Environmental impact of camelids
(herein defined as alpacas and llamas, but not including vicuna or guanaco)
David E Anderson, DVM , MS , Diplomate ACVS
Associate Professor and Director International Camelid Initiative
We have been investigating the environmental impact of camelids for several
years. These studies have included containment and shelter, feed intake, water
intake, fecal output, fecal examination for important pathogens, and pasture
management. These studies have allowed us to make a number of statements.
Containment and shelter
Camelids are easily contained and rarely challenge fencing. These species do
not perform activities that are destructive to fencing or wooden structures and
rarely jump through, over, or under fences. Shelter must be provided for
protection against adverse weather conditions. We have determined that alpacas
require a minimum of 8 square feet per animal and llamas a minimum of 10 square
feet per animal. Three sided shelters with a roof are adequate for this
Feed and water intake and fecal output
Camelids consume approximately similar amounts of water as compared with
goats (approximately 1 to 1.5 gallons per head per day for alpacas; 2 to 3
gallons per head per day for llamas). Daily urine output of alpacas (average
adult body weight 125 to 165 lbs.) and llamas (average adult body weight 250 to
350 lbs.) are similar to that of sheep (average adult body weight 150 to 300
lbs.) and goats (average adult body weight 125 to 200 lbs.). Thus, the
biological equivalency to sheep is approximately 1.0. Camelids consume a
relatively lower percentage of their body weight in dry matter on a daily basis
as compared with sheep and goats. Sheep and goats are expected to consume
approximately 2.5% of their body weight per day (e.g. 200 lbs. sheep consumes 5
lbs. dry matter per day or 16.6 lbs. grass (assuming 30% dry matter of grass).
Alpacas and llamas are expected to consume approximately 1.8 % of their body
weight per day in dry matter (e.g. a 200 lbs. camelid would consume
approximately 3.6 lbs. dry matter or 12 lbs. grass per day (assuming 30% dry
matter of grass). Fecal output is proportional to dry matter intake. Thus, the
biological equivalency to sheep is approximately 0.72. Based on these findings,
we consider camelids to be a low risk for ground water contamination (see
further comments in pasture management).
Urine is a necessary by-product of life. Water is a vital nutrient for
digestion and metabolic processes. Marcilese et al (1994) determined water
turnover in llamas. In winter, body water was estimated as 659 ml/kg with a
daily water turnover of 116 ml/ kg 0.82. In spring and summer, daily water
turnover was increased. Daily water turnover in lactating llamas in summer was
approximately 396 ml/kg 0.82 and that of non-lactating llamas was 260 ml/ kg
0.82. In studies of water consumption, alpacas consumed similar water on a body
weight basis as compared with goats. Rubsamen et al (1975) determined that
llamas consumed 62 ml/kg 0.82/24 hours and goats consumed 59 ml/kg 0.82/24
hours. Thus, a 60 kg alpaca will consume less than 1 gallon (3.7 L) of water per
day. Urine production is expected to approximate 10 to 15 ml/kg/24 hours. Thus,
a 60 kg alpaca will produce approximately 1 quart (600 to 900 ml) of urine per
Pesticides are uncommonly used in alpacas because of the limited need to do
so. Thus, the potential environmental impact is negligible.
Compared with traditional livestock species, camelids are not known to be
carriers of important pathogens (e.g. Johne's disease, Salmonella sp., E. coli
OH:157, etc) and are uncommon carriers of secondary pathogens (e.g.
Cryptosporidium sp., Giardia sp). In our studies involving random sampling of
farms with alpacas and llamas, we have not found Salmonella sp or Johne's
Disease organisms. In a study performed by the University of California at Davis
, they did not find E coli OH:157 or Cryptosporidium sp in camelid feces.
Compared with traditional livestock species, we do not consider camelids to be a
source of concern for potential pathogens to the human population.
Camelids have a unique instinctual trait with respect to deposition of feces
and urine as compared with all traditional livestock. The camelids form "dung
piles" in pastures. These dung piles are the animal kingdom equivalent of
"community toilets". Thus, these animals are extremely hygienic as compared with
horses, cattle, sheep, and goats. These dung piles allow pastures to be cleaned
effectively and efficiently on a regular basis. This is rarely done in other
livestock because of the necessity to clean the entire pasture, not selected
areas. In our research, dung piles will consume approximately 10 % of the
pasture if kept cleaned on a regular basis. Without cleaning, pasture
consumption increases to approximately 20%. Thus, the pasture contamination
equivalency of camelids as compared with other livestock is approximately 0.1 to
0.2. Cleaning of dung piles with composting of manure allows for further
limitation of any risk of ground water contamination.
Based on our research to date, we consider camelids to be one of the lowest
risk species in North American agriculture with respect to potential human
exposure to pathogens or to by-products of the animals' waste. This species
seems ideally suited to "urban farm" settings.