Whether you are buying an alpaca as a pet or a guard there are a number of facts that you must be aware of;
- Alpacas are herd animals and as such need to grow up in the herd environment to develop normal alpaca behaviour. By removing young alpacas from the herd situation you run the risk of the alpaca developing behavioural problems, when they mature, which can be quite harmful to humans. In order to avoid these issues you must be aware of and understand what is normal behaviour for alpacas. For example mating behaviour may be misinterpreted as an alpaca being overtly friendly, when in fact they are just feeling sexually excited. You don’t really want the be the subject of a male alpacas sexual attention.
- Alpacas do have very specific vitamin and mineral needs that may not apply to other forms of livestock. A deficiency in these vitamins, minerals and trace elements can lead to serious medical conditions that can result in death of the animals. Understanding the symptoms and understanding how to avoid these problems is all part of owning alpacas. There are plenty of online resources available to alpaca owners. The Australian Alpaca Association is an excellent source of information for new owners.
- There is only one way to be certain about the sex of an alpaca or to check if the animal you are buying has been castrated and that is to lift the tail.
- Responsible alpaca owners will never sell breeding pairs of alpacas because a breeding male will cover 80 or more females a year. To have a single male with a single female will lead to the male to potentially become aggressive, possibly even killing the female if left together. Males should not be left in with females indefinitely because of the risk to females. This means that the male and female would need to be kept in isolation therefore increasing the risk of behavioural problems developing.
- Using rings to castrate alpacas is largely ineffective, surgical castration is the only guaranteed means of ensuring that a male has been castrated. Mature males should not be introduced into a mob of ewes for at least 3 months to ensure that testosterone levels have reduced and the alpaca does not pose a risk to ewes.
- Shearing alpacas is as important as shearing sheep and failure to undertake regular shearing is neglect.
- Like sheep and cattle alpacas must be regularly drenched and vaccinated. Failure to vaccinate and drench not only risks the life of the alpaca but the livestock they are supposed to guard.
- Just in case you think that vaccinating may cause autism in alpacas, it won’t, but failure to ensure that alpacas are appropriately socialised is likely to lead to the development of behavioural problems. If your alpaca does develop behavioural problems the cause is usually the owner, so don’t attempt to deflect responsibility to some other imagined cause.
- Although alpacas are much easier on fences than other forms of livestock they have exceptional eye-sight and are extremely fast, therefore always ensure that you close gates, unless you want to be chasing your guards for a few hours to get them back into their paddock.
- Entire male alpacas should never be used as guards as they will mount ewes and can kill the ewes. Female alpacas can also be effective guards, but should never be run with entire males.
- If you are acquiring alpacas as guards ensure that you introduce your alpacas to the working dogs before putting them out with the sheep. The last thing you need is for an alpaca to attack the dog, it could lead to the dong being injured or in the case of young dogs they can be so intimidated that they refuse to work the sheep. Always remove alpacas from yards if you have dogs working sheep as this is the time that the alpacas are likely to be most aggressive towards the dogs.
- Not all alpacas will work as herd guards and unless the alpaca has a proven track record as a guard there is no way of knowing it’s suitability until it goes out with the sheep. Most reputable breeders will offer a replacement for animals that don’t work.
- Herd guards do work better as pairs, the main reason being that one will remain with a ewe that is down while the other will keep guard on the mob. More than 4 per mob can be problematic as the alpacas may form their own herd and ignore the sheep. It is best management practice to separate your alpacas with a paddock in between each guarded mob to avoid the alpacas gathering at fence lines.