails trim. It can be difficult on their legs if they spend too much time on the concrete. We do not have concrete in any of our stalls. We can sterilize the concrete floors so it makes for a nice medical maintenance area. We ask everyone to wash their hands and dip their feet in an enviro cleanser to reduce the risk of outside contamination to the ranch. We keep the hay in a separate hay storage building. One because of my own allergies, but also for a safety factor.  As well, all fuel is stored in a separate fuel building away from the barn and animals and hay. We have a loafing sheds in each pasture. This gives the animals out front protection from the weather and keeps their feed and hay dry. For breeders just starting out, this works fine for small herds. You do not have to go into a huge expense for an elaborate barn.

  • Transportation. There will be times that you may need to transport your animals. For medical emergencies or for breeding or for sales. We purchased a utility trailer. It’s great for up to 8 alpacas. We have made modifications so the alpacas have adequate air flow. Alpacas will cush down when you move them in a vehicle. We love our trailer. It was not a huge expense. It is easy to handle. It pulls easily behind the pickup truck. For long distances especially in hot weather, we enlist the services of transporters with air conditioned trailers. It’s well worth it. To transport across the country coast to coast they charge about $500.00 per animal. Always transport alpacas in a minimum of two. They can become stressed by themselves. A gelding makes for a good transport buddy.

  • Vaccinations. Your vet will have to do some of the vaccinations such as the rabies injections. Alpacas need a rabies vaccination once per year. Rabies has been more prevalent in our area this year. Check with your locality on the threat in your area. Minimize the risk-VACCINATE! As well, meningeal worms are a big threat to alpacas-especially in areas with large populations of deer. Alpacas need to be vaccinated about monthly for worms. The vaccines need to be alternated so that the worms do not build up resistance. Again, this is an area where you will be given lots of different theories and recommendations. We alternate between Ivomec and Dectomax and Panacur. We do Panacur each quarter. Keep your eyes and ears open for any new products. There is a generic for Ivomec that is much less expensive. Some breeders say “no shots while pregnant” or “no shots in first or third trimesters”. Well, we keep alpaca females pregnant most of the time; therefore they would not receive protection as needed most of the time. We decided the protection of the mother and decreasing the risk of worms spreading was our first concern. So we stay away from shots in the breeding month and in the delivery month. The rest of the year, the bred females receive their shots as the rest of the herd does. We order worming meds from .Make sure you use Luer –lock syringes. The animals may jump and you do not want a loose needle stuck in your animal. BE SAFE. Pay a little more and have piece of mind and safety for yourself and your animal. Invest in a sharps container for used syringes. Use 6ml (ml is the same as cc) disposable syringes. We order syringes from . C, D, and Tetanus vaccines need to be given to cria at 30 days and 90 days and then yearly. This is a combination shot. Your vet can give them, but if you are doing your own worming, you can do these too. Have your vet show you how the first time or two. You’ll then find you are able to do this yourself and save yourself some money.

  • Shearing. We have certified shearers on our ranch It is vital to MAKE SURE YOU SHEAR YOUR ALPACAS BEFORE THE HEAT COMES! Alpaca fleece warm. Imagine having a 5” wool coat on someone turns the heat up! Heat stress will kill or sterilize your alpaca QUICKLY! As an owner be responsible. Neglect is abuse so please do not put off or neglect shearing. PLAN for shearing. Shearers get booked early. Make sure you have a spot on their calendar or if you are skillful, learn to shear yourself. If you really want to have some fun with your alpacas, on hot days, get out the water hose and hose their bellies. They’ll do a little dance for you and if they are especially grateful, you will even get a kiss! Again, SPEND TIME WITH YOUR HERD. Every alpaca has its own personality. Watch them and learn their mannerisms. You’ll get to know them well and then be able to recognize their unique needs or abnormalities. This allows you to manage situations early and then you can protect the health of you herd. These animals communicate very well to you. Learn their language and you will find yourself humming back in no time.

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