Fiber farming is sort of like eating a bag of Oreo cookies…it is hard to stop at one. The first cookie fills your senses with all of its goodness, the sweet scent of chocolate and the perfectly round dab of white cream filling between two crisp wafer cookies. I never even go down the cookie isle in the food store, never even bring a bag home, because I would have to control my desire to eat the entire contents of the bag in one sitting.
That same desire to have it all at once, has been my weakness in fiber farming. Once I entered the threshold of owning sheep, it was like this inescapable slippery slope which ultimately landed more cute and fluffy fiber animals at our doorstep. I blame my obsession on the enthusiasm of other fiber folks-those who lured me into their booths and pens at the fiber festivals-those who put their amazing animals and fiber into my hands. Over the past eleven years, we have owned sheep, llamas, angora rabbits, and angora goats, and have helped countless other people feed their fetish for everything fiber. I am happy to say, that I have overcome those temptations to have it all. With children leaving home and facing the reality that for the foreseeable future, I will be the main caretaker of the animals on our farm, I have settled on owning only one species of fiber animal at a time…..well-I think I have made that decision.
This being a common problem with fiber folks, I am often asked questions about sheep living with alpacas, or angora goats, or llamas. Just this week, someone emailed to ask what my thoughts were about sheep and alpacas being housed together. I thought it time to address this question and turned to my friend, Terry Miller, of Snowshoe Farm to shed some light on the needs of alpacas. Terry and her husband keep a large herd of alpacas here in Vermont. Here is what Terry had to say:
We have been breeding alpacas at Snowshoe Farm since 1999. Over the years, we’ve had many people ask about raising alpacas with their sheep or goats. While we have never had sheep or goats on our farm, we do have some thoughts on the subject of raising these different species of small ruminants together.
One issue that comes up when considering keeping alpacas and other ruminants together is the idea of having just one alpaca as a companion for other species. Alpacas are very strong herd animals. Alpacas belong with other alpacas. Yes, they can and do survive living only with other species as companions, and you will sometimes hear stories of an alpaca that has formed a bond with a sheep or goat or other animal, but these stories are usually the exception. It’s not a good idea to intentionally pair one alpaca with another species and expect it to thrive. Our farm never sells single alpacas as companions for other species. We feel it’s best to keep groups of at least three alpacas – a small herd.
In general, raising alpacas with sheep or goats should not present a problem, as long as you factor in some of the differing needs of each species. The most important thing to consider is their nutritional needs. All small ruminants eat mostly grass and hay, but each species may need supplemental pellets and minerals according to their specific dietary needs. It is critical that these supplements are safe for all species that have access to them. For example, supplements formulated especially for alpacas might contain too much copper for sheep, which are very susceptible to copper toxicity. One way to get around this is simply to separate different species when its time to feed the supplements, or raise each species in separate, but adjacent areas. With careful planning, it is not a difficult issue to manage.
Another problem may be the farm infrastructure, as when set up for one species, it might not work efficiently for others. For instance, many sheep farms have fencing that is much too low for alpacas. Alpacas can jump over a fairly high fence. In full fleece, they can even walk right under one wire of electric fence and never feel it. People often try to make do with an infrastructure that simply does not meet the needs of both animals when introducing new species onto the farm, and that can lead to problems. Careful planning BEFORE you bring in another species is key.