The Alpaca Hacienda
Alpaca Shelter and Fencing
One of the first areas to think about when starting an alpaca farm is what type of shelter is needed. If your property already has a barn, you will need to determine if the barn will work for your plan. If no barn is available, then a new structure will need to be built to house the alpacas.
First and foremost, your alpacas will need a structure to protect them from the elements in both cold and warm seasons. In the summer, alpacas need a place that is shaded from the sun so they can stay cool. In the winter, they need a place that will shelter them wind, especially for moms and crias. The structure should be sturdy to protect them from the harsh weather and be properly designed to meet their needs. Shelters are also helpful when providing medical treatments such as vaccines or tending to sick alpacas.
Barns do not need to be large, although starting with a larger barn is more cost effective than to start with a small barn and add on later. Installing electric and a water source at the time the barn is built is highly recommended. Depending on the local climate, many farms have three-sided run-in sheds. This is quite acceptable for males. However, a four-sided shelter for breeding females with cria is preferred in colder climates.
The barn should provide enough space to feed the alpacas. Feed bowls should be spaced about 18 inches apart, and should be kept off the ground. Having some feeders lower to the ground for smaller animals is a good idea. If possible, create a special feed pen for the cria that is always stocked with feed. This pen should include a “cria gate” that allows crias to come and go as they please. Allowing cria full-time access to feed helps them grow faster and healthier. The “cria gate” also helps the dams maintain their weights due to decreased nursing.
While the barn does not need to be very large, space for catch pens should be included in the layout. These pens can be used for clipping toenails and administering vaccines. They can also be used to hold alpacas for vet calls, as well as for monitoring sick alpacas and newborn cria.
If the barn is large enough, create an area to store extra hay and supplies. This allows the hay to stay dry and protects it from weather and other animals. A small tack area can store feed and other supplies such as halters and leads that are used on a regular basis.
The main purposes of fencing is keep the alpacas in the proper pastures and to deter predators. There are many styles of fences, and many types of materials that can be used when building fences. However, when selecting fencing materials, functionality is the most important element. Fencing that is at least four-foot high works best, however, in areas that have bears, fences should be five feet high.
Three board fencing, wood or fiberglass, is the most popular on farms with livestock. However, this type of fencing allows predators to easily come into the pastures with the alpacas. Another concern is that small cria can easily roll under the bottom boards and get stuck in a pasture away from their dams. Alpacas can also place their heads through the fencing to eat foliage outside of the fenced area that may have flora that is dangerous to them.
“No climb” fencing is becoming the most popular type of fencing. It is a safe, low-cost form of fencing which has small openings and is high enough to keep predators out, and is difficult to climb. “No climb” can be installed on wood, metal or even fiberglass posts. Additionally, the no-climb fence adds protection by discouraging neighborhood dogs as well as coyotes and mountain lions in areas that have them. Even animals that aren’t predators (such as small foxes) carry communicable diseases and parasites, and should be away from alpacas.
Multi-strand high tensile fencing is also a very popular fencing among alpaca breeders. The ideal height would be five feet with seven strands of wire variably spaced, but concentrated at the bottom rather at the top. This helps prevent predators from digging to get into the pasture and also keeps the alpacas from getting their heads caught in the wire.
Barb wire fences are not recommended. They can damage an alpaca’s fleece and cut them if they rub against it.
Pasture layout is as important as the fencing itself. A good layout can provide ample space and excellent grazing opportunities for the alpacas, while maximizing pasture space. The strategic location of gates with a good layout can facilitate the movement of the alpacas from the barn to the pasture.
Spending time planning the shelter and fencing is very important. A good mentor farm will take the time to help design and layout barns and pastures. This is critical step to maintaining and growing a healthy and happy alpaca herd.