The Animals Welfare (Llamas and Alpacas) Code of Welfare 2013 is a useful document. It sets out what owners are legally obliged to do to ensure the good health and welfare of their animals, but it does a lot more than that. It gives a lot of good advice about alpaca husbandry generally.
This series of three articles summarises the main standards in the Code (these carry significant legal weight) and some of the recommendations (these are what we should be aiming for). Because camelids are different in some important ways from other species, the focus in this series is on the recommendations that are particularly relevant for camelids.
You'll also find 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. Check them out on "lifestyle file" under "alpacas" or in "Quickfind".
There are about 27,000 alpacas and 3,000 llamas in New Zealand, and their numbers have been growing slowly since the 1980s. Most are kept as companion animals. Many of them (collectively known as camelids) are on lifestyle farms, where they are well suited because they are intelligent and friendly. However in many ways, camelids are quite different from the more common species of livestock and it can be difficult to maintain a high standard of health and welfare.
Food and water
The body condition of camelids can be ranked from 1 (emaciated) to 5 (obese).All camelids over 2 yrs old should have a body condition score of 3 or more, while camelids with a body condition score of 5 should be put on a diet.
Grain and other readily fermentable carbohydrate foods are not recommended for camelids.
Lactating females and newly weaned cria, and all camelids in hot weather have a higher requirement for water than other domestic livestock.
Camelids must receive adequate daily food and nutrients to enable them:
- to maintain good health
- to meet their physiological demands
- to minimise metabolic and nutritional disorders
- When the body condition score of any camelid falls to 2 or less, immediate remedial action must be taken to improve its body condition.
- All camelids must have access to an adequate daily supply of drinking water that is palatable and not harmful to health.
Shelter and shade
- All camelids must have access to shelter to reduce the risk of health and welfare problems caused by cold and or wet weather.
- Camelids must be provided with shade or other means to minimise the effects of heat stress.
- Camelids due to or giving birth must be provided with an environment that offers the newborn cria protection from bad weather that might compromise their welfare.
- Where animals develop health problems after being exposed to bad weather steps must be taken to minimise any adverse consequences.
The shearing technique for alpacas is quite different from that for sheep and goats. They are generally cast and restrained in a recumbent position with one handler restraining the head while another shears. To reduce stress on the animal it's important that the shearer is as quick, efficient and gentle as possible. Keeping the head slightly up helps prevent regurgitation
As with sheep, shearing is generally carried out annually. It should be timed to avoid spells of cold wet weather, unless effective shelter is available in the weeks following shearing and extra feed is provided for at least 2 months. A cover comb can be used to leave a layer of fleece that can protect against cold stress.
Newly shorn alpacas may become sunburned in summer, but protection can be provided using sunscreen or covers.
- In winter and in cold districts camelids must be shorn in a way that leaves an insulating layer of fibre, eg using a cover comb.
- All shearing cuts must be treated immediately.
Mustering and handling
Vehicles should not be used to muster camelids.
Camelids that are treated badly can become aggressive to their handlers.
If camelids become distressed when yarded it may pay to allow them to settle for 20-30 minutes before beginning any procedures.
Dogs shouldn't be used to muster camelids. Camelids can react aggressively to strange animals, particularly to dogs.
- Camelids must be handled with minimum force and in such a way as to minimise the risk of distress, injury or pain.
- Electric prods must not be used.
- Camelids must not be lifted or dragged by their ears, neck, fleece or tail, ears and tails must not be twisted, and tails not lifted.
- They must not be moved at a pace that causes exhaustion, heat stress or injury.
Electric fencing should not be used to contain camelids.
If electric fencing is used it should be positioned low enough with the strands of tape close enough together to make it unlikely the camelid will place its head under or through the tape to graze thereby risking entanglement.
Camelids should not be kept on their own.
Chuckered animals should be released as soon as practicable and should not be left unattended. ("Chuckering" is when a rope is loosely tied around the hindquarters to immobilise the rear legs and keep the animal in "kush" position, ie in sternal recumbency).
Covers, packs and any other equipment fitted to camelids should be designed for the purpose and should not cause any discomfort or distress.
Haltered camelids should not be left unattended.
- Restraint methods must be appropriate for the animal, applied for the minimum time and with minimum force.
- Restrained animals must be kept under supervision and released immediately if there is any risk of injury.
- Electroimmobilisation devices must not be used.
- Camelids must not be tethered unless they are placid and trained to the conditions.
- Halters must be designed for camelids and properly fitted.
Full details of the Code are available free of charge on the Ministry of Primary Industries website –