As we’ve been researching adding alpacas to our backyard homestead, we’ve wondered about how they’ll get along with our other animals – specifically our chickens. Can alpacas live with chickens?
Alpacas can live with chickens with proper preparation and integration. Pasture sharing can have mutual benefits for both species. Preparation includes addressing nutritional requirements, pasture sharing or rotating, health needs, and general safety of all animals.
Ready to learn how to keep your alpacas and chickens together safely? Keep reading and see what I’ve learned.
Can Alpacas Live with Chickens?
Alpacas and chickens can (and do) live together for sure. It’s something that’s done by other farmers and homesteaders, so it’s not even all that crazy of an idea.
Based on my research, there are two main issues with keeping alpacas and chickens together, though. So as long as these two issues are addressed, then they can live together.
- Putting several kinds of animals together introduces a new dynamic to the combined herd. You’ll need to test having them near each other before you start keeping them all together. Having a slower integration period (maybe with a temporary fence between them while they all adjust) should help prevent major issues like the alpaca getting spooked and trampling the offending chickens.
- There are a few different nutritional issues that need to be addressed. As such, some types of feed should be set up at different feeding stations to minimize potential nutritional problems that could lead to poisoning or death. We’ll talk about this in-depth later, though.
However, if you’re like me and you’d like to know all the potential problems of keeping chickens and alpacas together, let’s go ahead and go over that now.
|Requirement||Alpacas||Chickens||Alpacas and Chickens Together|
|Indoor space needs (good weather)||Alpacas have big personal bubbles. They want their own 6’x8′ space. Each.||Chickens need 4 square feet of indoor space each – if they don’t have a pasture or open run.||The ideal would be having a barn with separate alpaca and chicken areas.|
|Indoor space needs (bad weather)||Alpacas may crowd in bad weather to keep warm. Even so, they still need a 3’x6′ space.||Chickens will huddle in their coop to keep warm. Ours like to share the same perch.||Keeping both in a shared barn (even if spaces are separate) should keep both warmer.|
|Pasture needs||1 acre per 5 animals, if purely pasture-fed.||As much as they can get. They love roaming!||Each animal can have less pasture space if fed an appropriate supplemental food.|
|Shared pasture||Alpacas tend to graze evenly if in a shared space.||Chickens roam our backyard and some of our lawn – without destroying it.||Chickens can enrich the grass for the alpacas, who in turn give a small measure of protection to the chickens.|
|Rotating pasture||Rotating pastures can help prevent overgrazing.||Small pastures may require rotating to give the grass time to regrow. Larger areas may not need rotation.||Separating the species and rotating is an option. As is pasture-sharing with rotation.|
|Minimum herd size||2 alpacas.||3-4 chickens (to prevent pecking order issues).||Per the individual species.|
|Regular care||Hoof and tooth trimming.||Egg collection.||Per the animal.|
|Feeding habits||Prefer to eat hay, grass, pasture, or silage.||They’ll eat whatever they can find and swallow.||They eat different foods, so they can share a pasture.|
|Fencing requirements||Regular or “no-climb” pasture fencing.||Chickens, once used to an area, usually stay inside of it. They can fly over it, though.||Both can share the same fencing types. Remember chickens are birds and can fly.|
|Supplements required||A daily dose of grain if there’s not enough hay or pasture grass.||Can leave out supplements like crushed oyster shells for chickens to eat on demand.||Animals may do better with separate feeding stations for supplemental feeds to prevent complications.|
|Nutrient sensitivities||Sensitive to too much copper.||Too much canola meal may affect egg taste. More info.||Separate feeding stations may be preferred.|
|Poisonous plants to avoid||Bracken fern, buckwheat, ragweed, fireweed, oleander, azaleas, agave, amaryllis, crocus, bear grass, snakeweed, buttercups, orange tree foliate, carnations, castor beans, acorns.||Foxglove, morning glory, yew, tulips, azaleas, rhododendron, monkshood, castor bean, nightshade. Chickens usually avoid things they shouldn’t eat. Usually.||Keep known poisonous plants away from your animals. Consider getting goats to eat any other weeds or poisonous plants.|
|Excrement habits||Alpacas use a shared, communal dung heap.||Chickens poop everywhere.||Keep chickens away from hay and open water sources.|
|Common Diseases and Issues||Alpacas are susceptible to dental issues, Johne’s disease, sore mouth, and other diseases.||Coccidiosis, egg-bound, infectious bronchitis, colds, scaly leg, bumblefoot (plantar pododermatitis).||Poultry may harbor and share various strains of salmonella, campylobacter, and E. coli in their GI tracts and feces. Coccidia isn’t usually cross-shared.|
|Common parasites||May catch worms or other parasites if animals are pooping near their food.||Mites, worms.||Most fowl can eat the parasites and worms that plague alpaca without issues.|
|Concerns with cross-species health||Sharing diseases and parasites.||Sharing diseases and parasites.||Controlling chicken dung near alpaca food and water sources will be the biggest issue.|
In other words, it’s totally possible to keep alpacas and chickens together. You just need to design your pasture, barn, and homesteading habits to meet each animal’s specific needs – both separately and together.
Oh, and a quick caveat. Even if you do everything just right, things still may not work. After all, we’re working with live animals here. And they each have their own opinions on how things should work, too.
Some animals can live and share space well – while others prefer not to share. So be sure to watch your animals and adjust to their temperaments.
Will Alpacas Guard Chickens?
Alpacas are prey animals, so they won’t ever be the best guard animals. However, they can offer a small measure of protection, yes. It’ll most probably be as lookouts who warn of impending problems.
They can protect against singular or small predators, though. They can’t guard against packs or large predators. There are some egg farms that use alpacas as lookouts and minor guard animals, though. Here’s one in Australia.
So if you’re considering getting alpacas to get your chickens safe, it might work. It’ll work even better if you’ve got a safe pasture (with fences) and additional guard animals. Llamas and guard dogs are popular options. Donkeys may also work.
Just know that using alpacas as your guard won’t work if you’re using totally open pasture and you’ve got large predators or packs of predators in your area. That’s a recipe for the predators to have an amazing lunch.
Pros and Cons of Keeping Alpacas and Chickens Together
Depending on who you ask, keeping chickens and alpacas together is either amazing or awful. So, let’s talk about some of the pros and cons of keeping these two types of animals together.
|Indoor Space||Keeping animals in the same barn (even in separate areas) should keep both warmer in bad weather.||A lack of separate space may put chickens, chicks, and eggs at risk of being trampled by the alpacas.|
|Pastures||Chickens’ scratching and poop can improve the pasture grasses for the alpacas. Alpacas will offer minor protection for the chickens.||Dung can become an issue, especially if chickens roost on hay racks or open water sources – and contaminate both with their droppings.|
|Feeding Habits||Sharing pasture space can be a more efficient use of space. Plus, poultry can eat the flies, bugs, and bug larvae to reduce fly and mosquito burdens.||Alpacas may be tempted to eat chicken feed (crumble or pellets). Chicken feed should be kept away from other livestock.|
|Fencing||Alpacas and chickens should be able to use the same kind of fencing.||Chickens are birds – and can fly. They may be able to fly over and/or land on any fence that’s secured in place.|
|Protection||Alpacas might help protect chickens from small predators like foxes.||Chickens and alpacas are prey and would be at risk to large or pack predators.|
|Dung||Dung is a great fertilizer.||Chicken excrement gets everywhere – and can become an issue.|
|Breeding||There shouldn’t be any cross-species attempts or issues.||No known or reported issues found in my research yet.|
|Diseases||Many diseases don’t and can’t transfer between the two species.||There is some concern for cross-contamination of strains of salmonella, campylobacter, and E. coli.|
|Parasites, Worms, and Bugs||Poultry may eat the worms and parasites that cause issues for alpacas. Chickens scratching manure may also dry it out faster, potentially reducing parasite burdens.||More animals in an area may affect the parasite burden.|
So while keeping the two animals together is definitely a possibility, you’ll need to weigh the pros and cons of doing so in your backyard homestead or farm.
Can Alpacas and Chickens Share a Pasture?
Yes, chickens and alpacas can definitely share a pasture. Because they eat different foods, it’s an efficient use of space, pasture, and resources. However, you do need to consider dung.
On the one hand, chickens will rake and scratch pretty much everything – including dung. That will potentially help it dry out faster and reduce the risk of parasites, who need that wet, gross environment to spread.
However, there will also be chicken dung everywhere. And that could present a health issue to the alpacas, who don’t like eating (or drinking) anywhere near fecal matter.
So if you’re keeping the animals together in a shared pasture, that’s something you’ll have to consider and address.
Another option is to rotate pastures. You could do this by having the alpacas in one area, next to the chickens, and the chickens following after the alpacas. This still keeps them living together but should cut back on the potential issues related to too much chicken poop.
Rotating pastures isn’t hard.
- Divide your available pasture land (or backyard) into separate areas. Ideally, thirds or fourths.
- Have the alpacas go into one area first. After a couple of weeks or the grass needs time to recover, rotate the alpacas to the next area.
- Move the chickens into the area that the alpacas just left. They’ll be able to scratch and break up the dung – and fertilize the whole area.
- Leave the last area fallow to recover and regrow.
- Rotate through each pasture as needed. Longer fallow time is always better.
Rotating pastures can be a great way to have several different kinds of animals on your backyard homestead while keeping the parasite load to the lowest possible factor.
Just be careful to observe your pasture space. Chickens do love to take dirt baths – so they will probably create a nice space for just that in each pasture even if they’ve got a great dirt bath area in their coop.
Oh, and my chickens like to eat grass. If yours do, too, that may impact how quickly you rotate your pastures.
Can Alpacas and Chickens Share Food Sources?
Alpacas are herbivores. Chickens are opportunistic omnivores.
So while they can share some of the same food sources, like some kinds of grasses, they don’t share other similar food sources. Chickens will eat whatever they can catch and swallow, including bugs and mice. Alpacas won’t touch those.
If you’re using hay to supplement the alpaca’s feed, chickens may show an interest in that. Odds are they’ll try to perch on the hay rack. And then they’ll poop all over the hay. If you can, try to keep chickens away from the hay as best as you can.
If you’re using chicken feed for your flock, other animals (including alpacas) may express an interest in it. However, as that’s formulated for chickens (and not alpacas), it’s best to keep the alpacas out of the chicken feed.
You can do that by using a chicken feeder or putting the chicken feed in the coop – with an opening that only allows chickens inside. That way, you won’t have to worry about your feed getting eaten by the wrong animal. Or any issues that could cause.
My research hasn’t shown any potential issues, but that’s not because issues don’t exist. It’s because there’s not enough evidence to go one way or the other. As such, it’s better to be safe than sorry.
When Alpacas and Chickens Need Separate Spaces
There are a few times in which alpacas and chickens will need to have separate spaces.
- Chickens will need a separate area for nesting and laying eggs.
- Alpacas will need a separate space when they’re birthing cria.
- Chickens and alpacas may each do better if they have separate feeding areas or stations. Having separate water stations may also be needed.
- Animals will need to be kept separate if there are temperament issues or concerns.
Based on my research, we’d want to separate any barn into two areas – and give each animal their own indoor space. That way, chickens will have a safe, dedicated space for laying – and to keep their feed.
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Our chickens use watering nipples (these ones, available on Amazon) to minimize mosquitoes and other problems. We’re still figuring out how we’d deal with watering areas for alpacas, though the idea of using a livestock nipple is one avenue we’re researching further.
We’re also looking at our alpaca options – and leaning towards not breeding any alpacas we might get. That way, we wouldn’t need a birthing space.
Will Keeping Chickens and Alpacas Together Affect Egg and Fiber Production?
Based on my research and information provided by the egg farm that uses alpacas as guard animals, keeping alpacas and chickens together does not have a negative impact on egg production.
That egg farm isn’t trying to maximize fiber production, though, so I found some fiber production research. That research concluded (based on the study of keeping sheep and alpaca together) that as long as both species are generally healthy and growing well, there isn’t a negative impact on overall production.
So as long as you can keep all of your animals healthy, you should be able to enjoy the best of both worlds – alpaca and chickens.
- “Alpaca.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 29 Feb. 2020, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alpaca.
- “Chicken.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 29 Feb 2020, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chicken.
- McElderry-Maxwell, Jill. “Keeping Alpacas with Other Livestock.” PurelySuri, 2015, www.surinetwork.org/resources/Livestock%with%Alpacas%202015.pdf.
- McGregor, B.A. “Comparative Productivity and Grazing Behaviour of Huacaya Alpacas and Peppin Merino Sheep Grazed on Annual Pastures.” Small Ruminant Research, Elsevier, 29 Mar. 2002, www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0921448802000500.
- Nutrient Requirements of Small Ruminants: Sheep, Goats, Cervids, and New World Camelids. National Academies Press, 2007.