Specific Camelid Nutrient Requirement


Llamas are well suited to dry, arid environments and can get by with drinking water only once a day; however, at that time, particularly if they are working, they must drink two to three gallons (5 to 8% of body weight). Irrespective of this, fresh clean water should be available at all times. Water is the cheapest nutrient to feed, but often the most neglected. One factor that we cannot stress enough is that producers, especially for those having wells or springs as their water source – TEST YOUR WATER! we have seen many cases involving high levels of trace minerals, bacteria or other contaminants that could affect animal health. Water tests are cheap – much cheaper that the price of an animal or a vet bill. Also, watch to see if your animals drink from the automatic waterers, as some animals are slow to adapt if they have been kept in a pasture with a stream or other natural water source.

Carbohydrates – Forages and Grains

Llamas do very well on low-quality, cafeteria-type diets with minimal or no grain. They like variety. Grass hays are better than alfalfa because of potential hypercalcium when llamas are fed alfalfa. If given a choice, llamas usually select a more coarse, low-quality feed. In regards to pasture management, There are also plants that could be potentially toxic to camelids, thus a producer should be familiar with them in order to protect their animals. Supplementation of grain to the camelids is not advised except for those physiological states with higher nutrient requirements – late gestation, early lactation, weaning, work, extreme cold or for thin animals. If grain is supplemented to crias, they must be vaccinated against enterotoxemia.


Protein or rather amino acids are essential for camelids – particularly during late gestation, early lactation and growth. For a llama or alpaca at maintenance, 8-10% crude protein (CP) is adequate, and a rate of 12-14% CP is suggested for late gestation, early lactation and growing. Young camelids are usually weaned at four to five months of age. They can be weaned earlier at two months; however they will have a higher CP requirement (16%). As a rule of thumb – good quality alfalfa hay may have 20% CP while a good grass hay may contain 12% CP. Camelids have a relatively low protein requirement as they are capable of recycling nitrogen like the ruminant.


When discussing mineral supplementation for llamas and alpacas, one needs to consider the area of the country, and in some situations the area of the county or even the property. There are extremes of high and low mineral contents even in small areas. For example, one neighbor had a selenium (Se) deficient soil and needed to supplement Se, while the other neighbor had Se-sufficient land. If the individual with Se-sufficient soil supplements Se, they could create a Se-toxicity scenario. So why is the mineral content of the soil important? It is important because the mineral content of a forage or grain grown on the land will mimic the mineral content of the soil. If you purchasing your feeds, follow up and find out what kind of soil the crops were grown on – or test your feeds which is an even better ideal. Different forages need different mineral supplementation. For example, the calcium content in alfalfa hay is 4-6 times higher than most grass hays. A calcium:phosphorus ratio of 1.2 to 2:1 is adequate when feeding camelids. Again, check the mineral content of your water!

It is a common practice to include trace minerals in a salt career – thus the animal’s individual craving for salt controls trace mineral intake. In cases of growing, lactating or working animals, trace mineral deficiencies could occur as animals may not eat enough salt. In these physiological stages supplemental trace minerals need to be provided in a grain mix or some other form to ensure consumption.

Copper (Cu) is commonly added to feedstuffs, thus is considered safe, however molybdenum (Mo) is not – thus the balance between the two minerals is often neglected. In one study, Cu:Mo levels fed were 16.6:1 (36 mg Cu/kg and 2.2 mg Mo/kg), and four llamas died. When selecting a mineral supplement, the Cu:Mo should be 6-10:1. This is particularly important in parts of Colorado or other parts of the country where there are drainage areas with extremely high Mo. If the sulfur level exceeds 2000 ppm (mg/kg), a Cu deficiency could be the result. Again, a reminder to test your water!

Zinc (Zn) is another “monitor” mineral, and producers should ensure that the zinc level is higher that the Cu level. High levels of Zn can suppress Cu absorption, thus Zn levels should be no higher than 100 ppm of the total diet.


Most of camelid vitamin A requirements are met by feeding a high quality forage containing 13carotene. This carotenoid is converted to vitamin A in the animal’s liver or gut wall. In regards to vitamin D, llamas and alpacas evolved in the high altitudes of South America. At these altitudes, even though the animals have thick fleeces blocking 13ultraviolet light, they still acquiring enough light to convert to vitamin D3. However, in the northern latitudes, lack of sufficient II-ultraviolet light could indeed be a problem. During the winter months because of the orientation of the sun, 13-ultraviolet light only reaches the earth during certain months. This could be a problem in the case of fall-born crias, because when they are born later in the later seasons, they may not be able to acquire sufficient vitamin D3 from the sun (13-ultraviolet light) for vitamin D production. Since milk is a very poor source of vitamin D, and if young animals are not provided supplemental vitamin D, they may develop rickets. Even if a summer is unusually cloudy, or in areas of thick fog where 13-ultraviolet rays are blocked, rickets in the camelid industry is a reality. Rickets can also occur with insufficient amounts of phosphorus, calcium, magnesium or even an inverse Ca:P.

Good Water Standards for Livestock Use

Total Solids Less than 1000 ppm1

Hardness Less than 1000 ppm

Sulphates 500 ppm or less

Nitrates Less than 45 ppm

Iron Less than 5 ppm2

Sodium 500 ppm or less

Source unknown.

1 ppm = parts per million = mg/liter


Care needs to be taken in very cold or hot weather. In both extremes, animal health can be compromised particularly in geriatric animals. Geriatric animals are less able to cool or heat their bodies. In this situation, shelter from the wind in the winter and a supply of heated water (just above freezing) will aid the animal significantly. In hot weather, the animals will need some type of shade and other cooling measures to prevent them from overheating.