Llama and the Alpaca Nutrition

The llama and the alpaca are not ruminants but psuedoruminants. Psuedoruminants chew their cud similar to that seen in a ruminant cow, sheep, goat, deer. However, the distinguishing factor between ruminants and pseudoruminants is the stomach, or perhaps more appropriately, the number of compartments in their stomachs. Ruminants have a single stomach with four compartments while the pseudoruminant has only three – Compartment I, Compartment II and Compartment III

Compartment I is “almost” analogous to the rumen in a ruminant – “almost” that is the quantifier – the rumen is lined with finger-like projections called papillae. These papillae absorb volatile fatty acids (VFA) which are excretory products produced by the synergistic microbial population. Compartment I found in the SA camelids does not have papillae. It does have the same synergistic microbial population; however, the walls of Compartment I are lined with gastric pits. The gastric pits produce digestive enzymes and buffers that aid in microbial fermentation. The VFA produced by the microbes are absorbed through the walls of Compartment I and the top four fifths of the Compartment IH. The second compartment, Compartment 11, is a further source of glandular secretions used in the digestive process. Compartment II also is the location of the residual esophageal groove that directs milk from the mouth of the nursing cria to Compartment IH. Compartment IH is a long tubular organ, the top four fifths secreting glandular secretions as well as mucous. The bottom fifth of this last compartment is the true or gastric stomach – that part analogous to the stomach of any non-ruminant or the abomasum of the ruminant. This portion of the stomach produces the hydrochloric acid and proteolytic enzymes critical in the digestion process. Even though they are called a pseudoruminant, some of the digestive upsets found in ruminants are rare in the camelid species. Camelids can develop lactic acidosis, but they have to overeat a very large amount of grain, and clinical symptoms may not occur for 12-36 hours after gorging themselves. Bloat too is possible, but rare in camelids. Colic is a digestive disorder associated with horses, but colic can also occur in psuedoruminants. Ruminants are not as expressive of pain as are horses or camelids, and if a llama or alpaca suffers from colic – you will know it – they will groan, grind their teeth, get up and down, rolling and other displays of pain similar to that found in the horse. Another anatomical difference between ruminants and non-ruminants would be the camelid spiral, a colon not as emphasized in traditional ruminants. This spiral colon could potentially become impacted.

On the Alta-Plano, of Chile, Peru, and Bolivia they subsist on anything from lush grass during the rainy season to almost nothing for a good portion of the year. They have to breed for cria births during the rainy season so that the females will have enough milk to keep the cria alive.
Because of the value of these animals in North America, we are not content to have the mortality rates of South America, nor the fertility rates, which are reportedly anywhere from 30% to 50%. There are those who believe that, when it comes to alpacas, because they are hardy animals, that less is better. At Windy Ridge we believe that less is trouble.
A well known Veterinarian from Kentucky states that in a study of 22000 Llamas and 3000 Alpacas across 27 states, his conclusion was that 80% of Lama medical problems are nutrition related. He says that breeders with 10 to 15 years experience were losing animals due to malnutrition.
We must however not get carried away with the thought of feeding our animals well, to the point of overfeeding. Some alpacas will over eat and become fat if given the opportunity. Watch out for the ones in particular who become the cleanup artists after the others have left just a few morsels of pellets or grain behind. An alpaca will eat in the order of 1.5% to 2% of their body weight per day. At 2% a 150 lb. alpaca will eat about 1.4 kg of food per day.

Supplementing hay and pasture for a camelid is essential to provide quality nutrition. A quality nutrition program utilizing forage and supplements can increase fiber production and overall health.

The Southern States supplements employ levels of copper, biotin, zinc, niacin, Vitamin E and amino acids needed to promote fiber quality without allowing fiber blowout. Vitamin levels and mineral balances in Southern States supplements help prevent crooked legs and promote milk production, reproductive efficiency and fiber
quality, while allowing the animal to cope with stress and prevent ulcers.