When we bought our first small herd of Alpacas, the owner impressed us by knowing each of the animal’s names. We were told that we would quickly learn which one was which. But to us, each one looked the same, although with closer inspection some were taller, some were smaller, and some had identifying marks. It took us a few weeks, but eventually we were able to name each of our Alpacas.
Whether you intend to be an Alpaca Breeder, keep them as pets, or guard animals, getting to know each of your Alpacas is vitally important. They are herd animals and with the herd instinct will mask from the others (and therefore from you), when they don’t feel well or when they are in pain. To have a close bond with your Alpacas you need to spend some time with them on a daily basis.
With daily observation you will be able to assess stress levels of each animal, gain insight into the herd’s hierarchical structure (who is the leader?) and monitor each animal’s general health. You will be able to ascertain who over feeds, who under feeds, who is gentle and who is bullying others. It is important that you understand the behavioural patterns of each animal if you are to be able to determine when they are not feeling on top of the world.
Alpacas communicate through body posturing of ear, tail, head and neck, and they also vocalise. Getting to know some of these communication methods, will help with your understanding of your Alpacas.
The Alert Stance – The Alpaca will stand with a rigid erect body and rotate its ears forward in the direction it is staring. It signals a curiosity about a change occurring in the immediate environment. It could be a person walking in the next field, sight of a cat or dog, the arrival of someone strange to them, or sometimes even a bird that has landed in their grazing area. Very often, each Alpaca will turn and face the same way and adopt the same pose. It may result in whole members of the herd moving forward in unison to investigate or chase off the intruder. Alpacas have very keen eyesight and will often see creatures that are well hidden long before people are aware of an additional presence near a herd. If the Alpaca interprets there is no danger then the whole herd will just walk away. If they perceive it to be a danger, it may result in an Alarm Call, or rapid flight of the whole herd.
The Alarm Call – This is a high-pitched shrill sound that is often first given by the leader of the group, and then the others will follow suit. There is slight difference in sound between a Suri and an Huacaya. Alpacas which are new to your farm are more likely to Alarm Call at the sight of the cat, the dog, the hens, and even a paper bag blowing in the wind. In fact they will Alarm Call whenever they see anything they haven’t experienced before. As a responsible owner, it is important that you look for the source of their concern. Remember they have brilliant eyesight, but if you look in the same direction that they are looking, then you may find the reason for their call.
Alpacas communicate in many ways, far too many to be covered in this Article, so another will follow. But becoming familiar with these two behavioural patterns will help you understand some of your Alpacas’ behaviour.