We all know that horses are herd animals and that they suffer if they have to live on their own and while we do our best to keep them surrounded by horsey companions this isn’t always possible, especially if you face an unforeseen change in your circumstances. With the current pandemic forcing many people to reevaluate where they keep their horses I thought I’d look into whether alpacas and horses make good field mates. They may not be the most obvious choice but I was surprised at just how well the two were suited.
Do alpacas make good companions for horses? Alpacas may sound like an unusual companion for horses, but they’re both social grazers so can be excellent field mates. The only caveat I would add is that some alpacas (and some horses) can be protective over their food so it is often better to feed them separately.
Before you rush out and buy the first alpaca you come across though there are some important things you should know beforehand, after all, alpacas, just like horses (and like us for that matter too), are all different, and not every horse and alpaca partnership will be a match made in heaven. Some just won’t get on which is why it’s better to do your research first.
Are alpacas or llamas better for my horse?
Alpacas and llamas are both from the camelid species (the same family as the camel) so they share a lot of similarities. This means that they can both make great companions for a horse but there is one major difference between them both that is likely to play a role in which animal you go for.
That difference is their use, or to put it differently, what they were originally bred for. Alpacas were traditionally bred for their fleece and their meat (rather like sheep) whereas llamas were bred as pack animals. While you might not think this would make a difference in their suitability it hints at the herd instincts of the animals.
Just like horse alpacas live in herds but unlike horses, they can get very upset and stressed if they don’t have other alpacas around them. While this isn’t a problem normally, if you’re considering them for financial reasons then having at least another two animals to feed is going to be a problem. Llamas on the other hand are far more independent so can happily live in a field with a horse and no other llamas.
Do alpacas need different care to that of your horse?
The good news about alpacas is that they generally require the same amount of care (if not less) as horses do. They need plenty of fresh clean water and good quality grazing as well as some form of shelter so they can escape from the elements.
There are some significant differences between the two though that, in my opinion, makes them even easier to care for:
- Grooming – Despite their thick coats alpacas don’t need grooming daily, an occasional brush is generally enough although they do need to be sheared once a year. Typically done in the spring, you can easily do this yourself though.
- Hooves – Like all camelids, alpacas don’t have hooves, instead their feet have soft pads with two separate nails that don’t completely surround the foot (nor do they bear weight), although like hooves these nails do need to be trimmed. You can easily trim them yourself every other month.
- Manure – Let’s be honest, no matter how much you love your horse it can be a real pain wandering around the field clearing up their manure, but you don’t have to worry about this with alpacas. Instead of going anywhere (and everywhere) they have a ‘communal dung pile’ that all alpacas in the herd will use every time. This means that you only need to clean up in one place.
Of course, there are also some areas where alpacas require more care and attention than horses:
- Catching – Don’t think you can just walk up to an alpaca and lead it in like you can a horse, unless they’ve been specially trained to be caught, most alpacas will try to avoid this – often successfully.
- Exercise – Alpacas can’t be ridden but instead need to be walked regularly.
- Worms – Okay so this isn’t a positive or negative thing but while alpacas do suffer from worms they don’t share the same ones as horses. This can be a good thing in that there’s no chance of them ’sharing’ the same worms or a bad thing because you need to buy two different dewormers.
- Curiosity – Horses are extremely inquisitive but nowhere near as much as alpacas are. If your field isn’t completely safe though this can be a problem because if there’s a way out, an alpaca will definitely find it.
What should you consider before buying an alpaca?
As with buying a horse, there’s a lot you need to think about and consider before deciding whether or not an alpaca (or llama) is right for you and your horse and that you’re buying it for the right reasons.
Cost – Can you really afford to keep an alpaca? They’re generally cheaper to keep than horses but buying one because they’re cheap is the wrong way to think about it. They’ll still need food and water as well as bedding and then there are the veterinarian bills. While it can change from state to state the average cost of buying a ’pet’ alpaca is between $250 and $1,500 and their annual upkeep in the region of $370 a year (source).
Land – Alpacas don’t need anywhere near as much land as horses, in fact, one acre can happily keep up to eight, but don’t forget that they’ll be sharing the land with your horse. If you have limited grazing make sure there’s enough for both, 2 to 2.5 acres of land is enough for a horse and two or three alpacas.
Personality – Mention alpacas to most people and the first thing they’ll tell you is that they spit, but while this is true it doesn’t really explain their personality or attitude. Alpacas will never be affectionate in the same way a dog will but they’re not aggressive and will only spit at you if you’ve really upset them. Instead, they’re far more likely to spit at each other. In general, alpacas are kind animals that can be trained to be handled.
Male or female – Whether you go for an hembra (a female) or macho (a male) is up to you but most people would advise first-time owners to go for geldings. Like horses they’re a lot calmer, aren’t prone to mood swings, and can be more reliable. They’re also a little bit cheaper to buy and keep, which is a bonus.
So you’ve decided to buy an alpaca for your horse, what next?
Once you’ve done your research and decided that an alpaca is the right choice it’s time to look for the right animal (or animals) for your horse. There are many breeders and farms out there so you shouldn’t have any trouble finding suitable companions but I would personally speak to the Alpaca Owners Association first, they may be able to recommend a local breeder for you.
There are two things to consider when using the same bit for multiple horses, the fit of the bit and any health issues the horse has. When it comes to the fit, it’s crucial that it’s right for both horses and doesn’t pinch at all. That said though if one of the horses has a contagious health issue they will pass it on to other horses using the same mouthpiece. With this in mind, you can use the same bit but it’s not advisable.
Do horses need a companion?
Absolutely! Horses are herd animals that don’t cope very well when they don’t have company. Within a herd, horses take it in turns to watch out for danger while the others rest or graze. Depriving a horse of this will increase their stress levels.
Do goats make good companions for horses?
Goats make much better companions for horses than you might think. Not only do they have similar diets but they’re also good at acting like horses. Many goat and horse partnerships share a stall and graze side by side. Some racing yards even have goats that travel to races with the horses.
- How much space do horses need?
- Tips for keeping a horse on a budget
- How to prevent loneliness in horses
- Keeping a horse at home
- Feeding a horse without pasture
- Finding the right yard CCTV
- Best bedding for your horse (and alpaca)
- Preparing for a hurricane
I hope you found this article helpful. If you did I’d be grateful if you could share it please as it would really help me.
Over the years I have tried hundreds of different horsey products, from various blankets and halters to different treats. Some I’ve loved, others I’ve hated but I thought I’d share with you my top all-time favorite products, the ones I never leave the yard without. I’ve included links to the products (which are in no particular order) that I really think are great.
- Mane ’n Tail Detangler – Even if you never show your horse you’ll need to detangle his tail from time to time (and possibly his mane too) which is always a challenging chore! I’ve found that if I run a little bit of detangler through my horse’s tails every few days it stops them from getting matted up and makes combing them easy, even if they’re coated in mud. I don’t know if I should admit to this or not but it also works wonders on my hair.
- TAKEKIT Pro clippers – Over the years I’ve tried a lot of different clippers and while some were obviously better than others I found these to be by far the best. They are heavier than a lot of other clippers but for me, that’s a good thing, it makes them feel more sturdy and hardwearing. On top of that they have a range of speeds so are just as good for clipping your horse’s back as they are his face. I also like the fact that they come in a handy carry case but that’s not for everybody. The company that makes them is super good and incredibly helpful too, a real bonus these days. The only thing I wasn’t keen on was the fact that it doesn’t come with any oil, but that’s not a major problem as it’s not difficult to buy lubricant.
- Shire’s ball feeder – There are so many boredom buster toys out there but I like to use these every day, regardless of whether or not my horses are bored. I find that it helps to encourage my horses to problem solve by rewarding them with treats (or pieces of fruit) but it also mimics their natural grazing behavior which helps to keep them calm and de-stressed.
- Horse safe mirror – This is a strange one that many people are surprised about but I like to put horse safe mirrors in the trailers as well as in the quarantine stalls. It helps to prevent the feeling of isolation by giving the impression of other horses being around. Being herd animals horses can get extremely stressed when they feel that they’re on their own but with these stick-on mirrors, they believe that at least one other horse is with them.
- Rectal thermometer – I know this isn’t glamourous at all but it’s vital for your horse’s well-being to be able to check their temperature and a rectal thermometer is the easiest way of doing this which is why I’ve added it to the list.
I’ve also put together a few shopping lists of essential items that I’ve found helpful over the years. I’ve broken the lists down into different categories rather than put everything in one massive list 😉