Building A Good Home For Alpacas

A series of outdoor alpacas in front of a living space.

Updated November 21, 2019

Like many animals, alpacas are happiest with ample safe outdoor space to roam and graze on, as well as an indoor living space to keep them out of the elements when they choose, though what their living space ends up exactly looking like could vary quite a bit depending on your resources and geography!

If you are bringing new alpacas into your life, you also need to ensure that you have an appropriate quarantine space to keep you and your existing residents safe!

Indoor Living Spaces For Alpacas

People have employed many different materials and structures for housing alpacas, but we believe it’s best that alpacas have access to a fully enclosed pole barn with ample ventilation. Not only are pole barns less affected by bad weather, water, and drafts, but they are also easier to get into and clean, which is very important for the health of any animal. The exception to this rule is for sanctuaries in year-round warm environments, where you can house alpacas in a three-sided structure that faces away from the prevailing winds if absolutely necessary. When it comes to sizing an alpaca’s indoor living space, you should allow for at least 40 square feet of space for each alpaca. Dirt-covered flooring or another slip-resistant material is important for alpaca living spaces since slips and falls could lead to torn ligaments and joint damage. If the living space floor is concrete, you should layer a half a foot of dirt onto the concrete floor or use rubber mats if necessary (which are safer than concrete, but will require quite a bit of daily cleanup). Bare concrete and hardwood floors are unacceptable for alpacas.

Ideally, you should provide a lot of dry and clean straw in an alpaca’s living space. Alpacas like to use straw as bedding, and it’s important to give them extra bedding material in much colder weather. You must remove and replace all wet and soiled straw to prevent serious health risks to alpacas.  Unlike some other farmed animals, alpacas tend to designate specific spots to use as a bathroom, which can make cleaning easier.  There are products you can spread on wet areas such as hydrated lime alternatives like Sweet PDZ or Stall Dry to keep the living space free of moisture. If you cannot provide straw, you can use other clean and replaceable materials such as wood shavings, but alpacas do tend to enjoy rolling in wood shavings and wood chips, and these materials will stick around for quite a while in their coats! If it’s your only option, you can provide a thick layer of (naturally-sourced only) sand, but it’s important to keep this material clean and dry as much as you can. Exhaust fans with locking shutters are very effective at keeping barns well-ventilated and dry.

Summer Considerations

An alpaca’s indoor living space needs to be waterproof and free of drafts, in both warm and cold conditions. Sustained high heat (especially combined with high humidity) can lead to exhaustion, dehydration, and other dangerous side effects in alpacas. Therefore, you need to make sure that they can stay cool in the summer with ample access to clean water. If it gets too hot for them to be comfortable, you can shear the alpaca, use water misting fans, hose off the alpaca, or provide a pond or kiddie pool, but you have to make absolutely sure you aren’t getting their indoor living space too wet. Even basic circulating fans can be kept on automatic thermometers to keep residents comfortable, but you must ensure that all cables are safely secured!

Winter Considerations

In the winter, you have to make sure that the barn is ventilated, because humidity can quickly build up in a warm barn and cause dangerous pneumonia and bronchitis outbreaks in a herd. If your barn is properly insulated from drafts, an alpaca’s body (especially a herd of alpacas in an appropriately-sized area) will provide a good deal of warmth (and their thick winter coats will keep them even warmer!). Be sure to pay close attention to humidity levels and increase ventilation as needed.

Condensation Concerns

If you feel condensation on the walls or ceiling of a barn in the wintertime, it must be immediately ventilated as it is far too moist for safe alpaca habitation!

An oversized indoor living space is not ideal in the winter as they will have a harder time keeping warm in it. If absolutely necessary (such as housing a very young, very old, or infirm alpaca), you can use ceramic bulb heat lamps, but you must make sure to keep electrical cords out of reach from curious residents and make triple sure to keep heating elements clean and dust free! Barn fires are tragically common occurrences. If you must use extra heat, use ceramic heaters, or if you have ample funding, radiant floor heating covered in dirt is the most ideal and safe heating solution for animals in barns. If you look into installing radiant floor heating, be aware that this system could cause an environment that is too humid depending on the type of enclosure you have.  Typically, wood structures will “breathe” better than concrete block or metal sided buildings, which are more likely to sweat and contribute to high humidity levels.  Additional ventilation may be necessary when using radiant floor heating.

Determine if and at what temperature the indoor water supply may freeze in the winter. Be prepared to empty waterers at night and provide fresh warm water for overnight access.  Automated waterers with heaters on thermostats can be very helpful for keeping residents safely hydrated all season long.

Ensure that there is no risk of snow or ice falling off of structures and striking residents.

Outdoor Living Spaces For Alpacas

Alpacas need a safely enclosed outdoor space to spend time in throughout the day and graze if they so choose. The outdoor living space must be fenced in with materials that can’t be easily knocked over or jumped over by an alpaca. There are a variety of different fence materials suitable for alpacas, including wood, woven wire, or a combination of different materials. We do not recommend using barbed wire as it can injure residents. An alpaca’s fence should be stretched tightly, at minimum four feet high (five would be even safer for particularly high-jumping alpacas but typically is unnecessary), and secured to posts every ten feet or so. Corral boards on the outside of the fence can help keep it secure. It’s not recommended to use any kind of fencing that has slats in it where a curious alpaca might get their head caught!

It’s very important that you know what kind of pasture the alpacas are grazing on. Certain plants are toxic to alpacas, and you need to ensure that any dangerous plants are removed from the pasture before an alpaca is allowed to roam there. A local governmental agricultural department should be able to tell you what regional plants you need to protect alpacas from. You also should not let a healthy adult alpaca graze primarily on an alfalfa pasture; alfalfa is very high in protein and calcium, an excessive amount for most alpacas; it can lead to kidney stones and obesity. You need to take your time introducing a new alpaca to your pasture as they need to acclimate to the new food source over a period of a few weeks. Otherwise, the alpaca is at risk of developing bloat and other dangerous side effects.

Avoid Salt

If you are de-icing areas that alpacas walk on, do not use caustic or salt-based products as these can damage their feet!

Ideally, the outdoor space should consist of alpaca-safe grazing grasses, and you should have about an acre of land per alpaca (if the pasture is being shared with other species), with a little more or less need depending on the quality of pasture, season, and whether you’re supplementing their feed with hay or if they’re getting all their food by grazing. If an alpaca’s pasture is consistently muddy, make sure to provide ample space for the alpacas to keep their feet dry. Chronically dirty feet can lead to foot infections. You should also have a shady area in their outdoor enclosure that they can access on the hotter days of the year. Clean water should be easily accessible wherever alpacas prefer to spend their time!

If you are caring for many alpacas, you should have multiple pastures for them, so you can let unused portions of your pasture regenerate while one is in use.

What Does 'Unacceptable' Mean?

At The Open Sanctuary Project, unacceptable means that we cannot condone (or condone through omission) a certain practice, standard, or policy. See a more detailed explanation here.

SOURCES:

Poisonous Plants For Llamas | Mount Lehman Llamas (Non-Compassionate Source)

Cold Weather Care For Alpacas | Vermont Llama And Alpaca Association (Non-Compassionate Source)

Llama Basics | Better Ground (Non-Compassionate Source)

Heat Stress In Llamas | International Llama Association (Non-Compassionate Source)

Basic Llama Care | Lost Creek Llamas (Non-Compassionate Source)

Non-Compassionate Source?

If a source includes the (Non-Compassionate Source) tag, it means that we do not endorse that particular source’s views about animals, even if some of their insights are valuable from a care perspective. See a more detailed explanation here.

Updated on August 4, 2020

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