Whether you pay thousands of dollars for your alpacas or acquire them free of charge they do require appropriate management and care. Therefore it is the responsibility of all alpaca owners to learn about the appropriate care and management of alpacas. Ignorance is not an excuse when it comes to neglect, especially when there are numerous websites and forums devoted to the management and care of alpacas.
I am pretty appalled at the number of alpacas being used as herd guards that are now being neglected and this appears to coincide with the lower value of the alpacas. Farmers are well aware that sheep need to be vaccinated, drenched and shorn, but seem to think that it is ok to leave alpacas for 3 years or more without shearing, vaccinating and worming. Apart from the health risks that it poses to the sheep they are supposed to be protecting, it is basic neglect.
We are seeing more farmers who have either been given alpacas as guards or have acquired them as a result of property sales, in many cases these farmers are not checking to see if they have entire males and females running together. Leaving males entire poses risks not only to sheep but can result in unwanted baby alpacas (cria).
Reputable alpaca owners would not sell entire males as guards as they can potentially kill ewes, however not all alpacas are being sourced from reputable sellers, so it the responsibility of the new owner to check that they are not buying or acquiring a potential problem.
There is only one way to check to confirm the sex of an alpaca and that is to check under the tail, this also applies to determining if a male has been castrated. Using bands to castrate alpacas is not effective and should not be used, surgical removal of the testicles is the only way to ensure castration. Depending on the age of the male being castrated it may be necessary to ensure that the male does not go in with sheep for a number of months as the urge to mount the ewes will remain until the testosterone levels drop.
Annual shearing is also a must, leaving alpacas for 3 years or more between shearing is not only cruel but it makes the job of shearing both time consuming and sometimes dangerous if wire and other rubbish are in the fleece. We are all aware that it is sometimes difficult to locate a shearer to shear alpacas, but the Australian Alpaca Association has a list of shearers on their website and most alpaca breeders are more than willing to assist farmers and pet owners that need to have alpacas shorn.
As the price for alpacas has decreased we have seen a growth in demand for young alpacas as pets, although most reputable sellers will explain the risk of not owning more than one alpaca, some buyers are ignoring advice and raising alpacas as domestic pets. This can lead to potential behavioral disorders as the animal matures, which can be quite dangerous to humans. It appears that some of these animals are being offloaded as herd guards when they mature, because the behaviour once considered cute when the animals were young, has become threatening. If alpacas have behavioural issues they will not make good guards, they have not developed a proper herd relationship and will always see humans as their herd, which means effectively that they will treat humans as they would treat other alpacas. In a normal herd situation alpacas will fight each other to establish their hierarchy in the herd, if the only herd that they know is human then this behaviour is transferred to humans. A fully grown male can weigh up to 90kg so in the event of an attack it is very likely that the alpaca will cause significant damage to a human.
I know that for some of the people that read this post it will fall on deaf ears, and that you will still go out a buy a baby alpaca as a pet, but be aware that if the alpaca matures and develops behavioural issues, the only likely resolution is to put the animal down, and that you, as the owner are responsible for that situation occurring.
Alpacas also have very specific vitamin requirements, failure to provide necessary supplements can result in severe illness and possibly death. Most of the information that you require to care for your alpacas can be obtained from the Australian Alpaca Association website, alpaca breeders are committed to ensuring the health and well being of alpacas and they always available to answer questions and assist alpaca owners. You can also find a number of fact sheets by clicking here .
Please take your responsibilities as an alpaca owner seriously and ensure that you access the appropriate resources before acquiring your alpacas. If you don’t think that you can provide the appropriate care please don’t buy or take an alpaca.