A Taste of Life at Windrush Alpacas

July 25, 2007

The Quest for Good Hay

Filed under: alpaca, Alpaca Care, Alpaca Health, Alpaca Nutrition, Alpacas, camelids, Crias, General — alpacalady @ 7:22 am

It’s that time of the year when we start to try and find our hay supply for the alpacas for the next year.  We like to try and buy a years supply of hay at a time to provide stability in the alpacas diet.  It really isn’t a good thing to keep switching from one hay to the other, it can cause digestive upset and sometimes the alpacas don’t like the switch and may stop eating or eat less for several days.

When you research the types of hay to feed to alpacas you will find a lot of reference to Orchard Grass hay, Timothy hay and Bermuda Grass hay.  Orchard and Bermuda grass hay can be a good choice and Timothy is okay if part of a mix with another hay, to feed straight Timothy hay can lead to problems as time goes on.

In our area Orchard hay and Bermuda hay are not grown, the area mainly caters to beef and dairy cattle and therefore the hay grown tends to be Wheat hay, Haygrazer, Alfalfa and a little Oat hay.  Haygrazer is not a good choice for alpacas and alfalfa is usually too high in protein for alpacas; you can feed a little alfalfa to your late term pregnancy girls who need the extra energy but as a rule it is not a good day to day hay for a herd of alpacas. 

Wheat hay and Oat hay can be good choices for alpacas.  We have been feeding Wheat hay for about the last two years and have enjoyed great success with it, the alpacas love it and typically it has the right nutritional values that we look for in hay.

This year with our Wet spring and slightly cooler summer you would think we would have an abundance of hay to choose from, but that isn’t the case.All hay that we purchase we have analyzed to reveal it’s nutritional content, we use a local laboratory ADM Labs of Clovis to analyze our hay. 

ADM has always provided us with great service and by having our hay analyzed we have managed to avoid some costly mistakes in our hay buying. 

As we have had various samples of hay tested this year we are finding that the hay in our area is deficient in calcium.  We usually like to see our calcium to phosphorus levels run at 2:1 or at the least 1.5:1 but this year the calcium levels are low and the calcium phosphorus levels are closer to 1:2 which is not good.  The correct calcium to phosphorus level is particularly important for our pregnant females and crias.  The pregnant females need to be able to produce healthy crias with good bone and provide sufficient milk to those crias all without depleting their own calcium levels.  In the young crias calcium is important for the development of their bones as they grow.

The other level we are having a particular problem with this year is potassium, we are seeing some really high potassium levels in the hay which is an indication to me that it has been over-fertilized.  While I do not know for sure I suspect that when we had such a “good” spring the farmers increased their fertilizer in an effort to produce a bumper crop.  Without getting too scientific a high potassium level could lead to the calcium in the high getting tied up and not being as available to the alpacas.

Additionally the protein levels in much of the hay we are testing are too high for alpacas.  We like our protein level to be between 12 – 14% and we are seeing protein levels in the 18% range.  While the higher protein levels are probably good for horses they are not so good for alpacas who are such efficient converters of their feed.

It looks as if we may have to buy hay from two sources and combine the two hays to get somewhere close to what we need.  It may be that with the right mineral supplementation we can come up with a diet for our alpacas that is pretty close to what we desire.  We could look at freighting in hay from another state but with the current fuel prices the cost of doing that will probably be sky high.

So for now we will continue our search for hay, it’s worth it to me to take the time to look at everything available to us and also to have it analyzed so that we know what we are feeding.   Hopefully soon we will find a good solution to our hay dilemma.



  1. what do you typically request when testing your forage hay. I have a new supplier with an alfalfa/orchard grass/wheat mix (20%/20%/60%) and I am interested in finding out if it would be suitable for my alpacas. My fields were decimated by last year’s drought and I am relying heavily on forage. I also provide sweet feed and Dr. Evans Blend ‘E’ and fiber supplements. The testing you suggest seems quite reasonable, but I need to know more about what tests to request.

    Comment by Chris Kass — June 11, 2013 @ 12:38 pm

    • Hello Chris, My apologies for not replying to your post before. I just discovered your post waiting for approval. We typically have an NIR test done on our hay, this shows moisture, protein, fiber, carbohydrates, selected minerals, qualitative date and energy/index calculations. A Wet Chemistry test is better as it give information on macro and micro minerals, it is usually more expensive than the NIR test. If you go to http://www.foragetesting.org you can access a list of labs that are certified by the National Forage Testeng Association and their rating. Rosemary

      Comment by alpacalady — November 11, 2013 @ 9:32 pm

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