Tips for feeding alpacas and llamas

Alpacas and llamas belong to the genus camelids and thus to the order Tylopoda. Old World camelids include the one-humped dromedary camel and the two-humped Bactrian camel. The wild guanaco and vicuña as well as the domesticated alpacas and llamas are New World camelids as they are originally from South America.

Llamas and alpacas are raised for their wool. They are also enjoying increasing popularity as pack animals for trekking tours, as therapy animals and as hobby animals.

Appropriate feeding is important to maintain good health, reproduction and wool. Alpacas and llamas evolved in the harsh climate of the Andes and thus need feedstuffs high is roughage and low in nutrients. They make very good use of their food, whereby instances of ingesting foreign bodies are rare, in comparison to cattle. Llamas and alpacas, like cattle, sheep and goats, have digestive systems that include foregut fermentation through microbes (bacteria, protozoa, fungi). In contrast to genuine ruminants, the stomach of the New World camelid does not consist of several stomachs but of three-chambered stomach. Nevertheless, there are functional similarities in the stomachs of ruminants and camelids. In camelids, roughage is also digested by microbes in the first two chambers, as well as in a large part of the third chamber. The feed is broken down through the microbes’ enzymes, resulting in fatty acids and various water-soluble vitamins which then in turn can be absorbed by the animal through the intestinal mucosa.
A change of feed should always take place slowly with camelids, since an abrupt change in feed will destroy the microbes in the foregut and this can lead to life-threatening digestive disorders. 

New World camelids re-chew their food as well. Larger food particles are regurgitated through stomach contractions to be broken down and then swallowed again. Gasses formed through the fermentation processes are released by the animal in regular intervals through eructation (belching).

Feed should mainly consist of roughage in the form of hay or AGROBS hay substitute products such as AlpenHeu, and should be offered in sufficient quantities. Such feed has a high structure which promotes saliva production. This in turn serves as a buffer substance for the foregut and makes the feed slippery. Feed with little crude fibre but high grain content can cause hyperacidity in the foregut and lead to digestive disorders. A feed straw supplement such as Stroh can also be offered in addition to hay.

A feed that’s rich in raw fibre and low in starch and sugar, such as ProKamelid Basis, is suitable as a supplement. ProKamelid Basis is a feed supplement that is rich in vital substances and adapted to the camelid diet as a supplement to hay, feed straw and pasture grazing. ProKamelid Basis is made from selected ingredients such as flowers, leaves, root vegetables, linseed, nigella and the bark of the South American lapacho tree. It is rich in vital substances and very tasty.

Physical condition can be checked by regular weighing of the animals as well as through body condition scoring. This is especially recommended for very woolly animals, as it is very difficult to judge physical condition through the wool. In body condition scoring, the back muscles and fat layers in the area of the vertebrae are examined and assessed in regular intervals.

Llamas and alpacas can be offered branches from non-toxic trees to nibble on as a pastime.

A mineral feed specially tailored to the needs of camelids should be fed in addition to the basic and supplementary feed, in order to provide adequate minerals and trace elements. A salt lick such as AGROBS Bavaria Steinsalz should always be available in order to prevent electrolyte losses.

Dr. med. vet. Katharina Boes
July 2015  ©AGROBS GmbH
  • Gauly M., Vaughan J., Cebra C.: Neuweltkameliden - Haltung, Zucht Erkrankungen. Enke Verlag Stuttgart, 2011
  • Tierärztliche Vereinigung für Tierschutz e.V.: Nutzung von Tieren im sozialen Einsatz Info sheet no. 131.8 on South American Camelids. 2011

(* The references refer to the technical content of the text and not to the product recommendations.)