“All I’m looking at is balance, and it starts with a forage level of 14 per cent”
For a healthy, lustrous alpaca fibre on the outside, start with the inside, says a Kentucky veterinarian who spoke at seminars during Farm Fair.
“Nutrition is important for you to manifest and maintain those genetics,” said Norm Evans, who has worked with llamas and alpacas for over 20 years.
He recommended testing forages and water for nutrients. “If you’ve got high levels of iron in your water or in your total diet, it will tie up your zinc and copper,” he said. These minerals compete for absorption in the intestine. If camelids (alpacas and llamas) are on forage which contains high amounts of iron for over six to eight months, it will become toxic and they stop growing. Their hair coat will appear dry and brittle.
Forage is 80 per cent of an alpaca’s diet, said Evans, and leafy forage is ideal.
“The number-one problem I see with my breeders in the U.S. is poor-quality forage,” he said. Alpacas require forages which are 14 per cent protein, with iron levels less than 200 parts per million. The potassium levels of the ideal forage for alpacas needs to be less than two per cent, as potassium ties up magnesium, calcium and phosphorus in the animal’s system.
Forages with high levels of alfalfa contain a lot of calcium which can tie up zinc in alpacas and cause skin problems. “All I’m looking at is balance, and it starts with a forage level of 14 per cent protein,” he said.
Forage tests designed for cattle aren’t recommended because alpaca producers need to know the levels of zinc, copper and iron, said Evans.
For good management, Evans recommends running similar-sized animals together as animals of different sizes have different nutritional requirements. Animals should have plenty of space in feeding areas so that animals who are lower in the social hierarchy will have access to feed and get proper nutrition.
He also recommends placing the feeding trough at the animals’ shoulder height to force them to slow down when they are eating.
“These animals will choke, but if you put your feeders nine to 12 inches off the ground, you’ll eliminate about 90 per cent of your choke,” he said.
Once forages have been tested, producers can accurately determine which supplements are needed by their animals. Evans encouraged producers to feed extra supplements based on the animal’s life stages, which include growth, pregnancy and lactation. Animals need more feed in extra cold, he said. Animals older than 10 will also require increased supplements.