24 June 2018 | Online since 2003

24 June 2008

Choose Alpacas to guard your flock

On first appearances Alpacas seem unlikely candidates for taking on the responsibly of guarding chickens and sheep. However, as one commercial chicken farmer in North Wales has recently discovered, his two alpaca wethers (castrated males) have taken up the challenge and have made excellent chicken guards.

The Parry family live near Ruthin in North Wales and farm over 18,000 chickens producing free range eggs. It was common place for a fox to come near the chicken houses and as a result egg production would usually fall by more than 13%. That’s just by putting in an appearance let alone entering the chicken houses themselves. Foxes upset chickens, that’s a fact.

Brynn Parry saw some alpacas at a local farm and decided to investigate the potential of these wonderful animals. The simple fact is that foxes do not like alpacas and alpacas do not like foxes. The mere smell of alpacas is enough to keep foxes away. After a little research the Parry family contacted Tim Hey at Inca Alpaca and decided to buy two wethers, Chico and Maximus.

Chico and Maximus were quickly delivered to the farm and were introduced to their 18,000 new friends. Within 5 minutes both wethers took charge and began to inspect their surroundings and look for intruders. The chickens took a couple of days to get used to their new protectors but now they go about their business as normal and Chico and Maximus have been accepted wholeheartedly as ’big brothers’. So much so that it is not uncommon to see hens sitting on the alpacas backs as they graze.
Brynn Parry says ’Since Chico and Maximus have been introduced to the business we have not seen a single fox around the chicken house and high level egg production has been maintained and therefore our profits have increased’.

So where are alpacas from and why do they dislike our native foxes?

Alpacas are from the South American countries of Chile, Peru and Bolivia, but are appearing more and more in the UK as the world catches on to the outstanding properties of their luxurious fleece.

In South America, where alpacas have lived for thousands of years, they have several predators, one of them being the fox. The fox will take a weak or unwell baby alpaca (known as a cria) if it is unguarded.
As a result alpacas have developed an instinctive reaction to foxes. They have very keen eyesight and their ears can pick up the sounds of trouble from a long way off.
If a fox is careless enough to go near a herd of alpacas the adult alpacas will chase it away and if the fox is unlucky enough to get cornered they will trample it to death.

Alpacas have been used as chicken and sheep guards for over 15 years in Australia where there are over 110,000 alpacas producing a very fine, soft and elite fibre which is used in the luxury clothing market worldwide.

Their guarding potential was first realised when Australian sheep farmers, used to losing many lambs to foxes, tried them and noticed an immediate increase in lamb survival rates. The foxes were simply being chased away and as a result more lambs reached the market.
The word began to spread throughout the rural community and soon alpaca wethers were being tested on small and then large scale free range chicken farms. The results were astonishing and it was not long before alpaca wethers were in high demand.

Here in the UK the alpaca has been used not only on commercial size chicken and sheep farms but also by hobby and small scale farmers. These otherwise gentle, inquisitive and bewitching animals are easy to look after and mix happily with their new families. Many farmers have alpacas as integral parts of their operations and are reaping the rewards as a result.

Alpaca wethers live for approximately 20 years and are very easy to keep and care for. Alpacas are very efficient grazers as they are classed as semi ruminants. This means that they do well on poor pasture and require no supplementary feeding other than access to hay all year round.
They require shearing once a year, toe nail clipping three times a year and twice yearly deworming and vaccinating.

Alpacas, being non aggressive animals, can easily be halter trained and will not challenge or jump over standard sheep fencing.

In short the alpaca is a real solution to profit loss due to foxes and there are many livestock owners who will testify to that fact.


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