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What Do Alpacas Eat?
Eighty percent (80%) of the alpaca and llama diet should be good quality pasture grass and/or hay. Alpaca and llama diets vary in different regions in North America, depending on pasture grasses, available supplements and breeder preferences. The remaining twenty percent (20%) of the diet should be supplement pellets, minerals and probiotics.
The Camelid Stomach
Alpacas and llamas have three stomachs. The first stomach is a big “fermentation vat” for all the hay and grass they eat. The second and third stomachs extract the nutritional components from their food intake. So to keep your alpacas and llamas healthy, you need to keep the first stomach, the fermentation tank, in good, stable, working condition.
Pasture Grass and Hay
Your pasture grass or hay should be about twelve percent (12%) protein. You can contact your county agricultural extension office for information on how and where to test your pasture grass. Typically a grass or hay analysis will cost around $15 to $20 US. If you are buying hay, get “horse grade” hay. You will need about one 70 lb. square bale per animal per week, plus another ten percent (10%) hay just in case. For example, if some females come to your ranch to breed. If you need to feed hay to 6 adult alpacas for 16 weeks, you would buy (6*16) = 96 plus 0.10 * 96 = 9.6, or 106 bales.
The hay you buy must not be moldy. do no let the hay delivery guy unload any hay from his truck until you do a “smell test” on several bales. It should have a sweet grass smell. If it smells musty, it’s musty. So don’t buy bad weed.
Regular Meal Schedule
It doesn’t matter what time of day you feed your alpacas supplement pellets, as long as you feed them at a regular time each day. This helps keep their first stomach in good working order.
An alpaca’s stomach generates a lot of heat. So you can change the feeding schedule to be best timed with the season of the year. For example, if you live in a very hot summer climate, you could eat them in the evening, instead of during the day, to avoid generating unnecessary body heat during the hot part of the afternoon.
Feeding Supplemental Pellets
Many alpaca owners eat way too many supplemental pellets. Theirs is a relationship between how much alpacas eat and the production of fine or coarse fiber. Overfeeding alpacas and produces coarse fiber! While we don’t want to starve our animals to produce good fiber, the goal is to feed then efficiently.
There are different brands of quality alpaca pellets that usually come in 40 to 50 lb. bags. A pellet with about fifteen percent (15%) protein is recommended. Each bag has a final label that gives the nutritional values, amount of pellets for males, non-pregnant females, pregnant and lactating females, and crias (babies). Typically, pregnant and lactating females should receive 1 lb. of pellets a day. Males and non-pregnant females should receive 1/2 lb. per day, and chicks should receive 1/4 to 1/3 lb. of pellets a day.
In winter, when no pasture grass is available and the alpacas eat hay, I increase the amount of daily pellets by about fifteen percent. In the summer in my area (East Texas), I cut in daily pellets because the animals have access to an abundance of pasture grass. In addition, it is so hot that the animals do not go in the hot sun to eat. Rather they sit in front of fans all day. So they don’t move much, and therefore don’t burn as many calories. They need less food in Summer.
I also mix alfalfa with my pellets for certain animals, at certain times. However, you want to be careful with overfeeding alfalfa. Too much alfalfa disrupts the balance of available calcium and potassium in an animal’s system. I usually feed 5 parts pellets to 1 part alfalfa for my pregnant females. Males get alfalfa only in winter.
Other nutritional supplements include minerals and probiotics. Alpacas and llamas need selenium and other minerals that are not available in some North American soils. Minerals come in the form of loose granules and as compressed blocks. I have found that mineral blocks are significantly less expensive than loose granules. When buying a mineral block, do no buy salt blocks. You probably won’t find mineral blocks that are made specifically for alpacas and llamas. So buy either the horse or goat mineral blocks.
Probiotics are another important dietary supplement. Probiotics have microorganisms that help the alpaca’s first stomach break down the tough cellulose in hay and grass. There are two categories of probiotics: those based on lactobacillus, and those based on brewers years. Both are excellent. If you see that an alpaca has diarrhea, probiotics help to normalize its digestive system. You can sprinkle about one teaspoon of probiotics over the daily pellets for several days. I always offer probiotics to my alpacas and llamas after administering an oral deworming medication.
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