Alpacas are becoming increasingly popular as livestock guardians in Australia. Their main use is for protecting lambing ewes and newborn lambs from foxes and dogs. They can also be used for protecting poultry.
Alpacas are hardy and intelligent with strong protective instincts. Once they have established the required paddock as their territory and bonded with the livestock they are to protect, they work hard to keep unwanted intruders out.
Alpacas eat a similar diet to sheep and don't require special fencing but they are susceptible to similar diseases.
Alpacas are susceptible to sheep worms, so those guarding lambing ewes are in danger of picking up substantial worm burdens.
Alpacas that are going to be exposed to sheep parasites should be drenched before being put in with the lambing ewes, then again after they come out of the paddock. If they are to remain with the sheep then a summer drench should be given at the same time as the sheep.
Unfortunately, there are no drenches registered for use in alpacas, so they can only legally be prescribed for 'off-label' use by a veterinarian.
Alpacas are also susceptible to liver fluke. Therefore, alpacas living on swampy country or paddocks with slow-moving water should be drenched with a fluke-specific drench (usually triclabendazole) in April-May and again in August-September, similar to sheep and young cattle.
Like sheep and cattle, alpacas are prone to clostridial diseases, especially enterotoxaemia (pulpy kidney). Crias should be vaccinated with sheep or cattle 5-in-1 vaccine at 6-8 weeks of age, followed by two boosters 4 weeks apart.
Adult alpacas should be routinely vaccinated each year in the autumn and spring. Additional vaccinations may be required in good seasons.
In some areas, rickets can be a problem, which is a bone disorder resulting from inadequate calcium or phosphorus, or vitamin D intake. This seen mostly in crias (similar to young lambs) and can be prevented with injections of Vitamin ADE given in April-May and again in July. Adults alpacas may also need supplementation with Vitamin ADE in July.
Alpacas in selenium-deficient areas should also receive selenium supplementation.
Alpacas running on soft ground may require occasional toenail trimming.
Alpacas are not susceptible to breech flystrike and do not require mulesing or crutching. Normal care of wounds (cleaning and application of an antibacterial/antiseptic spray), however, should be practised to prevent maggot infestation.
For more detailed alpaca management, please contact your veterinarian.