Alpacas are herbivores, which means that they only eat vegetation. An alpaca’s diet mainly consists of grass and hay, but they also consume wood, bark and stems too.
When it comes to treats, alpaca owners like to feed these gentle, calm, animals apples, carrots, pears, broccoli, and other tasty treats. To ensure that alpacas get all the salt and other trace minerals they need, loose salt is often left out for them to eat.
While this is a good overview of what alpacas like to eat, keep reading as we go more into the specifics of what alpacas eat, including how an alpaca’s diet differs during the winter months, and find out the answers to some of the most frequently asked questions regarding an alpaca’s diet.
What Do Alpacas Eat? (5 Types of Food)
Pasture grass makes up the majority of an alpaca’s diet, though it’s important that the grass contains the right type of nutrients to keep alpacas in a healthy condition. This isn’t necessarily always the case worldwide, depending on area, climate, and the season.
Alpacas prefer to consume young leaves and grasses, such as orchard grass and bahiagrass, because they are easier to digest while providing all the necessary nutrients that they need.
Grass hay is the best type of hay for alpacas to consume – and with many types of grass hays with varying nutritional values available, it can be tailored to an alpaca’s health needs.
For example, more mature grass hays may not have enough protein required for some alpacas depending on their needs, whereas cool grasses, such as timothy, orchard, and fescue that are grown in temperate regions have higher levels of crude protein and digestibility.
One thing that alpaca owners need to watch out for is feeding too much high-protein and high-calcium hay because this can result in hypercalcemia and other health issues. Alfalfa is one of the most popular hays found on farms in the USA, but when it comes to alpacas it should only be mixed with grass hay.
Salt plays several important biological roles to ensure alpacas are kept healthy. Alpacas therefore require ready access to salt. As alpacas do not show licking feeding behaviors, loose granular salt is preferred due to the way it can be consumed. If salt block is provided, alpacas may not be able to consume sufficient amounts to meet their dietary needs.
You might be wondering why alpacas do not consume mineral block like many other farm animals do. The reason for this is that many mineral blocks contain too much copper for alpacas to safely consume, which could result in illness at best and death at worst. Therefore, any mineral block or loose mineral mix for alpacas should be formulated to contain no copper.
Alpacas are just like us and love treats, though any treats should be given sparingly! This isn’t because you don’t want to spoil alpacas (though it can be hard to say no to them sometimes) but because too much of any new food can result in an unbalanced digestive tract and cause health issues, especially if the treat is high in sugar.
Some safe treats that alpacas love to consume include carrots, apples, bananas, celery, pumpkin, sweet potato, and pears.
The most essential nutrient that alpacas need is water. On average, an alpaca consumes 5-8% of its body weight in water every single day, though this can increase to as much as 10-18% during particularly hot weather or when lactating.
Considering how important water is and how frequently it is consumed too, alpacas should always have ready, continuous access to clean water.
What Alpacas Eat – Summer vs. Winter
What alpacas eat varies by season. In the colder winter months compared to the warmer summer months, alpacas require more food to keep them happy and healthy.
If pastures cannot provide enough subsistence for alpacas in the winter (which they usually can’t), then alpacas need to consume more energy rich food, which means that their diet will consist more of food sources like hay and grains.
In the winter months, alpacas also need more water, which is typically heated to make it easier to drink and to avoid it freezing and turning into ice.
Frequently Asked Questions
How Much Do Alpacas Eat?
Alpacas eat approximately 1.5% of their bodyweight each day, most of which is either hay or pasture grass. Pregnant or maturing alapcas typically consume about 2.5% of their bodyweight.
What Can Alpacas Not Eat?
There are many poisonous plants that alpacas cannot eat, but some of the most commonly found include ivy, privet, ragwort, buttercup, foxglove, and horsetail.
There are a few other common things that should be avoided too. This includes copper, which rules out the vast majority of mineral salt blocks or loose mineral mixes. Grain overload can also be an issue. If an alpaca is given too much grain, it can cause an increase in lactic acid production, which can sometimes result in death.
Lead toxicity, mycotoxins, and selenium should all be avoided too.
How Often Do Alpacas Eat?
Alpacas are grazing animals, which means that they will consume food and drink all day long, and is why food should always be left out for them to consume.
What Do Alpacas Eat in the Wild?
Alpacas are descendants of the wild vicuña and were domesticated thousands of years ago. Therefore, there are no wild alpacas.