This is an overview of a recent article in the Alpaca Association magazine for our clients who don't subscribe. The author Jane Vaughan is a world renowned vet and expert on alpaca reproduction, nutrition and care, based in Australia.
Of interest to us were the following:
Alpacas need leafy green pasture, hay and/or silage greater than 4cm in length to keep their stomachs functioning normally, "A diet based on very short pasture, chaff and grain/pellets or very lush spring pasture is not adequate to keep the stomach healthy." She recommends ensuring that a bale of hay be available during such times. We do have hay feeders out all Winter but we will now keep them stocked through Spring too.
She reflects on ensuring that ALL alpacas can access the hay / supplementary feeds when required. This was our learning curve a couple of seasons ago when one of our very submissive alpacas may have suffered from some liver damage due to facial eczema. For supplementary feed she suggests using guttering (our choice but remember to remove it if you are alternating with beefies!), conveyor belt or shade cloth attached to a fence. We also use one ice cream tub per alpaca in addition to the guttering so that we can see exactly how much they are eating...although I do have access to little people who enjoy collecting them when they all get blown to the end paddock. Last season we also moved some alpacas that we thought weren't getting good access and put them in a neighbouring paddock.
Her recommendations on choice of food supplements. Other than when you need to feed out alpaca pellets to deliver zinc supplements during facial excema season, she says to avoid alpaca pellets, "They are usually rapidly digestible, very low in fibre and will cause acidosis and possibly death." Outside of facial eczema season we had been using pellets for "treats" when we had visitors, AirBnB guests etc. plus sometimes with sick animals! Since reading this article we have been using oats and lucerne chaff. She suggests good quality lucerne hay, oats, lupins and peas.
She talks about selenium deficiency in acid water-logged soils. This can be treated using an annual injection or short-acting oral preparations. We use fertiliser with added selenium and cobalt but some of our neighbours do supplement their cattle. Although we don't get water-logged we do get a lot of rain (especially this year...). We might get some blood samples taken next time we need to have a vet out and see if the trace elements in the fertiliser are sufficient or not.
The joys of breeding recently introduced animals - a constant learning curve. We would highly recommend joining the Alpaca Association for access to the latest information on alpaca health and care.