Alpaca Farm Set-Up
We have built two alpaca farms since getting into the business years ago, and visited many others along the way. With over one hundred alpacas to work with every day, having the right set-up and layout is essential. We found the fencing can be used as a tool if laid out correctly, and a frustration if things are not in the right place.
Every farm is unique, so you will have different requirements than we did living in the Rocky Mountains. Draw out your plan in a couple of different scenarios to see what elements you like best. Here are some important areas to consider when laying out your alpaca farm.
Key set-up elements on an alpaca farm
Type of fencing
You will want livestock field fencing is some form (4” x 4” or 2” x 4”) at least 4’ high to keep potential predators such as neighbor dogs, coyotes and fox out as well as keeping crias in. We found electric wire is only effective when alpacas are first shorn. Otherwise, many are willing to climb right through. We do have an electric wire on the perimeter fence for extra protection from mountain lions and bears.
If you will have guard dogs, keep in consideration how they will access each of the pastures without allowing alpacas to comingle. For our set-up, we put a 10"-12" gap at each fence cross-section, just large enough for a dog to squeeze through. In the stalls, we installed a swinging "doggie door" attached to the livestock hog wire fencing. The dogs can access the different pastures, but the alpacas have not yet figured out the system.
As an additional security system, you may want to consider a guard llama as a protector. We found that our two llamas are very alert and protective of the herd. They can defend against coyotes and other predators. However, not all llamas will be willing guardians and it is important to find the right match for your herd, ideally a gelded male who has been raised to protect livestock.
You cannot have enough gates. If you are trying to push alpacas from one pasture to another, or trying to get to an alpaca quickly, the more gates the better. Six-foot gates allow our tractor to access all of our pastures. We created a thoroughfare of 12' to allow our truck and trailer access to the back pasture. I would recommend having a grate or mesh on your gates as well. Crias can climb through pens they shouldn’t be in and the males can stick their heads through, raise gates and cause problems.
We use “Kiwi” locks on our gates. They are easy to open with one hand and a good way to keep your gates shut even if an alpaca is fiddling with the latch.
Availability of water is essential. Automatic waterers are worth their weight in gold if you can afford them. With our layout of 5 pastures and 4 stalls, we only need 3 waterers on the entire farm. We were filling 6 troughs of water every day in the Summer.
If using troughs, use the shorter ones that are 12”-15” off the ground (usually 50 gallons). Otherwise, the babies cannot reach them when they are low.
Install several water faucets near your outbuildings. You will need them to clean your trailer, water your pastures and spray down your alpacas on a hot day.
You do not need anything fancy for a barn. Alpacas are hardy and as long as they have protection from the sun when it is hot and the snow and wind when it is cold, they should be fine. We used 12 x 24 loafing sheds for several years. We now have a large barn with storage up above, but I have seen carports be just as effective in the hot sun.
We set our barn up in the middle of our pasture, so that we have a “wagon wheel” style layout. This allows us to easily push alpacas from one pasture to another through the barn in a matter of minutes to rotate pastures.
The right kind of flooring is very important in allowing the urine to drain in the summer months. We considered a cement floor for ease of clean-up, but realized it would become an ice-rink in the middle of winter with our climate. A solid dirt floor can become compact and won’t allow draining and /or will be very dusty and dry out the alpaca fleece. So, we decided on ¾” fines over 12” of pit run. If you want more details on this, call James at 406-579-4055.
You will need several pastures for your herd, including one for the males, females plus a weaning pen. Each will need some form of shelter with it. For our temporary cria shelter, we divide the barn with panels so that the barn can be used, but the animals cannot get to each other.
We found it very helpful to be able to see every pasture from the house. This allows you to keep an eye on pregnant females about to give birth as well as a male in the back who might be sick or hurt. Also, consider how large trucks and trailers will easily get to your barn as well as turn around without tearing up your pasture.
There are several types of very effective feeders available on the market. We have feeders that we fill with 400 lbs of orchard grass hay. I have seen some that will hold two 60-70 lb bales of hay with a 4” x 4” mesh (or hog wire) on top. The right type of feeder will allow the alpacas to efficiently eat the hay. The wrong type can fill topknots and the back of the neck with hay as well as scattering the rest of it on the ground.
We also found installing gutters throughout the barn, 20" to 25” off of the ground for pellets is a great tool. This allows you to easily feed without setting out buckets to be kicked over as well as gives access to small bites without choking on the feed.
Runs and Stalls
We put two runs / stalls on each side of the barn. They serve as a catch pens, breeding pens and holding pens for health checks. I would recommend somewhere between 12’ x 15’ to 15’ x 20’. You may want to create different sizes for different needs. If you get them too big, you will be doing a lot of ineffective and unnecessary chasing.
In this picture, the automatic waterer is used for both stalls / runs as well as the pasture to the left. For the pasture in the back, we keep the back stall open so that the herd in the back can access the same watering system.
Please contact us if you have questions or would like some suggestions in setting up your own farm.