By Gerri Boland, Wooragee Landcare
Are you interested in farm animals which require little care and will convert your grass into nutrient rich fertiliser for the garden? Intelligent, curious alpacas will provide you with hours of pleasure and relaxation.
What do alpacas eat and how much land?
Your individual circumstances will determine a suitable stocking rate. My two 10 year old wethers have a generous 6 hectares of rocky, partially cleared land. They enjoy eating grasses, both native and introduced species. They also like to eat leaves of willow, pine and fruit trees and leafy herbs in the veggie garden. So if you value your orchard and vegetable plot you will need to have those areas fenced off. I offer my pacas a few handfuls of lucerne chaff irregularly. During dry periods when no green fodder is available they require daily feeding.
Fencing and shelter
Special fencing is not required. A standard 1.2m fence of six strand plain wire or mesh wire is sufficient. Pacas are not prone to jumping or forcing fences. Adult alpacas require no special shedding or shelter – a tree belt for shade and shelter is quite adequate.
Most alpacas are shorn and immunised annually. Most guides advocate regular toe cutting, but as my boys graze on granitic land they do not require this.
Pacas have a strong herd instinct and should never be run as individuals in isolation. They can be used as herd protectors for sheep, goats, poultry and pigs, frightening foxes and wild dogs away.
Alpacas and the environment
Alpacas are the most environmentally friendly of our agricultural animals – their soft padded feet do not cut into the top soil in the same way as other grazing animals do.
Pacas use communal dung piles. Their pellets resemble coffee beans. The lower organic content of paca poo allows their manure to be spread directly onto plants without burning them. I use the paca poo as a top dressing in my garden and also in my composting system.
Alpaca breeding and high quality fibre production are more complicated ventures requiring more infrastructure and attention to nutrition and animal husbandry. For the beginner small farmer alpaca wethers are an ideal introduction to keeping livestock and they will also provide you with a ready to use, easy to collect nutrient for your garden.