Llamas, alpacas need good pastures

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By David Barker

Recently, I was asked the question, “What are suitable pastures mixture for llamas and alpacas?”

Camelids are ruminants and well suited to grazing most pasture species that we commonly use.

They do have some specific requirements that need to be considered if you are planting new pasture for these species.

1. Camelids have a smaller mouth than cattle and are suited to shorter, more dense stands.

2. Data is non-existent, but it must be assumed that camelids are sensitive to toxic endophytes that are found in many tall fescue stands, and in most turf.

3. Camelids are susceptible to bloat from legumes that exceed 25 percent of pasture composition.

4. Lactating females and young stock have high nutritional requirements.

In most cases, males and fiber producers do not have high nutritional requirements.

5. Camelids can get ‘slobbers’ on clover (mostly white or ladino). It is not life threatening but unacceptable at shows.

There is some possibility that llamas might be more predisposed to slobbers than alpacas, however data is sparse on this point.

A good mixture. Last fall one Ohio alpaca owner had excellent success with the following mixture:

* Fifteen pounds per acre, festulolium, of which there are several suitable varieties.

Expect 30 percent composition.

* Five pounds per acre of endophyte-free tetraploid perennial ryegrass.

Use only forage varieties such as BG34 or Tonga and do not use any turf varieties – these probably have endophyte – aiming for around 20 percent composition.

* Five pounds per acre of orchardgrass (e.g. Tekapo is a new grazing variety).

After a few years you will get to around 30 percent composition.

* Two pounds per acre of timothy. There are many varieties, so use the recommendation of your local seed supplier.

Timothy makes up around 10 percent of composition, but tends to decrease over 4-5 years.

* Two pounds per acre of ladino white clover, expecting 10 percent composition.

* Two pounds per acre of red clover, expecting 10 percent composition.

Options. The last three components are higher quality options that can be excluded (or sown at half rates) for males and dry females with low nutritional requirements and show llamas.

Where clover is excluded, the nitrogen requirements for the pasture will need to be supplied by two to three applications of nitrogen (totaling 75-150 pounds per acre per year) to make up for the absence of nitrogen fixation.

This could be from fertilizer, or chicken manure for organic producers.

Wait until ready. One thing to consider is to ensure the newly established pastures are completely ready to be grazed.

As a rule I suggest not grazing the new pasture too closely for the first year. The young seedlings have shallow roots that can pull out with grazing – a ‘pull’ test can easily ensure they will tear off rather than pull out.

Ideally, new pasture should be kept with 5-10 inches in height. Too short weakens the small plants and too tall results in shading and stand thinning.

(Dr. David Barker is an assistant professor in the department of horticulture and crop science at Ohio State. Questions or comments can be sent in care of Farm and Dairy, P.O. Box 38, Salem OH 44460.)

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