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see West Melton

Alpaca Articles

Nic and Linda keep up-to-date with the latest in alpaca information, by reading widely, being a member of the New Zealand, Australian, British and American alpaca associations, and attending conferences worldwide.

They share this knowledge with others through holding industry training days and workshops, writing articles for industry magazines in New Zealand, Australia, UK, and USA and also through articles on this website and other websites.

Click here for more articles  


By Nic Cooper, Southern Alpacas Stud


Alpacas will feed themselves quite adequately on a lifestyle block as long as you are aware of a few basics, do not overstock your land in terms of total stock units carried, and are aware of what grass condition you are providing for your alpacas.   



The alpaca is a quasi ruminant – it has three stomachs. It is a great converter of what it eats to what it needs – 80% more efficient than a sheep.  Hence it is only about 0.7 of a conventional stock unit.

The alpaca needs an 8% crude protein intake when at maintenance (i.e. just existing or in mid-pregnancy), so basically grass and good quality meadow hay is all they need.

However later in gestation and at lactation they need a higher level of crude protein intake (15%) which may not be available in just grass or meadow hay.  So some higher protein supplementation (lucerne hay, lucerne chaff mix, balage, haylage etc) may be necessary at that time. 



Alpacas do not favour rye grass or clover (they are susceptible to rye grass staggers and clover colic) and alpaca farmers tend to avoid these basic NZ grasses.  Whilst different grasses are appropriate for different climates and conditions, positive sowing recommendations for alpacas would be bromes, prairie grasses, fescues, coxfoot, and/or brown top.  Kikuya is used in the north of NZ, although it is not ideal for camelids. Alpaca farmers add legumes such as plantain and chickory to the grass mix they sow.     

Alpacas dislike long grass and they cannot crop as low as sheep, so paddock management is necessary. Keep seed heads off rye grass to avoid staggers, and do not leave mown detritus lying around in facial eczema areas.

Close-up of pasture - a mix of grasses, with chickory, plantain, and some clover.


Dry Matter

Feed intake is measured in dry matter (dm). This is a weight measure of the dry content of a particular feed once water is extracted.  Meadow hay is 80-90% dm.  Lush spring grass may be only 20% dm. 

Alpacas need to eat 1% - 1.5% of their own body weight in dm/day.  So for an adult female alpaca of (say) 68 kg, she needs 0.9 kg of good quality meadow hay for maintenance mode - or over 5 kg of lush grass if lactating.  The point to note here is that the physical amount they need to eat is very dependent on feed type, time of year, geographic location and their state of pregnancy.



Alpacas are from the camel family, but they do need water.  Their daily clean water  intake is between 5 litres (the norm) to10 litres on a hot day or when producing milk. Calculate how much your herd needs per paddock and get troughs that supply that quantity.  


Apart from meadow hay or occasional lucerne hay, supplements should be used sparingly and as per manufacturer’s instructions. They can be used as treats, as a way to deliver trace minerals, or medicines and protection such as zinc to combat facial eczema, or at times for addressing weight loss. Pellet supplements should be limited - they are not a basic feed.

Alpacas are not grain animals and grains (even in pellet form) should be avoided.  Overloads can be toxic, and whole grains can cause stomach ulcers. Look at the supplements you give them and use those especially formulated for camelids.  Check ingredients and feeding recommendations. Any new food should be introduced gradually so the stomach can adjust.




Heavily pregnant and lactating females need extra protein, like lucerne chaff and alpaca pellets.

There are more overweight alpacas in NZ than thin ones.  However be aware that with fibre on them, thin ones cannot be seen – they must be felt.  Get your hands on the backbones of your alpacas regularly and assess their “body score”.



The nutritional aspect of alpacas is a complex and evolving science. Nutritional levels quoted in this article are alpaca specific and do not apply to their larger llama cousins. Data and comment in this article has of necessity been summarized and simplified. If in doubt on any aspects, ask an expert.



Nic has a specific interest in alpaca nutrition, as it impacts on the health, fibre production, and breeding potential of the female, as well as on the quality of the progeny produced.

He has researched international feed trends and has developed commercial hard feed pellet and chaff recipes suitable for alpacas.



Updated Oct 2012

Nic Cooper and Linda Blake
Main West Coast Road, West Melton, RD1, Christchurch, New Zealand
Phone 0064 3 318-1917 | fax 0064 3 318-1927 | email alpacasnz@xtra.co.nz