Three New Feeding Trends for Your Alpaca Farm

Four bags of Mazuri alpaca feeds

The U.S. alpaca industry is advancing­—breeding larger framed animals with more fleece on their bodies. These trends, combined with new U.S.-based alpaca research, are changing feed formulas and nutritional recommendations for alpacas.

Mazuri nutritionists worked with several U.S. alpaca farms to evaluate the performance of U.S. alpacas eating Mazuri feeds and understand their nutritional needs. They found that breeding traits, geographical changes and feed quality have greatly affected the nutritional demands of U.S. alpacas.
So, what do alpacas eat for a healthy diet?

The Mazuri team is introducing new and reformulated Mazuri alpaca feeds to meet the evolving needs of alpacas raised for show, fiber production and companionship.

Domesticated since 3,500 B.C.

Before their U.S. debut in the 1980s, alpacas lived in the high plains of the Andes Mountains in countries like Chile, Ecuador and Peru. Shepherds domesticated alpacas as early as 3,500 B.C., highly valuing luxurious alpaca fiber and meat. The small size of alpacas also made them easy to manage and train as companion animals.

Their native habitat is very different than the U.S. Northwest and Midwest, where many alpaca farms are located. Being closer to the equator and at a high altitude exposes South American alpacas to much more direct sunlight than their U.S. counterparts.

Another big difference is their diets. South American alpaca herds graze on sparse, low-starch native vegetation, like grasses and bushes, found high in the mountains. Many U.S. alpacas are fed high-protein, high-starch diets like other farm animals. But research found that these feeds are too rich and can cause digestion problems.

These habitat and diet changes, combined with new breeding trends to make alpacas larger with denser, thicker fleece that covers more of their bodies, led Mazuri nutritionists to announce three major dietary needs for U.S. alpacas:

1. Consistent, high-quality feed

Alpacas are browsers—meaning they’re choosy eaters that look for quality over quantity. They don’t eat a lot of food, only about 1.5% of their body weight daily. In fact, alpacas require much less food than most animals their size. 

So, make their feed count. Choose a high-quality feed that provides all the minerals and nutrients they need. Here are a few feeding tips from Mazuri nutritionists:

  • Provide feed often, at least twice a day. Consider automatic feeders that can be programmed to dispense feed throughout the day. Alpacas like to snack!

  • Use feed formulated for the unique needs of U.S. alpacas. Mazuri reformulated its alpaca feed based on research from U.S. farms.

  • Look for feed with added selenium and vitamin E, which are both antioxidants, to support reproduction and other essential body systems.

  • Make hay or forages available for alpacas to nibble on throughout the day. Alpacas need a high-fiber diet that’s low in starch and moderate in protein, like their native habitat, to maintain a healthy digestive system.

  • Test your hay and pasture. Analyzing your forage will identify which nutrients might be lacking, so you can choose feeds with necessary vitamins and minerals.

  • If you’re raising alpacas for fiber, wait to switch to a new feed until after shearing season but before breeding season. This helps ensure the new diet doesn’t show in the growth line of the fiber.

2. Feed the rumen microbes

Alpacas, like most herbivorous mammals, have a microbial pool in their intestinal tract to help them digest the forage they’re eating. The microbial pool is made up of helpful bacteria, protozoa, yeast and fungi that break down food so the body can absorb nutrients from it. If microbes aren’t working, alpacas can’t digest their food and get the nutrients they need to stay healthy.

There may not be obvious visual signs of microbe imbalance. But when microbes get a food they’re not prepared to digest, it can cause improper digestion, leading to diarrhea. It also can change the pH of the digestive tract. If it’s significant enough, this can lead to regurgitation. Either of these events could change the type of microbes living in the digestive tract, which may continue the dangerous cycle of improper digestion and pH change. Long-term microbial changes can lead to weight loss and nutritional deficiencies. Long-term pH changes may even scar the digestive tract, worsening weight loss and nutrient deficiency.

To keep your alpaca’s microbes happy, feed a constant source of slowly digested plant fiber, like hay or pasture grasses. Also, introduce new diets and feeds gradually to your alpacas to give microbes time to adapt to new food sources.

3. Look for added vitamin D

Skin exposed to daily, direct sunlight makes vitamin D, which helps maintain strong and healthy bones. U.S. alpacas, with their denser fleece and northern sun exposure, often don’t receive enough daily sunlight and UV exposure to get their recommended vitamin D. Choose alpaca feeds with supplemental vitamin D.

Mazuri alpaca feeds were reformulated to meet the changing needs of alpaca farms. The updated alpaca diets provide options for different animal lifestyles and life stages:

  • Mazuri® Alpaca & Llama Maintenance Diet is the basic diet for non-fiber producing alpacas and llamas. Formula adjustments include more dietary fiber, selenium and sodium.

  • Mazuri® Alpaca Care offers the basic nutritional needs for all life stages. It has moderate protein levels, increased dietary fiber and sodium, and added flaxseed for immune system support and fleece quality. It’s available in both crumble and pellet form.
  • Mazuri® Alpaca Performance is the premier-quality diet for competition and fiber-producing animals. It has improved dietary fiber and starch balance, and increased sodium, selenium, zinc, folic acid, biotin, and vitamins A, D and E. It also has beet pulp to support gastric health and improve flavor, and molasses and apple flavoring for added palatability.

  • Mazuri® Alpaca Complete Life meets the high energy and nutrient demands of growing crias, breeding adults, Suri alpacas, senior animals and animals in need of weight management. The new diet includes smaller pellets that are easier to chew, higher energy levels, improved apple and molasses flavor, and increased nutrients and organic minerals.

If you have a question about Mazuri alpaca feed or alpaca nutrition, ask a Mazuri expert.