Alpacas are cute friendly livestock animals that have quickly grown in number across the US and worldwide over the last 50 years, as people keep them not only for their super-soft wool but also their wonderful temperaments! Many people are beginning to farm them for their fibres (which can be used to make all sorts of wool based products), but did you know that also their poop can be useful as a fertiliser?
Alpaca manure is a handy alternative to conventional manures, especially as it has a good nutritional profile, doesn’t smell strong, and is reasonably easy to collect because alpacas use a communal dung heap. Alpaca manure is also known as pellets or beans, due to its small round droppings.
If you own a herd of alpacas and also want to improve your garden, if you live nearby alpaca farms, (or even if you’re just curious), then here’s everything you’ll need to know about the benefits of using alpaca poop to fertilize your plants!
Can you use Alpaca Poop as Fertilizer?
Alpaca poop is a great option to fertilize plants! Like all fertilizers, alpaca poop can bring a host of benefits to your plants. It will improve the quality of the soil, especially its ability to hold water, as well as adding valuable nutrients such as nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus.
Alpaca poop also has some distinct benefits compared to other, more conventional fertilizers. Partly this is due to the alpaca’s distinctive pseudo-ruminant stomach structure (if that sounds too technical, check out our guide to alpaca digestion here), and partly this is due to some more practical considerations, such as the alpacas’ tendency to poop in the same places which make for easy collection.
Seriously. Communal dung heaps are the best when it comes to collecting manure. It makes me wish our chickens were as considerate. Or the goats. But the alpacas are awesome that way.
Interested in finding out more? Read on to find out when you should use alpaca poop in your garden, and the pros and cons of doing so…
When Should you use Alpaca Poop as Fertilizer?
Alpaca fertilizer can be used any time you’d use normal fertilizers on your plants. Generally, fertilizing in early spring is the way to go, although soil improvement in late fall can be another great option for using up additional alpaca manure.
Fertilizers are a great way to improve your plants, but you need to be smart about when to use them. For outside crops, alpaca poop is best applied once plants are already established. Fertilizing new plants can make them grow too quickly and then you just get huge plants – and no harvest.
Generally, gardeners advise fertilizing plants in early spring, helping them launch back to life after the toughness of winter. Fertilizer will then continue to provide effect throughout the year.
However, if you live somewhere with a particularly cold climate, it’s a good idea to keep an eye on the weather. Avoid fertilizing during late cold snaps, and wait until the last frost of the winter is over to begin fertilizing.
Alpaca poop tea (yes, it’s a thing. We’ll talk more about this later) can be used on indoor plants all year round, although again it’s better to do this in all the seasons except winter.
Fertilizer schedules can be quite specific to certain crops, as well as quantities and types varying. If you’re inexperienced and want to be completely sure of getting the best out of your crops, consider consulting a gardening specialist to get professional advice, which can pay off in the long run!
Or if you’d rather avoid paying a professional, you can look up your local university’s agricultural extension. Most agricultural extensions will offer area-specific gardening advice, including timelines on planting, fertilizing, and pest management.
If you’re a visual learner, then here’s a short video where you can learn how to use alpaca poop in the food garden according to some Australian homesteaders.
Is Alpaca Manure Better than Horse or Cow Manure?
Alpaca manure is one of the only manures that can be directly applied to plants without being composted first.
One of the first things you’ll need to understand to compare different manures is what’s known as an N-P-K ratio. This ratio is a shorthand used to compare fertilizers based on the percentage of nitrogen (N), phosphoric acid (P), and potash (K) contained within them. The N-P-K ratio of alpaca manure, for example, is 1.5-0.2-1.1, which means it contains 1.5% nitrogen, 0.2% phosphoric acid, and 1.1% potash.
This ratio is a significant method of comparison between different fertilisers, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. While it initially might seem better to use synthetic fertilisers which have much higher N-P-K ratios, natural fertilisers have a whole host of benefits, such as improving soil structure, water retention, and improving the microbial content of the soil.
As synthetic fertilizers are very high in nutrients (for example a typical synthetic fertilizer may have an N-P-K ratio of 12-11-2 in contrast with alpaca poop’s 1.5-0.2-1.1), it might be a handy option to use a bit of both. This way, you can have both the cost-effectiveness of synthetic fertilizers (of which you’ll need to provide much less quantity) and the natural benefit of alpaca poop.
How does alpaca poop match up against the manure of other common livestock? Here’s a list of pros and cons!
Pros of Alpaca Manure
Let’s talk about why alpaca manure is so amazing (other than “it just is”).
Alpaca manure’s nutrient profile is comparable to other livestock
Although all types of manure have a much lower N-P-K ratio than synthetic fertilizers, alpaca manure compares very favorably with that of other livestock. For comparison, alpaca manure has an N-P-K of 1.5-0.2-1.1, whereas cow manure is closer to 0.6-0.2-0.5, and horse manure is 0.7-0.3-0.6.
Temperature of alpaca manure is safer
One of the main drawbacks of natural manures is that they can get very hot, even enough to burn your plants. However, the efficiency of the alpacas’ three stomachs means that alpaca manure has very little organic content.
Organic content is the main factor in whether manure is considered hot, so the lack of this in alpaca manure makes it much safer for your plants.
In fact, alpaca poop is one of the only manures that can be applied directly to plants (though more on this later in ‘Does Alpaca Manure Burn?’)
Alpaca poop doesn’t need composting
The fact of alpaca poop’s low organic content and temperature also has another benefit; unlike other types of manure, it doesn’t actually need to be composted before being used.
You can simply apply the pellets directly to the soil if you want, or many people make alpaca poop tea. More about this process further below, in ‘how do you fertilize plants with alpaca poop’!
Collecting alpaca poop is easy (compared to other manures)
A fun quirk of alpacas is that they all poop in communal dung piles! This means that rather than traipsing all over a field looking for manure as with cow or horse poop, you can just find the pile and shovel it all up for collection.
While this doesn’t really affect you if you are just looking to buy some from a shop, if you’re an alpaca owner you’ll be super thankful for all the effort this will save you in the long run.
Alpaca manure has fewer weed seeds
Alpacas are less prone to eating weeds than other herd animals, so their poop will be free of these too!
This is a significant benefit, as with other manures you’ll find yourself digging up pesky weeds in the weeks after fertilizing your plants, but with alpaca poop, you can sit back and relax while thinking about all the manual labor you’ve avoided.
Alpaca manure deters some pests
An interesting side effect of alpaca poop as fertilizer is that it can prevent some pests from bothering you. I’ve heard (anecdotally) that it helps with some bugs, but that the big perk to alpaca manure is that it deters deer.
I’m told that while alpaca manure is almost odorless to humans, fertilizing your plants with alpaca poop tea can put off deer from going onto your property!
Now, there are no scientific studies that prove it yet, of course. So it’s totally based on anecdotal evidence. But if someone wants to test it for me, I’d love to hear how it goes!
Cons of Alpaca Manure
Even alpaca manure isn’t the answer to every manure question in the world.
Availability of alpaca manure is a huge issue
The main disadvantage of wanting to use alpaca poop as a fertilizer is its availability. We’d all love to own nice fluffy alpacas, but they’re not anywhere near as common as other types of livestock in the US.
While there are an estimated 94.4 million cattle in the country, there are only 53,000 alpacas (source). If you own alpacas yourself or know someone who does, then you’re in luck, but if not you might find the manure tricky to find!
If you do a quick search online, you’ll see what I mean. I’ve seen alpaca manure for sale at crazy costs. And if it isn’t local, then there’s a huge shipping surcharge, too.
Now that you know all about the benefits of using alpaca poop to fertilize your plants, let’s think about how to actually do it…
How do you Fertilize Plants with Alpaca Manure?
Alpaca manure is generally safe for plants, so you can actually just spread it on your plants straight away. Place it on top of the plants you’d like to fertilize and either water it or wait for the rain to come and do it for you.
In cold weather, it’s also an option to put the manure on top of the snow, which will naturally help the nutrients seep into the soil as the snow melts.
That being said, remember to be super-safe if you’re fertilizing food you’ll eat with fresh manure. With all-natural manures, it’s a good idea to take measures to mitigate the risk of harmful pathogens such as listeria and salmonella. The best way to mitigate that risk is by composting any manure that goes on food-bearing plants.
Although alpaca poop is already safe for your plants without being composted first, both composting and heating the manure are good methods to remove this particular risk as well as providing other benefits of their own.
To compost your manure, mix it with layers of foliage in a compost bin and leave it for several weeks. Some gardeners recommend alternating layers of greens (such as kitchen scraps) and browns (garden materials such as leaves or grass clippings).
Keep the mixture slightly damp and turn the soil occasionally for best results. Adding worms to your compost will speed up the process as well as contributing extra nutritious value!
If you prefer just to heat your manure, it will need to be left at 140 degrees Fahrenheit for a matter of days. Many people do this by leaving pots in a hot space such as a greenhouse or even a car trunk. This is a beneficial process for more than just safety reasons; it also makes the poop dry and odorless, a definite benefit when you come to spread it!
Alpaca Manure Tea – how to make it and use it to fertilize your plants
One option popular with those looking to fertilize indoor plants, seedlings or even just ordinary garden plants is to make an alpaca poop tea. This isn’t for drinking, just in case the name has given you any ideas!
This is a water solution of alpaca poop in water that can be poured onto plants to give nutritional benefits. To make this, alpaca pellets should be mixed in with water in the ratio of approximately 1:2, and left to ‘steep’ overnight.
Once the nutrients have mixed into the water, it’s all ready to go and be poured on your plants.
Does Alpaca Manure Burn?
Camelids’ poop is lower in organic matter content than that of cows or horses. Alpaca manure is also lower in nitrogen than chicken poop. As such, alpaca manure won’t cause nitrogen burns on plants and will not trap as much heat as other manures.
The answer is pretty heavily related to the alpacas’ digestive biology. Camelids such as alpacas are pseudo-ruminants, which means that they have three stomachs to break down organic matter efficiently, a trait evolved due to their need to survive in areas with low quality nutrition.
As a result of their stomach getting as much as they can out of the food, their poop is much lower in organic matter than that of cows and horses (not to mention chickens, which have notoriously hot manure), so traps less heat.
This means that alpaca poop is a great fertilizer if you need something fast and easy to put on your plants, because you won’t have to worry about the risk of it burning them up.
Now, if you’re asking if alpaca manure is flammable? Then the answer is slightly different. There’s still enough organic material inside of even alpaca manure to catch fire and burn. So yes, it can be burned by fire. But why burn it? Turn that lovely manure into compost instead!
How Much Does Alpaca Manure Cost?
Alpaca manure varies hugely in price based on availability and different sites. If you’re have your own herd, or have a friend who does, then you’re in luck and might be able to get at very cheap rates or even for free!
However, if you’re not so lucky, here are a few places you can buy poop from online. Also, consider trying offline sources such as local farm shops or even asking farmers directly for the best prices!
Links and prices were correct as of June 2021. None of those links are affiliate partners – they’re just links I’ve found.
- Harvard Alpaca Ranch – $15 per bag (approx. 15 lbs)
- Island Alpaca – $15.95 per bag (approx. 2lbs, but in a fancy gift bag!)
- Mary’s Poop – $29.99 for 25 pods of poop (which can be used to make 1 gallon of fertilizer each)
Remember to check local prices – you’ll likely find much better prices. If you aren’t sure where to start, do a google search for alpaca farms near you. You can also ask at your local feed store if they know of anyone selling alpaca manure.
Final Thoughts on Alpaca Manure as Fertilizer
Alpacas are so much more than a cute, cuddly addition to a backyard homestead. They really are an animal that can help improve the whole homestead. So don’t be afraid to add an alpaca to your homestead – you’ll get a cute, cuddly friend, all that gorgeous fiber, and manure to improve your garden and yard.
Depending on where you use it, the best ways to use the manure are as composted fertilizer (if you’re using it on food plants) or as a fertilizer tea (for flowering plants that aren’t food). But it really is a great way to improve soil quality without having to go crazy.
But you don’t have to worry about heading into this alpaca farmer thing alone – I’ve got tons of articles about alpacas and homesteading for you right here. So make sure you check out this article on the 29 best treats to feed alpacas next – so that you can get the best-quality manure possible.
It’s important to learn from your own experience, but it’s also smart to learn from others. These are the sources used in this article and in our personal research to be more informed as homesteaders. 🙂
- Brown, C. Available Nutrients and Value for Manure from Various Livestock Types. Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food, 2013, fieldcropnews.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/Nutrient-Value-of-Manure.pdf.
- Stock, Melanie, et al. “Sustainable Manure and Compost Application: Garden and Micro Farm Guidelines.” DigitalCommons@USU, digitalcommons.usu.edu/extension_curall/2047/.