We wean the Cria at 6 months of age. We take care in recording all weight gains from our Cria and continue monitoring these from weaning onwards, until they are about a year old.
In most cases the Cria will weigh between 35 – 45 kg at weaning, however occasionally Cria as young as 4 months of age are weaned and this is usually based on the Dam’s body condition being low or if the Cria is very large. Suris generally tend to milk incredibly well and grow strong healthy Cria.
Four days prior to weaning the Cria will be weighed, microchipped, and wormed. Weaning is a stressful time for all Cria; we do these treatments prior to weaning so as not to stress them more than we have to. They go back with their Dams for four days and it also means that if they have any worms they drop them before they move to clean pasture after weaning.
On the day of weaning the Cria are taken from their Dams and put on clean pasture away from their dams. The Cria will come up to you when you go into their field for about a week asking to be taken back to their Mums. They settle very quickly.
During the first part of weaning, getting the feeding and nutrition right is very important. Usually, by the time the Cria are ready for weaning they are nibbling on the Camelibra and any other feed that their dams might be getting. This helps them take to their feed once weaned. Not all alpacas will eat the feed but as long as they are gaining weight and growing well that is what is important.
Depending on how well they grow we feed the sugarbeet for 2 months and the fibregest for about 3 months. However, some groups will continue on the fibregest all winter. They are also given Vitamin AD& E paste every six weeks starting in mid October until March.
Once the females have been weaned a minimum of 6 weeks they can go back in with the older females. After the females are a year old we think about the possibility of mating them.
We do not generally put young males in with working stud males until they are around 2 and are starting to work. Most stud males would try and dominate younger males until they are working. The problem is if a male is dominated at too young an age you can break his personality and presence. He can become submissive and possibly not start working until much later in life. So it is important not to put too young a male in with older boys if it can be prevented
A commonly-quoted stocking rate for alpacas is 4 – 6 per acre. This is fine, provided that the animals can be regularly moved to fresh pasture. So, even if you are just keeping 2 alpacas on half an acre, that paddock will need to be divided, and grazed just half at a time.
Alpacas need pasture all year round; but at any time, if the grass is too long, the arrangement of their teeth makes it difficult for them to eat it.
Plan the siting of water, feed troughs and shelter; these should ideally be on different sides of each paddock, encouraging the animals to move around and achieve optimum grazing.
Alpacas will not normally eat poisonous plants. However, please bear in mind that standing Ragwort is unpalatable, but becomes dangerous if made into hay, as it then becomes palatable while still remains poisonous. So it should be cleared from pastures using heavy duty rubber gloves, as it affects the liver when in direct contact with skin.
Most alpacas in the UK are sheared during May and June. Long before shearing day arrives you need to book your shearer.
Don’t waste your alpaca fibre! To make sure it’s all usable, clean your paddocks, and your alpacas will stay clean. Then their fleeces will be in optimum condition ready for shearing day. Clean fleeces are much easier to sell. Dirty fleeces are often not worth processing. Fine fleeces will pick up every piece of debris in the field – look around your herd – the finest fleece will be the one with the most debris clinging to it! Even dense fleeces, if they are very fine, will pick up debris. So it’s worth doing all you can to minimise the amount of debris in the field and shelter areas. It’s a nightmare trying to pick out wire, holly leaves, brambles, conkers, sticky buds, sweet chestnuts and beech mast, straw and grass seeds after shearing – much better to make sure they don’t get there in the first place. Inspect your paddock thoroughly, and remove any old wire and any other rubbish that may be lying around. Inspect the paddock margins. Remove protruding brambles, thistles, cleavers, and any other weeds which produce burrs, or look as if they might stick to or get embedded in alpaca fleece. Check and clear again as the season advances, as weeds can grow very fast! Try and avoid having your alpacas in the same field as Horse Chestnut when the leaves are opening – they will collect all the resulting sticky buds in their coats! Clear all the Beech mast, Conkers and Sweet Chestnut cases each autumn as they appear, along with any hedge clippings (hawthorn and blackthorn especially).
In shelters or barns, wood shavings should be avoided. Rubber matting is excellent. Old carpets work well, and alpacas will quite happily learn to sit on these, and do their toilet on a straw pile; yes, it works – I’ve seen it! If using straw bedding, try and source long stemmed barley straw, as this does not seem to penetrate into the fleece. Bedding should be dry – ammonia in the urine can ruin the fleece if the alpaca has to sit on wet bedding. Deep litter works well; the daily removal of most of the faeces, and addition of fresh straw keeps the top of the bed dry and clean.
About 1-3 weeks before shearing, even if you normally house your alpacas overnight on straw, keep them outside at this time. Also, make sure the alpacas are on clean pasture, and most of the dirt and debris will drop out before shearing time. Do not top their pasture prior to shearing. The toppings will find their way into the fleece!
Prepare your shearing area – ideally a concrete area which can be pressure sprayed to clean it. Alpacas are ‘stretched out’ using soft ropes attached from the front and rear legs to attachment points, and gently lowered to clean rubber cattle mats on the ground. This means they cannot move while they are being sheared, which is much safer for them. It’s also very quick – normally only about 4 minutes per alpaca. We take the opportunity to trim toenails and do any necessary vaccinations at the same time. The legs and belly are sheared first, then the neck, then the highest quality ‘blanket’ area. The tail is trimmed to allow some coverage to remain over the bare perineal area to prevent sunburn. The various qualities are separately weighed and recorded. The shearing mat is swept between each shearing, and we shear by colour, starting each day with the white alpacas, to avoid colour contamination in our precious fleece.
Fleeces must be completely dry before bagging to avoid them rotting in the bags. We use clear polythene sacks, with each sack clearly labelled (marker pen) with the colour and grade (micron). If using old paper feed sacks make sure they are clean and empty of feed, and turn inside out. All clean fleece that comes off alpacas is usable for producing end product.
DON’T GROOM YOUR ALPACAS!!!!
Alpaca fleece can absorb huge amounts of moisture, which makes them almost impossible to shear. But then it’s also almost impossible to dry. We try and make sure that our alpacas are at least almost dry when we start to shear. We have found that suri fleeces are dryer in the morning than huacaya fleeces, and so we normally start with suris. Any fleeces that are still damp are laid out on clean tarpaulins surrounded by electric fans, and turned as necessary. We usually manage to get most of the damp fleeces dry during the day. Any still not ready for bagging will be left out with fans on them overnight, then bagged the following day.
It is important to have a supply of fresh water available for your alpacas.
Fencing and Paddocks
Sheep fencing or close railing is adequate for alpacas. Have sufficient paddocks so that you can rotate the usage of them, to minimise pest build-up, and therefore minimise risk of disease. Check paddocks before putting alpacas in them, and remove any dangerous objects and poisonous plants such as ragwort. Fence off any poisonous hedging, such as laurel or privet.
Firstly, make sure your alpacas have a supply of clean water.
Alpacas should have an area of grazing, preferably arranged in at least 2 paddocks, so that the paddocks can be rotated and rested for at least 6 weeks. Ensure that the paddocks are free of noxious weeds such as ragwort. It is advisable to offer ad lib. hay, even in Summer.
In winter make sure that your alpacas have access to good quality hay or haylage, and give them a daily mineral supplement such as ‘Camelibra’. Always condition score and weigh if possible every month to be sure your feeding regime is working. Pregnant females should be gaining weight. Keep records of all condition scoring and weighing.
If alpacas start to lose condition, we feed Alpha-Beet, which is high in protein, in addition to the hay or haylage and Camelibra. Alpha-Beet can be fed twice daily, depending on the alpaca’s need or situation. When changing feeding regimes, make it a gradual change over several days.
Suggested clostridial vaccinations are: Lambivac, Covexin 10, Heptavac-P Plus (includes Pasteurella), Ovivac or Ovivac-P . Your vet will advise on which of these is the best to use in your area, although they are not licenced for use with alpacas in the U.K. Heptavac gives protection against Lamb Dysentery, Struck, Pulpy Kidney, Braxy, Blackleg, Tetanus and Black Disease. Dose a cria at 2-3 days with Lamibvac, then again 2 – 3 weeks later, then give annual boosters of any of the other vaccines, as advised by your vet., starting at 6 months of age. Do not dose within 1 month before birthing; ideally dose females when they are ‘open’. Adult Alpacas need an annual booster to protect them against clostridial diseases.
Use a white drench wormer such as Panacur, at 4x the sheep dose rate. It is paramount to use this dose in alpacas, as otherwise the worms will simply develop resistance in your herd to the wormer, making it useless to you. It is a good idea to rotate worming products to avoid resistance building up. Talk to your vet and they should advise you!
Keep a regular watch on toe nails, which should be trimmed when necessary, so that they do not protrude beyond the end of the toe, with the foot lying comfortably flat, not twisted. It can be done easily with lamb foot-rot shears. Clear the dirt out so that you can see where the toe flesh is, then trim carefully, as sometimes the toe grows down the nail.
In adult males of about 4 years old the fighting teeth need to be trimmed back level with the gums to prevent the males doing damage to each other when sorting out the pecking order within the group.
How do you recognise when an alpaca is sick? Try and get to know your healthy alpaca by looking carefully at him at least once every day – that is the best way to be able to recognise when something is not right. An alpaca which looks under the weather is probably ill, as an alpaca tends only to look sick when it is really in need of help, so if in doubt, call your vet for advice.
Once a month it is a good idea to feel a position about 8 inches along the spine from the neck, to see if your alpaca is in good condition. If the spine feels sharp, then the alpaca is underweight; the reason could be long teeth in need of trimming, or worming may be necessary; or perhaps just an extra ration of food may bring him back up to par. You may need to feed thin alpacas apart from the others. On the other hand, if you can’t feel the spine then the alpaca is overweight, and you will probably need to reduce his feed.