Alpaca Etiquette Basics

IMG_20210220_150736488If you’re in our area, you’re welcome to pull over and say hi to the alpacas at the gate. They spend a lot of the day behind the barn eating, but if they’re out, Theodora and Clementine are likely to greet you. We have some tips to help you not scare them off.

Alpacas look sweet and cuddly, but they actually don’t like to be touched very much—not even by each other! If you have visited our herd, Theodora probably sat down for you to pet her. That’s not actually typical behavior; she’s unusually friendly. If an alpaca doesn’t let you pet them, don’t take it personally. When making friends with an alpaca, calmness and patience are key. 

Our tips for petting an alpaca:

  • Get down on their level. 
  • Let them sniff your face. Scent is part of alpaca communication and smelling you is a way for them to get to know you. 
  • Approach an alpaca from the front or the side. 
  • Extend the back of your hand. Grasping fingers can be alarming to alpacas. 
  • Stroke the alpaca on the side of her neck or body. 
  • Do not reach for the alpaca’s face or top knot. They don’t like being touched there.
  • Do not stand behind an alpaca or pet their bums. You could get kicked.
  • Use your ears. Alpacas hum for many reasons to communicate with each other. One reason is that they’re stressed. They also make a clucking noise to warn you that they might spit at you. And a dinosaur-like sound when they’re really annoyed. Back off if they seem annoyed with you.

Don’t Stand Behind An Alpaca

Naturally, alpacas are vulnerable to predators like deer are. Their primary defenses are their herd dynamics, spitting, and kicking. They are always on alert to potential danger, so it’s generally not good manners to walk up behind an alpaca. It startles them.

Our girls weigh between 100-150 lbs, so they’re not likely to really injure you, but it’s possible. Our biggest concern is a child chasing behind an alpaca and getting pegged. So, always remember: 

Do not walk, stand, or chase behind an alpaca.

You don’t even have to be bothering them to get kicked. Several times, one of the girls has gotten annoyed by another and we got kicked just for being nearby. 

We learned on shearing day that if you have to bother an alpaca (for example, to get them on the scale or in a halter) the closer you stand to their back legs, the less they can hurt you because their kick won’t have enough velocity at that short distance. Physics!

Still, it’s best to just give their back ends some space. 

Don’t Feed the Alpacas

Unless given explicit permission by their human, it’s not good etiquette to feed an alpaca. Not all of the foods in the video are bad for them, but you see, they don’t recognize a lot as food. 

Alpacas are lean-mean fluff-producing machines who only need to eat 2% of their body weight to stay healthy. They are modified ruminants who have three compartments to their stomachs and keeping a neutral PH and a healthy gut microbiome is essential to their health. Putting on too much weight is also bad for them, particularly for pregnant alpacas.

Alpacas eat grass, hay, alfalfa, and we also give our herd just a little bit of Equine Senior Feed to fill any gaps in their diet, like a multivitamin. Alpacas are browsers, though, so they will taste whatever they find. We have to keep the pastures clear of debris and harmful plants for this reason. We’ve gotten really good at using Google Lens to identify weeds so that we can pull any that are poisonous to the alpacas. And just like with dogs and cats, some foods that we eat are toxic to alpacas. 

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