Planning and selecting a farm for alpacas

For those considering purchasing or developing a farm to breed alpacas, practical guidance is essential. While alpacas are traditionally associated with high-altitude regions in South America, particularly those unsuitable for other livestock, their global distribution now includes diverse climates—from Alaska's snowfields to Israel's Negev Desert.

Ideal climates for alpacas are dry, especially during summer, as they are averse to hot, humid conditions. Regions where merino sheep thrive in Australia generally prove suitable for alpacas as well. It's crucial to note that high temperatures when combined with high humidity can lead to heat stress (> 180 heat stress), particularly affecting pregnant females and causing temporary infertility in males post-mating.

planning and selecting a farm for alpacas

In humid coastal areas of Australia, alpacas are vulnerable to sporidesmin, a fungus toxin found on decomposing grass in moist autumns. This toxin can cause liver damage and secondary photosensitization, often with irreparable consequences.

Alpacas can also face challenges from fleece fungal diseases during hot, humid weather and from stomach worms, which are less prevalent in hot, dry summers with frosty mornings. Effective control measures using Ivermectin type drenches help manage these issues. Conversely, in cold, wet areas with permanent creeks, liver fluke poses a significant threat but can be controlled with regular use of an oral oral flukicide registered for alpacas.

Ticks, including paralysis ticks, are problematic in Australia's narrow coastal strips, particularly in scrubby areas inhabited by bush animals. Managing these requires regular use of tickicides for limited residual protection.

In southeastern Australia, cria (young alpacas) are susceptible to rickets (lack of Vitamin D) due to low altitudes and insufficient sunlight during overcast winters. This condition can be prevented through injections of vitamins A, D and E.

While alpacas can contract Johne's disease, this bacterial disease is less prevalent in established alpaca herds and can be mitigated by sunlight and dry conditions, which deactivate the bacterium.

Soil quality significantly impacts alpaca breeding, with naturally fertile soils often producing the best fleece quality despite slower growth rates. It's advisable to assess local mineral deficiencies such as selenium, copper, and molybdenum, which can affect alpacas similarly to ruminants grazing under similar conditions.

Alpaca farming also benefits from understanding the animals' unique impact on soil—padded feet exert less pressure compared to hooved livestock, this reduces soil compaction and contributing positively to soil structure.

Alpacas are selective grazers but may resort to toxic pastures when food is scarce. Favorable grazing includes native grasses like windmill, wallaby, and Queensland Blue grass, while caution should be exercised with high-protein legume pastures.

Maintaining appropriate stocking rates, calculated based on the needs of pregnant females, ensures optimal health and productivity. The management of water quality, shade, shelter, fencing, and yards is crucial, with alpacas requiring clean, accessible water and adequate protection from heat and inclement weather.

Overall, setting up an alpaca farm involves careful consideration of climate, soil, pasture, and infrastructure to ensure the health and welfare of these unique animals.

Where to from here?
For further information on alpacas we recommend Alpaca Agskills which provides a basic guide to farming alpacas including some of the skills required and practices of alpaca production. The book contains step-by-step instructions, diagrams, and full colour pictures.

About the author
John Lawrie had been involved with alpacas in Australia for more than 20 years. He was one of the original founding members of the Australian Alpaca Association.

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