alpacasThis is the most common query I receive in the emails and phone calls I field about alpacas.  Once I was asked “would an alpaca or a sheep make a better pet?”, to which I replied“compared to what?!”

The way I look at it is this: if you want a petting animal, you should probably choose a domesticated animal like a dog or donkey or horse.  Alpacas, like sheep and cows, are not domesticated animals.  They live in herds, in the paddocks, and for the most part prefer it that way.  By comparison, as I type this, TJ the beagle is curled up on the bed next to me (lah lah lah… I don’t even want to THINK about what he’s been rolling in today… la la lahhh!).

My alpacas will approach me when I go out into the paddock and love it when I take lucerne out to them, but if I’m gardening or doing work out in the paddock they prefer to look on from a distance.  The donkeys on the other hand will be all over me – nudging me to find out what I’m up to and whether there’s something in it for them.

Now I’m not trying to put you off buying an alpaca (or a sheep for that matter) because I really enjoy mine, and spend many hours gazing at them in the paddocks.  They’re also a fairly low maintenance animal – they have a natural resistance to worms so you don’t have to drench them often, so it’s really just an annual maintenance of drenching/shearing/clipping nails that you need to worry about.  But you should also be aware that they’re not really the sort of animal that you can cuddle up to – and yet so many people I speak to seem to think this will be the case.

If you are looking to introduce alpacas as pets to your menagerie, my advice to you is this:

  1. Create a fairly small paddock or yard for them to spend the first 2-4 weeks in (say 20mx20m)
  2. Hand feed them during the first 2-4 weeks with lucerne and very small amounts of horse muesli, so that they get used to coming to you twice a day, every day, as they settle into your home.
  3. Considering buying one at a time, handling as much as possible, and then buying another.  Or if you buy two or more at once, consider housing them individually in that first introductory period.
  4. Keep any pet dogs well away from your alpaca.  Many of my clients want to buy an alpaca as a herd protector against foxes and wild dogs… and then wonder why the alpaca is very UN-happy when the family’s pet dog is circling it.  Any members of the dog family are enemy number 1 to alpacas, so keep them separate (at least in the beginning).
  5. Try starting with younger crias – if housed individually they may be more inclined to bond with you.

Of course these are all just tips and may or may not work in your circumstances.  If you’re not that fussed about cuddling an alpaca, of course you can ignore all of this and just buy a couple, put them in your paddock, and enjoy alpaca gazing from the verandah right away!