Have you ever looked at the friendly grin of an alpaca and wondered if you could keep an alpaca in your backyard? Well, the answer might surprise you. As it turns out, alpacas are a lot like humans. They are social creatures who don’t do well if they are isolated and alone. Alpacas really need the interaction that comes from being with other alpacas.
In other words, keeping an alpaca in your backyard might not be the best idea, unless you genuinely have the space and resources to support a small herd. Keep reading, because we’ll share both the good and bad reasons for keeping an alpaca in your backyard!
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Homesteading with Alpacas
Adding alpacas to your backyard or homestead can bring an added dimension to your life. When humans care for animals, it creates an opportunity to experience the world in a new way. Plus, we learn things about ourselves in the process.
Alpacas like to interact with humans, but most of all, they need interaction with other alpacas. This camaraderie gives them happiness and security. Because of this, you’d be better off investing in a small herd, as long as you have the space and resources to provide for it.
Traditionally, alpacas were domesticated as livestock, not as pets. So, they can still be a bit aloof around people. Alpacas originate in South America, specifically in the region of the Andes Mountains in Peru. Unlike llamas, which are larger, alpacas were rarely used as pack animals for transporting heavy objects because they were too small for this role.
Over the centuries, alpacas have been bred primarily for their fleece, which is the technical name for their fiber. Their fleece is exceptionally soft, similar to angora (rabbit) fur. Once their fleece is sheared, it can be carded and spun into yarn, which can then be used for making all sorts of things like warm blankets, hats, socks, shawls, ponchos, scarves, and mittens.
Alpacas as Pets
In recent years, alpacas have gained greater popularity in North America, where it is becoming more common for people to keep alpacas as pets in backyards and on homesteads. Today, you can find pet-quality alpaca breeders who offer alpacas for sale for about $500 per animal. Of course, this initial purchasing fee is only the beginning of the costs involved in keeping a herd of alpacas in your backyard.
There are different breeds of alpacas, with Huacaya Alpacas and Suri Alpacas being two of the most common. Typically, pet-quality alpacas are not intended for further breeding, meaning that they should not be expected to reproduce for commercial purposes in which their own progeny later sold. Instead, their main role is to provide the type of companionship that you would look for in a family pet, while also perhaps producing fleece for yarn.
Many homesteaders and other crafters who love to spin yarn or knit, especially those who do so commercially, will often find that keeping their own alpacas provides them with a steady source of high-quality fleece.
You can use natural alpaca fleece for spinning into yarn, which can then be hand-dyed with natural ingredients to create different earthy hues. Homesteaders who do keep alpacas on their land often sell spools of alpaca yarn to other crafters, or they knit it themselves into handmade goods like hats and socks for sale.
Shearing Your Alpacas
Shearing an alpaca for its fleece takes place once a year, usually in the spring. After its fleece has kept the animal warm throughout the winter, an alpaca will not mind having its excess fleece sheared, since this can help its skin to breathe.
Researchers have found that shearing your alpaca while it is standing is far less stressful for the animal than shearing it while it is being held down. And the more stress-free that you can make this process for your alpacas, the better.
How Much Land Do Backyard Alpacas Need?
Alpacas need around one acre of land per every five animals. You could potentially keep up to ten alpacas on one acre. However, you’ll need to provide them with hay at least once or twice a day to supplement their diet, since grazing grass on one acre is a limited space.
Alpacas will mostly graze on alfalfa and fescue grass in an area designated as pasture. Ideally, you should have a few different pastures where you rotate the herd so that they can graze on the available fresh grass.
You will also need to keep the pastures clean at least twice a week to prevent the spread of disease. Any smaller fenced-in areas, such as pens where alpacas are being groomed, watered, or given hay, should be well-maintained and cleaned every single day.
Alpacas are not the types of animals to challenge boundaries. So, if you install fencing on your property, they are likely to stay put.
However, it’s important to create a fenced perimeter for alpacas in order to deter other types of animals who might be trying to enter. Depending on where you live, predators could include animals such as coyotes, mountain lions, or bears.
We recommend installing mesh fencing or a chain-link fence that is dense enough to prevent other animals from slipping through.
Medical Care for Backyard Alpacas
Veterinary care for alpacas will include regular checkups for de-worming, checking teeth, and clipping nails. In addition, alpacas can become easily prone to certain diseases. You should take notice if it seems like your alpacas are losing weight for no reason.
Annual vaccinations for alpacas are recommended. Alpaca vaccinations are generally considered “off label,” meaning that the efficacy of the vaccines for alpacas cannot be guaranteed by the manufacturers. Also, pregnant female alpacas should not be given certain live-culture vaccines.
Differences Between Alpacas and Llamas
Many people get alpacas confused with llamas because they are both considered camelid species. Alpacas and llamas are cousins with camels, which originate in the eastern hemisphere.
Neither alpacas nor llamas have humps (like a camel), but these two species look quite similar to each other, beginning with their two-toed feet. Whereas alpacas have tiny, pointy ears and foreshortened faces, llamas have longer, rounded ears as well as longer, rounded faces.
Alpacas only grow to three feet tall, weighing around 150 pounds, whereas llamas grow a whole foot beyond this, standing tall at four feet high and weighing 450 pounds.
You can see why alpacas are thought to make the better backyard pet. Also, alpaca fleece is finer and thicker than llama fleece, so it is considered better for spinning and knitting.
Fun Facts About Alpacas
- The fleece of an alpaca comes in 22 natural shades that vary between pink and white to dark brown and black to tawny tan.
- Alpacas live for about 20 years, with female alpacas remaining able to breed throughout their adult lives.
- Contrary to their reputation, alpacas don’t actually spit much. This might happen only if you have a pregnant female alpaca who is trying to fend off an advancing male.
- Alpacas make a humming sound. You will frequently hear a mother make a humming noise in order to communicate with her babies.
- When they are frightened, an alpaca makes a noise like a staccato toot. Once one alpaca starts sounding out the call, it is often picked up and emulated by all of the other alpacas in the group.
- Sticking together as a herd is a natural mechanism for warding off predators.
Alpacas are Eco-Friendly Animals
Alpacas are considered eco-friendly animals for a few different reasons. First of all, their dung makes for good manure, so it’s a natural fertilizer. Secondly, alpacas tend to leave their droppings only in one part of the pasture. This makes it easier for you to keep their pasture clean.
Thirdly, alpacas graze lightly on the land, nibbling at the tender part of the grass above the surface of the earth, rather than pulling the grass out from its roots. Also, because alpacas do not have hard hooves like some other types of herd animals, their feet do not damage the soil when they tread upon it.
Zoning Ordinances for Alpacas
Before you purchase any alpacas, you’ll definitely want to check your town or city laws and regulations, including zoning ordinances, to make sure that you’re allowed to keep alpacas on your land. These laws will usually list outright the types of animals that are allowed and those which are prohibited in your area.
For instance, you might be limited to four domestic animals per parcel of land, with an allowance for dogs, cats, and rabbits, plus one pot-bellied pig. But alpacas could fall under a prohibited category, along with exotic species such as lions, tigers, and bears (oh my).
In addition, zoning restrictions are also a factor. Your land might be zoned for agriculture, but this does not necessarily include alpacas. For example, if you keep alpacas strictly as pets rather than for the purpose of producing wool (or any other purpose that could be classified as agriculture), then your alpacas would not meet these particular zoning requirements.
Also, even if you do meet the zoning restrictions in your area, there is always a risk that your neighbors will take issue with your alpacas. Although this probably won’t happen if you get along well with your neighbors and you keep your property (and your alpacas) well-maintained, there is always some possibility that your neighbors could file a complaint with your local government.
Specifically, neighbors could take issue with alpaca-related noise, odor, or any other factor that they deem to be a nuisance. If the complaint escalates and it really becomes a problem, you could lose your ability to keep alpacas on your land, which will inevitably involve a high degree of stress (for you and for your alpacas) if you have to then find new homes for your herd.
We certainly don’t mean to deter you from keeping alpacas in your backyard or on your homestead if your heart is fully committed to the endeavor. However, we do want you to realize that it’s important to be realistic from the outset and to be aware of any potential pitfalls before you purchase a herd.
Hopefully, you can now appreciate the complexities involved in keeping an alpaca in your backyard – or rather, keeping a small herd of alpacas in your backyard.
There is definitely a lot to learn when it comes to properly caring for these animals. However, if you have sufficient space and resources, then we believe that alpacas can make good pets. And keeping a herd of alpacas is sure to warm your heart.