The Basics for New Paca Lovers

Just the Basics -

Do spend time with your new pacas - just being with them. Bring a good book and some ice tea - catch some rays with your pacas. You will both learn about each other - from just being with, watching, talking, and humming to each other. This is not "wasting time". It is invaluable time - spent learning about each of your new pacas, and teaching them what to expect from you. Plus you will find it's good for your soul too. ;^)

OK - some basic tidbits of info we've collected . . . .

1. Don't keep stuff in their pens
Alpacas explore everything. Don't leave lumber, wire, wheelbarrows, baling string, tractor parts or shovels where they can reach them, get tangled in them, or eat them.

2. Take their halters off when they are in their pens, pastures, and trailers.
Leaving them on all the time can result in halters that have grown into the skin; and if the halter gets caught on something, they can be injured - or worse.

3. Halters must be fitted properly to be safe. In general - the nose band is fitted with some slack for cud chewing and eating, as well as enough room to allow it to be brought up high on the nose. The head buckle is the tight one – ensuring that when you tug on their lead line, the nose band cannot be pulled down down too far, where it will cut off their air. See Marty McGee’s diagrams for details:

4. Don't leave your alpaca tied unsupervised. And only consider tying alpacas at all, that are very well halter trained, as they can easily hurt themselves badly pulling back suddenly if spooked. And if you tie – tie to something safe – like a nice heavy bale of hay so they can eat while waiting. As opposed to the “faux fence” of the alpaca show ring! Just imagine seeing your alpaca swing that vinyl post you tied him to, in the direction of the judge during her oral reasons . . .

5. Become familiar with the vaccinations and dewormings required in your area. Some areas east of Colorado require monthly injections to prevent a potentially fatal parasite infection called meningeal worm. Find a veterinarian in your area that you are comfortable with, that has an interest in camelids. Give your vet lots of doughnuts and chocolate. Pay them on time. Someday you will be glad you did!

6. Alpacas occasionally choke on pellets and grains – often from eating too fast. The best way to prevent this is to slow down their “gulping” by feeding their pellets either on top of their hay (so they have to search them out), or in a bowl with large stones in it that they have to nibble around. Reducing their competition for the pellets helps too.
When an alpaca chokes it may gag, drool, shake it’s head, and sometimes try to vomit. They can usually breath well enough – the obstruction is in their esophagus, not their wind pipe. But if not resolved it can swell and cause permanent damage. Start by gently massaging their neck and feeling for any obvious lumps. Minor cases resolve on their own or with massage. Acute episodes may require passing a tube into the esophagus. The sooner the better for the long term prognosis of the alpaca. Antibiotics and anti-inflammatories are strongly indicated as well.

7. Many alpacas do fine on just good quality hay and/or pasture, quality mineral supplements, and very little pelleted supplement. Too much supplementation is thought by some to encourage ulcers, and of course, choke. Body Scoring is essential to determine if your alpaca needs more or less supplementation, though, and if the hay or pasture you are feeding is of sufficient quality to maintain a good weight. Body Scoring is feeling the back bone, the ribs, and the chest for the amount of fat and muscle each alpaca is carrying. “You want to touch me Where?!”
Lots of body scoring is good for getting pacas used to being handled too.

8. Alpacas must be shorn each spring. Depending upon your location – you will need to provide your alpacas with shaded areas in the summer, and shelter from wind and wet in the winter.

9. Trim their toe nails as needed. This is a lot like trimming a Very Large dog’s nails. If toe nails are left long, they can become painful and twisted.

9. Check your pastures for poisonous plants. Most are only problems if consumed in large amounts – but some, like oleander bushes, can be extremely deadly. Your local agricultural extension office can help you with this.

10. Alpacas must have alpacas to live with. Having just two is acceptable, but a threesome is much happier. The more alpacas the better – as far as they are concerned - Eventually you will come around to that kind of thinking too!

11. Fencing – your best selection is 5 foot, "no climb" woven wire "horse fence". Field fence is a more affordable alternative. Barbed wire is not appropriate. The primary goal is to keep predators like your local dogs, Out.
Four foot fence is fine for most internal (inside the perimeter) pen fencing.

12. Have a “catch pen” where you can easily halter and do things like trim toe nails and give shots. This is of PRIMARY importance as you learn to manage your alpacas. If you find yourself chasing your alpacas around their pen or pasture, then your catch pen needs adjusting. Design a part of your pens or pastures that you can easily herd them into, and that they like to go into (feed them there!). Have that area funnel into a 10 X 10 or smaller “catch pen”. This will make everyone happier.

13. Train your alpacas to become accustomed to handling, by keeping them in the loop. Spread your arms wide as you walk towards the alpaca you wish to halter, and as you say her name. Herd her into the haltering area (catch pen) casually, and slowly but firmly ask for her cooperation, reaching around her neck once she is relatively confined, in order to halter her. Treats are good. No lunging to snatch a neck when they least expect it – I mean just think about it. Would you trust you if you did that?

14. Babies need to be weighed daily for their first week to insure they are getting enough milk. Naturally raised crias gain an average of ¼ to ¾ of a pound daily. Crias that aren’t gaining, or are losing weight instead, need supplementation. They must have adequate colostrum (mom’s milk in the first 24 hours) to have a healthy immune system.

15. Overly socialized (too much hugging) male crias can develop into unmanageable adults. This is generally only a problem with bottle fed boys, or the rare boys that have an unusually aggressive (though very cute and friendly as a cria!) personality. For those rare individuals, respect and distance Must be insisted upon early.

16. Males as young as 9 months and females as young as 5 months can conceivably conceive!
Leaving a 5 or 6 month old female cria at side when breeding her mom unsupervised, can result in Two pregnant females.

17. Alpacas have 6 incisors (front teeth) on the lower jaw only, on the upper jaw they have a dental pad instead. They have molars (top & bottom) well behind that for chewing cud. Some alpacas need their incisors trimmed periodically. Most alpaca farmers learn to trim teeth as part of normal maintenance. Veterinarians and some shearers also provide teeth trimming services. Males over 1 year of age need to be checked for potentially dangerous "fighting teeth", if they are kept with other males that they might fight with and injure. Fighting teeth erupt at about 2 years of age on average. They are located behind their incisors and in front of their molars, on the top and on the bottom.

18. Never give or apply anything with steroids in it to a pregnant alpaca. Some vets are not aware of this - but camelids are very sensitive to steroids and can easily abort a pregnancy if gven steroids when pregnant. Even just eye ointment with steroids in it can cause this. Steroids usually end with “-one”; examples are Cortisone, dexamethasone, prednisone, etc. Does this mean Sly Stallone is on steroids? Probably – but that’s another blog . . .

19. Get yourself a Norm Evans Field Guide to Alpacas – it is worth it’s weight in gold, and will someday save you the $150 cost of the book, in an alpaca’s life. Your vet probably doesn’t know half of the stuff in there themselves. Share info with your vet.

20.  If you've made it this far - you might just be a paca farmer in the making.  They are intelligent, full of personality and independent.  Most are not real huggy - but there's always one or two chewing on your clothes and helping you rake poo.  Really.  Lucy drags the rake around with her mouth - she's way smart.  Others do NOT want to be touched - which sometimes means they are pregnant!  Eleven months of gestation and one baby per year - but the babies are sure worth the wait.  And then watch out, you'll fall in love with the most luscious, silky soft fiber any animal in the world can make - Good Alpaca fiber is to die for.  Once you fall in love with the fiber - you fall for the idea of making it better and better by breeding the alpacas with the best fleeces together - - - - and then there's just no turning back.
But why would you want to?

Linda Bat - c 2010