A Taste of Life at Windrush Alpacas

March 6, 2007

Bigger is better – or is it?

Filed under: Alpaca Care, Alpaca Nutrition, Alpacas — alpacalady @ 6:39 am

Hay is a very important part of our alpacas diet.  Alpacas are a grazing animal and their ideal set up is being in a pasture where they can graze on grass all day.

Here on the high plains the soil is poor and the moisture little.  The first couple of years we owned alpacas we tried to get grass to grow in the pastures, however as we do not have an irrigation well it proved to be very difficult.  We ended up spending a lot of money on seed and fertilizer and getting a poor result.  The grass did not thrive well, but funnily enough the weeds did, especially grass burrs which would get stuck in the alpacas fleeces  – not what we wanted at all.  So we reluctantly made the decision to go to dry lot pastures with outlying areas planted to winter wheat onto which we could rotate the alpacas to at least supply some grazing opportunity.

This set up has worked well for us, but we have also gone to great efforts to ensure that the feed and hay we do provide is the optimum nutrition for the alpacas.  We currently feed a custom made feed and we always run a test on any hay we are looking to purchase to ensure that it compliments our feed.

In this part of the world there are a lot of dairy farms, which can have anywhere between 2000 – 4000 cows.   This has had an effect on the hay growers in that the majority of them bale their hay into large round or large square bales.  The hay baling equipment to do this is less labor intensive than that required to make the smaller bales of hay.  So we frequently find that any hay supplies available locally are in big bales. 

We have been fortunate to find a local hay grower who produces an excellent wheat hay that tests out well.  The alpacas love it but it is in the large round bales.  We thought about setting out one of the large bale feeders that is used for cattle but were concerned that the alpacas would stand and eat until all of the bale was gone.  Additionally some of the feeders could prove to be unsafe for alpacas depending on their design.

We have come up with a system where we provide the alpacas with a set amount of hay each day.  There is definitely some wastage from the big bales of hay, but for the most part we keep it down to a minimum.  We do have to make sure that the open bales are well out of the wind though as otherwise our hay quickly disappears off our property!

The price of the big bales is usually better than that of small bales (if we can find any), but we often wonder if they really are the best for our needs.  Certainly when we are going to shows we cannot take a big bale with us – we would need a separate trailer just for the hay if we did that – so we fill hay bags with loose hay instead.

I understand that for the hay producers the big bales are definitely better, but for small farming operations such as ours I feel the jury is still out on whether bigger is better.  For now though we will continue to buy our big bales from our local hay grower, his hay is too good to turn away and as he is only a few miles from us freight charges are not an issue.  Maybe one day we will dream up the perfect big bale feeder for alpacas – you never know!

Rosemary

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