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What to feed Alpacas in Winter: 7 Healthy Options

During winter and cold conditions, there are different options that you need to consider especially when it comes to feeding your alpacas.

This is because during winter, the animals need a different set of food and nutrients to ensure that they keep themselves warm.

Now there are some things you need to be aware of here – and this basically the digestive system of alpacas.

There are some similarities between the digestive systems of the alpaca and other ruminants which includes the ability to chew their curd and eructate.

However, the alpaca stomach only has three compartments compared to four in ruminants, which means that alpacas are often classed as pseudo-ruminants.

The first two compartments are basically fermentation chambers where simple carbohydrates such as sugars and starch and more complex carbohydrates such as fibre are broken down by a microbial population to produce volatile fatty acids (VFAs) which can be used as an energy source by the host animal. 

In contrast to ruminants, the first compartment of the stomach is not lined with papillae but with gastric pits that produce digestive enzymes and buffers to aid microbial fermentation. 

The third compartment, also referred to as the true stomach, is where enzymes and acids are produced for digestion of feed.

So in this article I will be showing you 7 healthy options that you can use to feed your alpacas in winter.

Related: Check out this article showing you what alpacas eat.

What to feed Alpacas in Winter
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

1. Forage

This is probably the best thing you can give to alpacas and their cousins llamas.

According to Wikipedia here, forage is a plant material that is eaten by grazing livestock.

It is usually eaten by alpacas directly as pasture, crop residue or immature cereal crops, but it is also used more loosely to include similar plants cut for fodder and carried to the animals for feed.

The major benefit of forage crops is that they are rich in minerals which helps in bone formation, fluid balance and hormone production.

Forage crops are also very good foods in the digestive systems of alpacas.

They help in the production of healthy meat and also good strong fleece for the animals.

Basically you want to ensure that you have forage crops as something to use for feeding alpacas in winter.

2. Proteins

Another thing you can use to feed alpacas in winter is proteins.

A diet of about 10% to 15% is ideal for feeding alpacas in the winter.

One thing to note is that males may require a little lower protein especially in the winter whereas females (especially lactating females) may need higher amounts of proteins in their diet.

As such you should make sure that your diet is always analyzed for protein content.

Proteins in the diet of alpacas helps to build and repair tissues.

Proteins also helps to make enzymes, hormones and other body chemical

Also proteins in an important building block of bones, muscles, cartilage, skin and blood which helps the animals become healthy.

Related: Check out this article on if horses and alpacas can live together

3. Hay

Alpacas and llamas prefer soft, grassy hay.

If it is too “stemmy” and tough, you will end up with lots of bedding and waste, as well as an animal with potentially inadequate nutrition. 

Orchard grass hay is our absolute favorite. 

You never want to feed more than 20% alfalfa, even to a lactating female, as too much alfalfa can cause a mineral imbalance. 

It is important to learn the difference between grass hay, alfalfa, clover, timothy, and straw. 

Many “city dwellers” turned farmers are not aware of the subtleties. 

They are most important to learn! Most alpacas do not prefer Timothy, due to its rough nature. 

The seed heads on Timothy can also get caught in fleece and create quite a mess! 

Alpacas also love clover, but too much of it can cause big belly aches. Try to stick with orchard grass. 

Related: Also you can read this article on whether alpacas and goats can live together

4.  Water

Now this is an absolute must to feed alpacas in winter

An average 150 pound alpaca drinks between 4.0 and 8.0 liters of water per day. 

An average sized llama will drink twice this amount.

 Yet this can be very dependent on ambient temperature and humidity. 

A lactating female may even drink more than 9.0 liters of water a day on average.  

Water buckets need to be elevated somewhat, since buckets placed on the ground are very inviting to alpacas to use as foot baths (especially during warm weather). 

We recommend hanging buckets on fences and barn walls. 

Dirty water caused by soiled feet (especially after using the communal poop pile) is the number one source of coccidia infection in crias. 

Automatic and heated waterers are a wonderful investment, and will save you lots of time if you have numerous animals. 

Yet they are not required. 

Access to a pond or stream is not recommended, as most alpacas and many llamas love water. 

They will love to sit and lay around in water especially during hot and humid weather. 

This will cause the fiber on the animal’s legs and belly to rot, along with potentially causing fungal/yeast and bacterial infections on their skin. 

In the winter, alpacas and llamas also appreciate warm water. 

5. Minerals

Free choice minerals allow the alpacas to make up for what their diet is lacking. 

Access to the proper minerals is critical for their optimum health. 

Not having adequate minerals available for pregnant and lactating females can be deadly! 

In the winter, when there is no pasture and the diet is predominantly hay, alpacas and llamas will consume lots of minerals. 

In the spring, when pastures are lush, they may barely touch the minerals. 

Therefore, it is best to offer the minerals “free choice”, rather than just putting them as a dressing for grain (especially since these minerals are somewhat expensive).

We recommend using a deep feeder, like one of the hanging buckets used for feeding grain. 

Fill the feeder about ½ full with minerals, and then store the remainder of the minerals away from moisture and excessive heat. 

Keep the feeder in the same place in the barn, away from exposure to the elements, so the animals know where to go for them at all times.

6. Grains

 Grain is a very controversial subject. 

There are several alpaca feeds on the market. 

These are meant to be fed as a supplement only. 

One of the risks of feeding grain is the risk of choking. 

Choking is a very serious emergency; one you should be equipped to handle if necessary. 

Another drawback to feeding grain is the risk of obesity through over feeding. 

This can also negatively affect their reproductive health.

Overweight females can have difficulty in getting pregnant, and their milk production is reduced. 

Some alpacas are very easy keepers, and thus do not need grain supplements at all, most especially when pastures are rich, and the weather is warm. 

Therefore, it is extremely important to get your hands on your alpacas and llamas as much as possible, so that you can “body score” them.

A pregnant and lactating female with a low body score needs more grain and excellent forage. 

Older alpacas may also need more grain and good forage to maintain a healthy body score. 

You may need to increase your grain consumption in the winter and cold climates. 

Make sure that when feeding larger amounts of grain, the animal also has an adequate supply of high quality forage and hay. 

Too much grain in the diet in terms of the ratio between grain and adequate forage can add physiological stress on the animal, and can cause ulcers in ruminants. 

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