By Nic Cooper, Southern Alpacas Stud
The topic of
alpaca nutrition is a long and involved one ranging from water intake, through
requirements in crude protein, fiber, energy, trace minerals and vitamins.
And many of
these vary with the location of the farm, the type of feed, the fertilisers
used, and the state (age, working male, pregnancy etc) of the alpaca.
Alpacas we have developed a “nutrition bible” that drives farm and alpaca
management. We concentrate on ensuring the alpaca requirements are met as much
as possible from the soil and grasses of the farm. We may supplement orally
(through feed) at times. We try to avoid supplementation through injection or
specific oral supplement.
aspect is the linkage between nutrition and the pregnant alpaca.
pregnant easier on a rising plane of nutrition.
For many alpacas, getting pregnant is also when they are feeding a young cria.
Hence their nutritional requirements are crucial in this period.
We move dams to
their birthing area 5-6 weeks before they are due to birth, and update their 5
in 1 and ADE inoculations. We ensure the birthing paddock has plenty of good
quality grass and we sow a higher nutritional level of grasses in the birthing
When in the
birthing area we supplementary feed lucerne chaff, which meets the alpaca dam's intake for crude protein, energy, fibre
and tdn (total digestible nutrient).
aspect of the female alpaca during pregnancy is critical to the health and
longer term production capability of the cria.
normally require an 8% crude protein diet,
which they more than achieve from proper NZ grasses without supplementation.
changes when the dam gets to the latter stages of pregnancy, and also in the
first weeks of lactation. At that time a crude protein intake of 12% - 15% is
required. This requires the best paddocks, and/or supplementation.
management point of view, late gestation (when the cria is maximising growth and
developing its secondary fibre follicles) and the first 4 weeks of lactation
(when the dam reaches peak lactation) are critical.
Fed properly at
this period you achieve:
better secondary to primary follicle growth ratio – something that will effect
the fibre production of the cria throughout its life.
healthier birthed cria.
cria that grows well in early weeks (which affects later growth, and potential
dam on a rising plane of nutrition for her next mating.
downside may be a larger cria for smaller maiden alpacas – and some birthing
assistance required, although we have found that alpaca dams tend to birth early
if the cria is “ready” early
usually more of a problem in NZ than thin ones. If you regularly body score
your alpacas (see body scoring article) you will identify those that are
naturally thin, or obese. Like humans the natural state can vary by alpaca.
recognise a thin alpaca – or one clearly losing weight – segregation in a
smaller herd unit of similar alpacas, and high crude protein (lactating mix)
supplementation soon reverses the decline. If it does not, look for other
Fat alpacas are
generally harder to get pregnant and suffer more birthing difficulties. And
getting an alpaca to lose weight is almost impossible! It involves a prolonged
regime of controlled feed intake, and increased exercise.
particularly around birthing time,
susceptible to fatty liver disease. This is a mobilisation of fatty reserves
that then “clog” in the liver. It is a killer within days. Unfortunately
symptoms can be confused with birthing signs or complications. Watch for
alpacas off their feed (even favourite treats), sitting a lot, and generally
uncomfortable and shedding weight rapidly. Then call your vet.
90% of the time
alpacas will just graze in the paddock without supplementation, will birth
healthy cria, and will get pregnant easily. This is particularly so on a
We have found
that concentrating on getting nutrition right at the right times has improved
our birthing success rates, and lowered our vet bills.