In part two of our series on the Animal Welfare (Llamas and Alpacas) Code of Welfare 2013, we highlight the legal requirements in the Code and summarise some of the good advice it gives about females, crias, weaning, identification, selection for transport and behaviour.
The gestation period for alpacas is 340-350 days. Expectant hembras should be settled into appropriate paddocks for at least 7 to 10 days before their due date.
Care should be taken to ensure there is no undue stress if hembras are added to or taken from a group that are approaching their due date
Regular exercise for pregnant hembras eg set stocking on hill paddocks seems to reduce labour problems.
- Hembras that are due to give birth must be inspected frequently to ensure they are not in difficulty.
- Expert advice must be sought if a birthing hembra seems to be experiencing difficulties.
Owners should have appropriate equipment and frozen or powdered camelid or ewe colostrum on hand in case any cria have to be hand-reared, eg if they have been orphaned or abandoned.
There is a hereditary condition that leads to some hembras not producing enough colostrum and milk for their young. Close monitoring is needed and if necessary supplementary colostrum and/or milk provided. Camelid colostrum or milk is best but colostrum from ewes is an acceptable substitute.
The handler should minimise social interaction with cria to ensure that they do not inappropriately bond with humans, as this can lead to behavioural problem later in life.
- Crias must be provided with colostrum or a suitable substitute (containing antibodies) within the first 24 hrs of life.
Cria shouldn't be weaned until their digestive system is sufficiently developed to digest forage effectively, ie usually after 24 weeks of age. If cria are weaned at a younger age they should be closely monitored to ensure they are getting sufficient nutrition from pasture alone.
Running a few "auntie" camelids with newly weaned cria can help them settle, and they should be kept in paddocks out of sight and sound of their dams.
- Weaning must be managed in a way that minimises negative impacts on the health of the dam and cria.
- Newly weaned cria must be provided with adequate feed, water and shelter.
- Recently weaned cria must be monitored to check for signs of ill-thrift, injury or stress and where appropriate remedial actions taken.
It is recommended that branding of camelids is not carried out.
- All identification procedures must be applied by a competent operator.
- If hot or freeze branding is to be carried out, pain relief must be used.
Selection for transport
There is a separate Animal Welfare (Transport within New Zealand) Code of Welfare, but the Code of Welfare for Camelids deals with selection for transport.
Camelids should be held off green feed for at least 4 hrs (but no more than 12 hrs) before being transported.
Heavily pregnant hembras (more than 320 days gestation) should not be transported.
Hembras with cria less than 10 days old should not be transported.
Camelids generally lie down when being transported so cushioning material should be supplied on long journeys.
- Camelids must be fit and healthy for transport.
- They must be able to stand and bear weight on all four legs and be fit enough to withstand the journey without suffering unreasonable or unnecessary pain or distress.
- Camelids close to giving birth must not be transported.
Camelids are highly social animals and really need companionship, so they must have paddock mates. Other camelids are best but, failing that, other species like sheep can be acceptable.
A peculiarity of camelids is that they tend to react aggressively to strange animals such as dogs and rabbits in their paddock. They can become accustomed to particular dogs but the risk to all animals needs to be considered.
Signs of aggression or bullying include continual harassment, fighting and vocalisation including "humming", and bullied animals can show injuries, excessive fence pacing and may stand apart from the group.
In the breeding season male camelids can be more dominant and aggressive than at other times of year. Groups of males can be run together without incident but good supervision is necessary especially in the breeding season. Even castrated males can show aggression to other males, and if they do they should be managed like entire males. Newly mixed stock should always be carefully supervised.
Camelids like dust-bathing, and areas should be provided where they can express this natural behaviour.
- Camelids must always live with a companion animal.
- Cria must be raised with other camelids.
- When camelids are mixed with unfamiliar camelids they must be managed to minimise the effects of aggression.
Full details of the Code are available free of charge on the Ministry of Primary Industries website –
...and there's more on lifestyleblock.co.nz
You'll find plenty more interesting and practical information about farming alpacas elsewhere on the website. In particular there is a series of five articles about alpaca behaviour, their health and disease, management and breeding.