Ken Freivokh – 21 Dec 2021
It always amazes me how we all develop different approaches to best look after our alpacas…….. Question is, is there such a thing as an obviously best way?
Clearly not, as different farms are bringing up healthy, happy and well trained alpacas using techniques to suit their unique situation, resources, help, farm size, number of alpacas and, of course, their own preferences regarding how best to achieve a great result…..
I do not know of any breeders that started looking after alpacas thinking they would have more than just a few…… A nice field near the house, a cute small shelter – all very straightforward! However, alpacas are very addictive, and if someone is seriously thinking of breeding a special line, showing, trekking, or embarking on fibre related activities, the numbers seem to increase at an alarming rate! At that stage, decisions are required: single large barn or several accessible shelters, small groups with access to a number of fields or larger groups enjoying more handsome paddocks, poo picking or harrowing after relocating the little darlings to an adjacent rested field?
For us, the decisions were dictated by our preference to give our alpacas a free choice by strategically placing shelters such that every paddock retains open access to a shelter or section thereof. To achieve this, we had to design each shelter with maximum flexibility, such that we could easily allocate larger or smaller sections to each sharing group. The decision was not only driven by our wish to ‘devolve power’ to the dominant critters, but also by a strong feeling of self-preservation – if it suddenly started to rain heavily, or during periods of intense sun and heat, the lovelies have the option to run for shelter without depending on us being immediately available to drive them in to a major barn structure group by group – particularly useful in the winter, when otherwise we would have to be available on site to bring alpacas into shelters by mid-afternoon! We have found that our alpacas are quite capable of deciding what is best for them, quite often staying out and, indeed, at the top of the hill on cold crispy evenings, but delighted to rush to shelter in the event of a downpour or hot sun. A further, and quite welcome benefit is that all the trough feeders are kept permanently under cover in the shelters or handsome overhangs.
Quite apart from being able to flexibly divide the somewhat larger shelters to suit two or three different groups, we also found it useful to plan for ‘special occasions’, namely sickness, special care and matings. For the former situations, perhaps a youngster with a sore foot or a mum with her cria which need to bond together, we had to plan an area within the shelter which allowed us to keep them such that they retained maximum visual contact with their friends whilst retaining access to a small external area. As for matings, we found it most helpful to have a similar subdivided area within the shelter with access to a small external paddock, with an adjacent barn door to a gated ‘runway’ area where we could stack three or four males on short leads. This arrangement made if very easy to invite two or three of the selected ladies in from the adjacent paddock, and the same number of lucky boys able to access each section of the shelter from the runway area. By carefully planning such shelter divisions, we were able to plan the gates such that the alpacas could transit from one section to another via a weighing scale or foot bath when required, and we also installed a ‘Paca Trapper’ device, which allows us to very safely and easily hold an alpaca that requires vet treatment or even single handed toe trimming!
As for the many strongly held views about poo picking, we have opted to religiously poo pick every single morning. The shelters get disinfected with dissolved green gloop, the concrete hardstanding is pressure washed and poo in the paddocks is manually picked in the immediate vicinity of the shelters, and using a paddock sweeper for the more distant areas. By doing this, and regularly sending samples for faecal testing, we have not found the need to blanket worm the herd – needless to say, we also end up with a nicer environment! Over the years, we have planted clusters of shade giving trees on each paddock which are much appreciated in the summer, quite apart from looking like a park rather than a livestock farm.”