MIDDLE STEWIACKE, N.S. - Diane Redden bought her first alpaca to prevent him from becoming a seat cover. She now cares for a herd of four at her Middle Stewiacke home.
She advises that anyone interested in getting alpacas do their research, as the animals have specific health needs and they’re not as cuddly as they look.
“Ricky has very noticeable problems from rickets,” she said. “That’s why the person who had him before chose that name.
“His back legs are wonky and his spine started to curve a couple of years ago. He has an uneven gait, but he’s still enjoying the sun and eating. The vet just recommended we watch him closely.”
The animals’ natural habitat is high in the Andes, where long periods of sunlight ensure they get enough Vitamin D. Those living in Nova Scotia need Vitamin D supplements to prevent rickets.
Because alpacas are herd animals, Ricky didn’t like being alone, so Redden bought a female called Fiona. She arrived with a condition often called elephant-skin. This results from mites leaving the skin dry and rough.
“To me, the biggest problem is skin issues with mites,” said Redden. “You can treat the animals for one type, and it won’t have an effect on others. They’re hard to detect and hard to treat.
Alpacas are domesticated version of vicuñas that live high in the Andes.
They are the smallest member of the camel family.
They have straight ears, while llamas have banana-shaped ears
While llamas are often used as pack animals, alpacas are raised mainly for their fibre.
Alpacas sometimes spit when they are upset.
When born, crias weigh 18 to 20 pounds.
They make humming, shrieking, braying, clicking and warbling sounds
They are pacers, with the front and back legs on the same side moving forward together.
Their lifespan is 15-20 years.
“Alpacas also pick up worms that use slugs and snails as hosts. They can paralyze the animals, so we do monthly treatments with Ivermectin.”
Since arriving in Middle Stewiacke, Flora gave birth to two young, called crias. These boys, Frank and Bean, are now four and five years old.
“Alpacas can be pretty standoffish,” said Redden. “They don’t trust easily. It took almost a year before Fiona trusted me enough to feed from a bowl I was holding. I spent time with the young ones, thinking they would be much more friendly, but I think they saw their mum being standoffish and picked some of that up.
“Ricky will kiss me on the lips, but he does it to get treats.”
She’s seen alpacas that are more comfortable with people, but finds that overall horses and goats enjoy attention more.
Like other members of the camel family, alpacas will sometimes spit.
“It’s green, regurgitated stomach contents so it’s obnoxious,” said Redden. “They do warn first, by warbling and pinning their ears back, though.”
Alpacas eat grass, leaves, bark, shrubs, hay and grain. Because they have a three-chambered stomach, alpacas metabolize feed very efficiently, but they’re picky eaters.
Their thick coat needs to be sheared by someone trained in working with alpacas, as they cannot be placed in the same shearing positions as sheep.
They also need their hooves and teeth trimmed regularly.
Although Redden’s alpacas don’t have high quality coats, she recently found a way to use the fibre. She sorted, washed, carded and dyed fibre and then created felted balls to make necklaces.
“They’re not for everyone, and people should be prepared if they get them,” she added. “They can be a lot of work, but you can also get very attached to them.”