Can You Run Alpacas and Cattle Together?

By Kimberly


With having a backyard homestead and having smaller herds, sometimes it makes better sense to keep your animals together. But could you keep a cow and alpacas together? Or what about several cows and an alpaca?

Keeping one milk cow with several alpacas might be fine if all of the animals’ temperaments allow for it. Never keep one steer with alpacas. Running multiple cows with any number of alpacas is cautioned against, due to the size difference and potential for injury.

After digging into the research, I’m not tempted to keep cows and alpacas together – but I was surprised that others have done so (and still do it) without any issues. Ready to learn more about running alpacas with cows? Let’s dig into things.

An image of a herd of cows in a rural green field.
Herd of cows at summer green field. Agricultural concept

How to Keep Cattle and Alpacas Together

If you’re wanting to keep cows and alpacas together, then you first need to know a few things and weigh them in your decision to pasture them all together. Here is what you need to consider:

  • How many of each species do you want to keep?
  • How many of each do you want to keep together?
  • How much risk are you willing to take in having one animal injure another? (Odds are it’s the alpaca who will get injured, not the cow)
  • Will the pasture-sharing alpacas be male or female?
  • Will the pasture-sharing cows be male or female?
  • Are the males (of either species) intact or have they been castrated?
  • Will the males (intact or not) attempt to breed with the other animals?

Those are the main issues. Then, you’ll need to address feed, watering, and contamination issues, too. So let’s add those questions next.

  • How will feeding both types of animals be handled?
  • Will you make the necessary allowances to manage parasite and pest loads?

Based on my research in forums and talking to experienced farmers, keeping one female cow with a few alpacas is totally doable – if the cow is a more docile one. You may even be able to keep several cows with several alpacas – provided there are not any active breeding attempts going on in the separate species or between the two different species of animals.

Steers don’t mix well with alpacas, simply because of size, temperament, and breeding ritual differences. Due to breeding ritual differences, steers may accidentally crush alpacas who lay down – because the steer thinks they’re getting the signal to do their thing. But that’s not how alpacas breed, and the poor alpaca was just laying down. But (spoiler alert) things aren’t going to end well for the alpaca – they’re going to get crushed. So please don’t ever keep intact steers with alpacas.

However, this doesn’t mean you can’t ever keep male cows with alpacas. It just means you shouldn’t keep adult (and intact) males with other animals.

I’ve read about farmers who use alpaca herds to raise an orphaned calf – or even several. In these cases, the calf adopts the alpaca as their herd – and they’re able to coexist quite happily for a while. Calves can be male or female.

As the calf gets older (and bigger), then it may need to be removed from its adopted family, depending on if it’s a milk cow or a steer. Remember – steers and alpacas aren’t a safe mixture of animals. Cows, on the other hand, may be able to mingle with their alpaca buddies for longer – like until they’re ready to give birth to their own calf.

The general consensus of the forums was that a cow who’s ready to birth a calf should be removed from alpacas for everyone’s safety – but mostly to protect the alpacas from the new mom’s attempts to protect her calf.

Finally, if you are going to keep cows with alpacas in a shared pasture, make sure that you keep an eye on parasite loads. There are several types of parasites, worms, and other pests that can be shared between alpacas and cows – in either direction. This means, your cows could pass worms to the alpacas or vice versa.

If the idea of doing more frequent stool sampling or regular deworming doesn’t appeal to you, then you may want to make one slight tweak to how you keep your animals. Consider rotating pastures instead of pasture-sharing.

Have your alpacas open a field, then rotate in the cows, and then give the field some time to lay fallow before rotating the alpacas back in. The reason why you’d want to start with alpacas (and not cows) is due to the fact that alpacas use a communal dung heap – and cows don’t. It’s far easier to remove a contained dung heap than piles that are spread all over. Or just let all that manure sit – and the cows should leave the alpaca poop pile alone. After all – they’ve got plenty of other pasture space to graze on.

Do Alpacas and Cows Get Along?

Cows and alpacas, while different sizes and different animals, can get along on some scale. Ideally, you’ll keep large herds of both animals separate. In some cases, they may simply tolerate each other. But in a few other instances, they may get along-ish.

Since alpacas and cows aren’t the same species, while they may tolerate each other, they’ll (most likely) never get along as well with each other as they will be members of their same species.

Could Alpacas and Miniature Cows Share a Pasture?

As I researched forums and chatted with farmers, one forum comment piqued my interest. It was the idea of keeping miniature cows with alpacas. And, in theory, this has far more potential than keeping regular-sized cows with alpacas.

Now, miniature cows are still larger than alpacas. But they aren’t the same magnitude larger when compared to regular-sized cows. So could you keep alpacas and miniature cows in a pasture? You might be able to, yes.

I’d still weigh all the pros and cons talked about earlier in this article, though. Just because something is doable doesn’t mean it’s safe – so make sure you consider the animals’ safety and health before going ahead with things.

What Other Animals Could Be Kept Together?

If keeping cows and alpacas together no longer appeals to you, that’s okay. You’ve got other options.

In my research, I found that there are a lot of farmers who successfully keep sheep with their cows. It wasn’t a pasture-sharing situation I’d have thought of, but it sounds like it works really well for them. Many reports have no trouble – even with the significant size difference.

In fact, the only real warning these other farmers shared was to make sure that there aren’t big issues (like predators) – or you’d get an inter-species stampede that would end in a lot of trampled livestock.

An option for keeping your alpacas with other types of animals includes horses and goats. If you’re going to pasture horses with alpacas, just remember that there still is a significant size difference. The alpacas are the more likely animal to be on the receiving end of injuries, even if it is unintentional.

Or, if you’d rather keep your alpacas with goats, then that’s a solid option, too. I’ve got a whole article about keeping goats and alpacas together, and you can read it by clicking here. It’s the option we’re leaning toward – and we’re excited as we continue our research. So you’ll definitely want to check out that article.

Or if you want a whole article that compares keeping a lot of animal types together, make sure you check out my latest guide: Compatible Livestock: which animals go together. Fair warning: it’s long and awesome. You’re welcome.

Related Questions

Do Alpacas Like to Be Petted? Alpacas don’t generally like to be petted, but they may tolerate it. Read more about alpacas being petted in this article here (COMING SOON).

Do Sheep Like to Be Petted? Sheep generally prefer not to be petted. However, they may tolerate being petted by their owner or designated person. Click here to read our article on petting sheep for more information.

Is it Possible to Raise Goats and Alpacas Together? Goats and alpacas can be raised together on a backyard homestead as long as certain precautionary steps and measures are taken. Click here to read the complete guide to what preparation has to be done to make this shared pasture experience successful.

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