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Supplementary feed for alpacas and llamas

Alpacas and llamas have endearing personalities and are great companion animals for people with land. They are generally long living, hardy and “good doers” — naturally selected over millennia to survive in the dry, barren regions of
South America.

They do not typically require a high level of supplementary feeding. For non-breeding stock obesity may be more of an issue than trying to keep weight on but they have some unique challenges when living so far from the equator and may benefit from a little supplementation daily.

Vitamin D deficiency

Vitamin D (the ‘sunshine vitamin’) deficiency is common in alpacas and llamas and is exacerbated in the winter months due to decreased sunshine hours. Vitamin D plays an important role in bone development and deficiency during pregnancy and lactation can cause rickets in young cria, due to low vitamin D in the colostrum and milk. Supplementing pregnant and lactating alpaca with vitamin D is a necessity however non-pregnant and male alpaca will also benefit from vitamin D supplementation year-round too.

Thiamine deficiency

Polioencephalomalacia (PEM), inflammation of the brain due to a thiamine (vitamin B1) deficiency, is a condition more commonly seen in alpaca and llama compared to other animals. The gut flora of pseudo-ruminants like alpacas and llamas usually produce enough thiamine to satisfy animal requirements however thiamine production can be reduced in certain circumstances. Regular supplementation of thiamine helps prevent PEM arising. Once an animal is showing signs of neurological impairment, injected thiamine is required quickly to avoid death. During the year, additional vitamin D and thiamine may need to be administered to alpaca as per vet recommendations particularly for pregnant alpaca and young cria.


Oddly, these animals are very sensitive to the ionophore lasalocid (Bovatec®) which is used to control coccidia to which camelids are also prone. Extra care should be taken to ensure they are not given access to medicated calf or dairy feeds.

Facial eczema

Alpacas and llamas seem especially sensitive to facial eczema. Fungicides can be used to reduce the spore challenge or pasture can be excluded from the diet. High levels of zinc supplementation aids in the prevention of facial eczema. There are zinc products intended for cattle and sheep that people can buy including: bullets, zinc oxide for dusting or mixing into feed, and zinc sulphate for water treatment. Commercially, NRM can only add and promote a product with high levels of zinc that is registered for the class of animal being fed. Because of the small size of the market, zinc importers are reluctant to go through the registration process for alpacas and llamas so at the time of writing I cannot formulate an alpaca product with zinc above normal nutritional levels.

Take-home message

Opting for a specialist feed ensures the particular needs of these unique animals have been taken into account.  Feedback on the new NRM Alpaca Pellets, which are formulated from non-GMO ingredients, has been fantastic. For those owners that prefer to feed a textured feed when trying to mask medication, the Alpaca Pellets can be mixed with chaff and a little molasses.

For more information contact your NRM Nutrition Specialist or the friendly team at your local Farmlands store.

Dr Rob Derrick, NRM Lead Nutritionist