Many people think of Alpacas as expensive exotic pets, but in North America, and a few European countries they are now easily available for under $100 USD. Of course these cheaper animals will not be show quality, but they may be “pet quality”. Gelded males are often the least costly.
Alpacas are not legal to keep everywhere. Even if you live rurally (in the country) it is important to check to see if Alpacas are allowed, and if so, are their any restrictions to the number of animals that can be kept. Typically no more than two Alpacas should be kept per acre.
An Alpaca is best when fenced with sheep fencing with a rail, or strand of barbed wire on top (to prevent them from leaning on the fence and bending it down as they reach for grass on the other side). They are shorter than llamas, but can jump higher when pressed, as such they should not be underestimated when it comes to proper fencing. With simple three strand barbed wire, they may slip underneath (especially smaller/young animals).
http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Alpaca_at_Midgham_Farm_near_Alderholt_-_geograph.org.uk_-_197402.jpg This is not sheep fencing, but note the height.
Alpacas do not need a barn but they do need shelter, particularly from the sun on hot days. When they have a full coat of fleece they are very prone to heat stress which can be deadly. As such a shady wooded area, and a small shed, are ideal shelters for Alpacas.
Alpacas grow very thick coats and these can be real problems in warm weather. As such most owners shear their Alpaca, taking the wool off their bodies and necks. The problem here is that shearing an Alpaca is not as easy as clipping a dog, or even a horse. Many people put them in special restraint/holding unit and flip them on their side for clipping. Shearing may have to be done yearly, or every two years.
Alpacas are easy keepers, they do quite well on a good pasture in the summer, but should have hay in the winter. It is also a good idea to offer oats if the weather is cold or if the animal is pregnant. People who cannot afford to feed an Alpaca in the winter should not get one.
Not all veterinarians are familiar with Alpacas or willing to deal with them. One should never get an animal unless they can be sure they have competent veterinary care for that animal available.
In male animals there is a dental concern as their lower teeth tend to grow to extremes and may need to be filed down by a veterinarian.
How Many Alpacas?
If a person has no other animals they should get at least two Alpacas. These are herd animals who do best in the company of their own kind. If a person cannot keep two Alpacas, they should have a Llama, donkey, sheep, or goats, for companions, or even a horse or cow.
One of the things most people associate with Alpacas is the fact that they “spit” a rather offensive smelling substance. When kept as pets, and handled normally, this is not an issue. It is more often a problem when the animals are teased or put in situations where they are fearful.
Alpacas are often kept as guard animals against smaller canines such as foxes. They may chase off coyotes, but normally it is the larger Llamas who are used to guard against them. Still this is worth noting as people may find their Alpaca will have a natural dislike for the family dog, and may try to chase or kick it until they are familiar with it.
Not all Alpacas will be friendly and tame. Some animals, especially those who have been to shows, will be halter broke and gentle, but some Alpaca owners do not handle their animals and as such they may be a bit more “wild” in nature, and perhaps more apt to “spit” as mentioned earlier.
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