Eighty percent (80%) of the alpaca and llama diet should be quality pasture grass and/or hay. Alpaca and llama diets vary by different regions in North America, depending on pasture grasses, available supplements, and breeder preferences. The remaining twenty percent (20%) of the diet should be supplemental pellets, minerals, and probiotics.
The Camelid Stomach
Alpacas and llamas have three stomachs. The first stomach is a big “fermentation vat” for all the hay and grass that they eat. The second and third stomachs extract the nutritional components from their food intake. So to keep your alpacas and llamas healthy, you must keep the first stomach, the fermentation vat, in a good, steady, working state.
Pasture Grass and Hay
Your pasture grass or hay should be about twelve percent (12%) protein. You can contact your county agriculture extension office for information on how and where to test your pasture grass. Typically a grass or hay analysis will cost about $15 to $20 US. If you are buying hay, get “horse quality” hay. You’ll need about one square 70 lb bale per animal per week, plus another ten percent (10%) hay for contingency. For example, if some females come to your ranch for breeding. If you need to feed hay to 6 adult alpacas for 16 weeks, your would buy (6*16) = 96 plus 0.10 * 96 = 9.6, or 106 bales.
The hay that you buy should not be moldy. Do not let the hay deliverer unload any hay from his truck until you have done a “smell test” on several bales. It should have a sweet grass smell. If it smells moldy, it is moldy. So don’t buy bad grass.
Regular Meal Schedule
It doesn’t matter what time of the day you feed your alpacas supplemental pellets, provided that you feed them at a regular time each day. This helps to keep their first stomach in good working order.
The alpaca stomach generates a lot of heat. So you can change the feeding schedule to be best timed with the year’s season. For example, if you live in a very hot summer climate, you might feed them in the evening, rather than the day, to avoid generating unnecessary body heat during the hot part of the afternoon.
Feeding Supplemental Pellets
Many alpaca owners are feeding far too many supplemental pellets. Their is a relationship between how much an alpacas eats and the production of fine or coarse fiber. Overfeeding alpacas and produces coarse fiber! While we don’t want to starve our animals to produce fine fiber, the goal is to feed then efficiently.
There are different brands of quality alpaca pellets, which usually come in 40 to 50 lb. bags. A pellet with about fifteen percent (15%) protein is recommended. Each bag has an end label that gives the nutritional values, amount of pellets for males, non-pregnant females, pregnant and lactating females, and crias (babies). Typically, pregnant and lactating females should get 1 lb of pellets per day. Males and non-pregnant females should get 1/2 lb a day, and crias should get 1/4 to 1/3 lb of pellets per day.
In winter, when no pasture grass is available and the alpacas are eating hay, I increase the amount of daily pellets by about fifteen percent. In Summer in my area (East Texas), I cut way back on daily pellets because the animals have access to an abundance of pasture grass. Moreover it is so hot that the animals don’t go in the hot sun to eat. Rather they sit before fans all day. So they are not moving around very much, and therefore not burning as many calories. They need less food in Summer.
I also mix alfalfa with my pellets for certain animals, at certain times. However, you want to be careful with overfeeding alfalfa. Too much alfalfa interferes with balance of available calcium and potassium in an animal’s system. I typically feed 5 parts pellets to 1 part alfalfa for my pregnant females. Males only get alfalfa in the winter.
Other food supplements include minerals and probiotics. Alpacas and llamas need selenium and other minerals that are not available in some North American soils. Minerals come in the form of loose granules and as compressed blocks. I have found that mineral blocks are significantly less expensive than loose granules. When you buy mineral block, do not buy salt blocks. You probably will not find mineral blocks that are made specifically for alpacas and llamas. So buy either the equine or goat mineral blocks.
Probiotics are another important food supplement. Probiotics have micro-organisms that help the alpaca’s first stomach break down the tough cellulose in hay and grass. There are two categories of probiotics: those based on lactobacillus, and those based on brewers years. Both are excellent. If you see that an alpaca has diarrhea, probiotics help get its digestive system back to normal. You can sprinkle about one teaspoon of probiotics over the daily pellets for several days. I always offer probiotics to my alpacas and llamas after administering oral worming medication.