Notes on Alpaca Feed & Nutrition
By: Sarah Donahoe
July 5, 2014
Updated May 15, 2018
The approach I use in feeding alpacas attempts to mimic their natural grazing and foraging eating habits. Alpacas are both grazers and foragers and are very good at selecting the tiniest morsel when they are searching for "something" they desire or believe is missing from their diet. In the US, alpacas have been removed them from an extensive/endless/free range environment and instead, enclosed in a pasture. Thus, we farmers have eliminated a wide variety of "culinary" choices. Because of this, we provide access to both hay and pasture year around.
Since 90% of what they consume should be in the form of hay or pasture, I analyze both the grazing fields (yearly) and each load/cut of hay. Then I look for the main values on the report....protein, TDN, RFV, Ca:PO4, K+ and Cu++.
The protein is ideally around 13% for females in production. Frequently the protein values on my hay analysis is higher, more like 16%. The RFV (Relative Feed Value) is indicative of the quality of the forage, the higher the better, so the numbers should be 95-105%. The TDN (Total Digestible Nutrients) refers to how digestible is the forage so the numbers should be 55-65%. The Ca:PO4 should be approximately 2:1 and the K+ less than 2. And the Cu++ (Copper) is taken in the context of your feed composition. So those are the major parameters I look for on a forage analysis.
I use a soy based feed and weigh the feed for a group. There are slow eaters and fast eaters so without standing there and making sure everyone gets their "share," I can't do much more than weigh the total for the group. Ideally, it would be nice to have them separated by body score so that I would have an over conditioned and a under conditioned paddock as well as a “just right” (kudos to Goldilocks).
My baseline feed is 4 oz per animal per day. However, I give extra feed for the first two months of lactation. My weanlings and yearlings get 2 to 4 oz per head per day.
When it's really hot, I don't give “grain”, simply because I don't want them running around trying to get their "share." The other tip that I find helpful when putting out feed is I chase them out of the barn, and put their feed around and then let them in. I make sure there is a minimum of 4 feet between each to eat even if that means going outside in the fields to put out their feed. I sometimes use a creep pen in the winter for my crias.
I put out free choice minerals. Animals will eat the minerals when they feel they need "something." They don't really know what they need, but they look for it. The "salt" in the minerals limits them from over consuming. I prefer the loose minerals simply because of the way their tongue is attached and that they only have the bottom teeth in front.
I also make sure the water is correct. It's the same water we drink so it gets checked twice a year. We have several things on our water system, Fe removal, pH buffer, softener...
We do soil samples on our hay fields annually and as needed so we can add the appropriate nutrients back into the soil.
The other thing that I really believe in is Vitamin D.
Hay and soil analysis will differ from field to field. Hay sugar content changes day to day and even hour to hour. And that’s it…..so analyze, analyze, analyze. It’s doesn’t cost much to run a forage, soil, or water sample and it’s well worth the information you will deem.
FOLLOWUP NOTES May 15, 2018
Once my males are two, they no are no longer fed grain. They have very nice hay and free choice.gime.
Lactating females are fed grain. I move bred females to the birthing barn a month or so before due date (whatever that means!) and they also receive grain.
Alpacas are foragers and grazers. Did you ever notice them eating straw!?!?!!? Yes, they need that roughage too for their rumen! However, I wish they wouldn't eat their shade trees!
Provide your alpacas with a variety of forage. Remember they were "designed" to manage their own needs, and for better or worse, we have confined them and told them what to eat.