One of the most important thing about pastures is done in the planning stage.
If the planning and research are done well you will enjoy years of pleasure instead of constantly fixing this, changing that and adding to these. We say this from experience and a limited pocket book (all the money went into our stock). So many times we say to our selves if only we had done this before.
Please think about how many different communities of alpacas you might have like:
- a main herd
- a weanling pen
- a tues or young males paddock
- an adult breeding males
- a birthing pen & pasture
- an Isolation or quarantine pen .
You will also like to be able to rotate the alpacas every three weeks, mow what they haven’t eaten and irrigate if you have the water to spare. In a perfect world you wouldn’t be back to that first pen for six weeks. You would do this for the the main herd for sure and if possible perhaps have two pastures for the tues, adult males and the mommy pen as the populations usually are as high. I hope you noted the isolation pen, this is a pen (doesn’t need to be huge) that needs to be on it’s own were you can put new alpacas or alpacas that have been away for breeding or shows from the rest of the herd. The alpacas should not be able to touch each other and usually a double fence is in place just in case they might pass something on to the rest of your herd. Our vet likes new alpacas to spend two weeks in that pen before going in which the rest of our herd.
What about your actual pastures? You need to know what kind of soil you have and what you need to do to it before planting which means you need to take a number of soil samples and have them tested We are lucky to have an excellent feed company who also deal in pasture designs which we have found very helpful. You can also contact your local Agricultural Service they are an invaluable source of information. Your agent will probably recommend doing soil testing twice a year to determine what soil amendments your particular pastures will require. Tests are inexpensive and it is wise to test each pasture individually as topography affects soil nutrition. Hilly areas experience rain runoff and thus nutrient leaching while low lying areas receive that runoff which means they require fewer amendments. Nearby alpaca or llama breeders can tell you the forage types their animals prefer.
Types of Forage
You should consider the types of grasses that grow well in your area and different grasses grow at different times of the growing season. Never plant all one kind of grass as alpacas are use to a great variety of forage try and get the variety in the pastures. I don’t not recommend clover it is much to invasive and chokes out the grasses. You will get clover anyway so why pay for it. Do not plant Rye grass it can cause a toxic reaction as it can carry an endophyte (bacteria) which can cause staggers which is a condition that looks like it sounds. It effects the central nervous system temporarily and if the rye is not removed it can become permanent or fatal. I know of a breed that had a very sick alpaca which got the staggers from eating hay that had endophyte’s in it. The alpaca didn’t die but sadly is handicapped. Endophyte’s are a natural protect for plants and many grasses carry it so make sure any seed you buy is endophyte free. Seeing we are on the topic of endophyte’s please don’t let your alpacas eat your lawn unless you are very sure it is from endophyte free seed most lawn seed has is not.
You should plant grasses that grow from eight to ten inches tall anything over the alpacas will not eat, plant:
- a mix of several grasses
- a legume of slower growing varieties not clover
- Timothy grasses
- orchard grasses
- endophyte free short fescue’s
A couple of serious notes. If possible, invite your local agricultural agent to visit your farm and walk the pastures with you. This is a free service. Ask them to take note of the weeds and any trees growing in your pasture. They can point out those that are toxic to livestock and make recommendations for their eradication. That beautiful cherry tree in the middle of your pasture is aesthetically pleasing and provides shade for the alpacas (always desirable), but the dried old leaves on the ground may be toxic. Likewise, rhododendron, milkweed, most yews etc. are deadly. In general, a well fed lama will not browse on toxic plants, trees or shrubs – but cria are always chewing on everything they find. Eradicate such dangers or if a favorite plant, fence it off.