The intestinal tract of alpacas is designed to digest large quantities of fiber-rich vegatation. This is done in a very efficient way, which is necessary in the rough conditions of the South-American Altiplano. In these natural circumstances, the diet of alpacas exists of a high variety of forages, herbs, shrubs and mosses, which contain many different required minerals and vitamins.
Under European conditions, it is not possible to provide alpacas with the same diet as under the natural circumstances of South America. However, with an intelligent approach, it is possible to compose a diet which is suitable for the nutritional requirements of alpacas.
It is of the utmost importance that forages, such as grass and hay, remain the main dietary component. Grass and hay exist in different qualities. Some qualities will not contain the right amount of protein required for the animal at a certain stage. Protein requirements are 12% for maintenance, 15% for lactation, late pregnancy and growth, on a dry matter base. In these circumstances, it is advised to add protein and/or energy suppliers - such as protein pellets, or sugarbeet pulp - to the diet.
Feeding energy-rich concentrates (such as oats, corn, ...) need to be kept to an absolute minimum. The digestive tract of small world camelids is not designed to digest these components in high quantities, and the animals would be put at risk of illnesses such as stomach ulcers, clostridial enterotoxemia, C1-acidosis,... Concentrated supplements rather need to be seen as suppliers of the necessary minerals and vitamins, and can only be provided in high demanding periods (gestation, lactation, growth, cold weather,...) as a source of extra protein and energy.
There are many right ways to feed your alpacas. The right and suitable diet will finally depend on many variable factors such as pregnancy, quality of forages, size of the group and hierarchy, season, sex, availability and price of feeds on the market etc... Therefore it is impossible to advise a general diet for alpacas, which is suitable in any circumstance.
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