Alpacas are adorable, and not difficult to care for. They can make a great addition to small hobby farms and large farms alike. You might be asking how many alpacas can I keep per acre? How much space do alpacas need indoors? There are several things to consider when deciding if alpacas are right for your farm.
Alpacas are grazers
The majority of your alpaca’s diet should be coming from grass and hay. Alpaca owners typically will also feed alpaca pellets. The main purpose of pellets is to ensure they are getting enough vitamins and minerals in their diet but isn’t the main source of nutrition. click here to read more about feeding alpacas
Each adult alpaca will go through about 2-3 pounds of grass a day. They are very efficient eaters so don’t need as much as many other livestock. If you can rotate pastures and have huge grassy fields for your alpacas to graze you might not need to provide a lot of additional hay. Alpacas raised in small spaces, on dirt lots, or with poor-quality meadows will need plenty of supplemental hay year-round.
The ideal alpaca setup would have three separate fields so you can rotate grazing grounds. This can be difficult on a small hobby farm (we don’t have the space for this). When deciding if you want to keep alpacas you will need to plan financially for a hay budget (and have a dry space to store extra hay) if you will be keeping alpacas on a smaller lot.
Alpacas are herd animals
Alpacas need other alpacas around. You should never keep a single alpaca. He will be very stressed and may even stop eating. Providing other livestock companions isn’t a substitute for other alpacas. It is important that alpacas have other alpacas around for their behavior as well.
An alpaca hand raised by humans with little other alpaca interactions can often become very aggressive as an adult. This is known as aberrant behavior syndrome (or berzerk male syndrome, it affects more males than females, but can affect females too). It can be very dangerous for the humans who interact with this animal. Sadly, many of these alpacas are put down because their owners can no longer safely care for them.
A mini herd of two alpacas can be acceptable, but really you should have at least three. Alpacas will sleep in shifts. Having three alpacas allows them to properly take turns “standing guard” while the others rest. Having at least three alpacas also means that if one were to pass away or need to be separated for health reasons then the remaining alpacas won’t be totally alone.
You can’t keep intact males & females together
Even if you are planning on breeding your alpacas, they can not live together full-time. They should be housed & grazed separately and only brought together for mating. If you have hundreds of acres to turn out your herd perhaps you could. But most farmers will keep their alpacas in smaller fenced paddocks. The males will constantly harass the females, even having a few acres for the females to run off to isn’t enough.
The females will be stressed by the constant mating and could easily be injured by overamerous males. Additionally, the males will be fighting each other to show off for the females. The males will also try to fight the young male alpacas. A full grown male could easily kill a young male.
If you want to keep both males & females you will need to plan for space for each to have separate shelter and grazing areas. It is also a good idea to have a space for young males who are too old to be with their mothers & other females but not quite old enough to be with the big boys. It is best if the males can’t see the females from their enclosure. At the very least they should not share a fence line or the males will break the fence or jump it to get to the females. They will likely injure themselves in the process.
How many alpacas can you have per acre?
Let’s say you plan to only keep female alpacas and you have a decent quality grassy meadow. You should be able to keep 6-7 alpacas per acre in this situation. You will need to supplement hay in the winter months when the grass is dormant but during the growing season, you might only need one bale a week. If you were to add more than 7 alpacas you will likely find there is more fighting and you will need to buy more hay.
What do alpacas require for indoor space?
Alpacas will want to spend the majority of their time outdoors grazing. They don’t mind the cold and can tolerate temperatures in the single digits. Their fleece is very warm and moisture-wicking so they can be outdoors in the snow. A shorn alpaca in the summer can tolerate temperatures up to about 100 degrees. But this doesn’t mean that they don’t need shelter!
Some alpaca owners leave their alpacas to graze the fields all night and provide open-sided shelters. They protect from wind, snow, and rain and the alpacas can come and go as they please. Other alpaca owners secure their animals inside a barn each night. We close our alpacas up at night and leave the barn open during the day for them to come in and out.
In either event, you should plan on about 40 square feet per alpaca indoors. Don’t forget to plan for some space to store extra hay, feed, and supplies when building your shelter!