When you’re considering getting an alpaca (or two), it’s important to know how to groom them. So, let’s talk about the dos and don’ts of alpaca grooming, based on my extensive research.
Alpacas require minimal but regular grooming to stay healthy. Check your alpaca daily for any changes, like ticks in their ears. Teeth and toenails should be trimmed regularly. Alpacas should be sheared every year. Generally, no bathing or brushing is required. Here is how to groom your alpacas.
And we’ll also talk about when you should brush your alpaca – it’s not as often as you’d think it is!
The Do’s and Don’ts of Alpaca Grooming
When I started my research, I thought caring for alpacas would be an involved, daily process (mostly for brushing out their fiber). Nope!
It turns out that alpacas are a very low-maintenance animal – and therefore a fantastic option for adding to your backyard homestead. Here are the general dos and don’ts for caring for your alpacas’ grooming needs.
|Brushing Alpacas||Remove debris by hand or with a blower. Remove or brush out matted fiber as needed.||Brush your alpaca – it will damage the fiber.|
|Fiber/Fleece Care for Shows||Do regular care and then consider using a special tool (for Suris only) to flatten and smooth the fleece||Stress too much. Shows are to a “pasture-ready” state.|
|Shearing Your Alpaca||Have your alpaca sheared every year – usually in the late spring.||Skip shearing your alpaca – it can lead to overheating issues and/or death.|
|Washing Your Alpaca||Let them get a natural bath in the rain.||Use pressurized water (like from a hose) to wash them – pressure from the water could damage their fiber.|
|Pasture Grooming||Keep the pasture clear of brambles, weeds, or plants that could snag on alpaca fiber.||Let alpaca dung (in the communal poo heap) pile up too much.|
|Teeth||Keep them even and trimmed – lined up with the upper gums.||Do it yourself – it’s okay to get help or training from an experienced shearer or veterinarian.|
|Feet and Toenails||Trim the toenails as often as once a month.||Let toenails grow too long or your alpaca will have issues with walking.|
|Ears||Check them regularly for color, ticks, and other issues.||Forget to check for ticks.|
|Regular Check-ups||Have regular check-ups with a veterinarian who will come to your backyard homestead.||Skip regular vet care and inspections, or your alpaca’s health could be put at risk.|
It’s really not a lot – and by checking your alpacas daily (which can be done easily by spending a few minutes with them just while feeding them), you’re handling most of their grooming needs. Or at least keeping up on what will need to be done at their next checkup.
Need to offer your alpaca a treat to help them hold still while grooming? Make sure you know these 29 safe alpaca treats – and the 51 treats to avoid!
Do Alpacas Need to be Brushed?
Generally, alpacas do not need to be brushed. Brushing your alpaca can actually damage its natural fiber! However, there are a few times you will need to consider brushing your alpaca.
- You may need to brush an alpaca before shearing, especially if it has lots of tangles or mats in its fiber.
- You may want to brush an alpaca before a show.
Before you brush your alpacas, however, you will need to first remove visible debris. This can be done one of two ways: by hand or by using a blower – as in, a leaf blower. We’ll talk about the leaf blower option later in this article.
Once visible debris is removed, then you can get ready to brush your alpacas by either rubbing or blowing in some conditioner. Alpaca (or llama) groomer and conditioner can help tangles (and some mats) loosen. This makes it easier to remove, detangle, or brush out the problematic tangles and mats. Plus, the conditioner will help protect the fiber when you do brush with a soft-touch slicker brush. This conditioner and soft-touch slicker brush will lift the fiber and move it away from the alpaca’s body – and remove the tangle or mat.
If the soft-coated slicker brush and conditioner combo can’t fix the mat, though, then you may need to cut out the matted fiber. Cutting out mats is a bit of a last resort, though, because it affects the overall fiber quality. Even so, it has to be done – or shearing won’t work as well.
Mat rakes may work, but it will also negatively impact fiber quality. Therefore, my research indicated that it’s better to avoid mat rakes altogether – unless it’s an older alpaca and you aren’t wanting to keep their fiber for show or processing into high-quality yarns.
If that’s the case, then it’s probably fine to use a mat rake to saw out the mats. Just put your finger between the mat and your alpaca’s skin to protect them while you’re removing the offensive mats.
Please Don’t Bathe Your Alpaca!
My research shows that bathing alpacas just isn’t something you need to do. In fact, bathing alpacas is discouraged because it could damage the fiber.
It’s not the water itself that hurts the fiber quality – it’s the pressure from the water source (like from a hose) that damages the fiber.
So if you want your alpaca to have a bath, let them stand outside during a rainstorm. That’s a sufficient bath for the alpaca. Just remember that if it’s a cold or crazy rainstorm, your alpaca may not want to bathe during that rainstorm. They may opt to go inside its shelter or barn – and that’s okay.
Use a (Leaf) Blower to Clean Your Alpacas
Picking out visible debris from an alpaca’s fiber is generally pretty easy if time-consuming. However, it’s not possible to get all of the dust out by hand. That’s where a (leaf) blower is going to come in handy!
In most of my research, alpaca owners just refer to it as a blower – but they’re definitely using something strong like a leaf blower. Maybe they don’t use it on leaves – just alpacas. Even so, that’s what they mean when they say “blower.”
Use the (leaf) blower to remove as much debris from the alpaca’s fiber as possible. You may want to also blow some conditioner onto the wool to help with snarls.
You blow in conditioner by using the blower about 18-24 inches away from the alpaca – then blow the fiber until it’s parted. Spray on the conditioner – and then keep cleaning your alpaca. Spray in more conditioner (in those blower-assisted parts) as needed.
Then, you can use a soft-touch slicker brush or a wool-taming brush to finish off those snarls, tangles, and mats.
Why use a leaf blower to clean your alpaca? Well, first it’s a much more thorough cleaning method than doing it by hand. It also gives you the ability to clean your alpaca from further away – so it can be a safer cleaning method. Especially if your alpaca doesn’t much care for getting cleaned – or for the sound of the leaf blower.
Trim an Alpaca’s Toenails Monthly
Alpacas don’t have hooves – they have toes and toenails. And those toenails can grow really long – especially if you don’t live in the rocky mountaintops of Peru.
So, you’re going to need to trim those alpaca toenails as often as every month. If your alpaca has some rocky or harder terrain in its pasture, then it may be needed less often.
To trim your alpacas’ toenails, start by getting a helper. There are some alpacas that will let a single person trim their toenails, but my research has showed such to be the exception and not the rule. So get a helper!
Then, start with the front legs. Your helper will stand on the opposite side. Run your hand down the alpaca’s leg and pick it up. Cradle the alpaca’s ankle in your hand. Inspect the alpaca’s foot. Then, use the alpaca trimmers to cut off the excess toenail – and make the cut flat, blunted, and clean.
Avoid cutting into the toenail’s quick – or the toenail will start to bleed. Pressure, an antibiotic ointment, and time should help that heal. Just be sure to check it every day until it does heal well – that way you can spot any problems like an infection.
Once the front feet are done, move to the back feet.
There are several styles of alpaca toenail trimmers – the one in the above video looks like the easier version to use, though.
Keeping an eye on your alpaca’s toenails isn’t just for trimming, though. Uneven toenail wear can help you identify gait problems, a limp, or other potential problems.
Check an Alpaca’s Ears Daily (for Ticks)
Based on my research, checking an alpaca’s ears daily is important for one main reason: ticks. If you live in an area with a high concentration of ticks, this will be more important than if ticks are rare. Even so, the grazing patterns of alpacas make checking their ears for any sorts of ticks or other bugs important – because of the risk for disease and/or infection.
So even if you don’t have a lot of ticks in your area, check your alpacas’ ears on a regular basis. That way, you’ll keep on top of their health and general well-being.
Because while you probably won’t be able to spot ticks on your alpaca’s body (and they probably won’t be there under all that fiber!), you shouldn’t have any trouble finding them in alpaca ears.
Schedule Regular (Monthly) Vet Checks
All animals need regular care and a veterinarian. So schedule regular visits with your vet. The ideal would be finding a veterinarian specializing in livestock – and who will travel to their patients.
That way, you won’t have to figure out how to transport your alpacas from your backyard homestead to the veterinarian’s office.
Ideally, set up monthly vet visits. If not monthly, make sure they are as regular as needed – and as recommended by your trusted veterinarian. These regular visits will help you manage worming (and other parasite issues), vaccinations, and nutritional supplements.
And by having a regular routine with your vet? They can help you identify grooming issues – and help you figure out how to take care of them by either teaching you or giving you an appropriate referral.
Inspect Your Alpaca’s Teeth Regularly
Alpacas don’t have a lot of teeth, but they do have some. They have molars in the back (for chewing their food) and front on their bottom jaw for biting off grasses.
These teeth are always growing, so they’ll need to be trimmed on a regular basis. Here is what you’re checking their teeth for.
- Make sure their lower front incisors are even.
- Make sure their teeth go only to the bottom of their top gums – if they’re longer than that, they’ll need to be trimmed.
Teeth are both a grooming issue – and a health issue. If an alpaca has crazy long teeth, after all, they’ll both look odd – and be unable to eat.
Ideally, your veterinarian will manage any teeth trimming. In this YouTube video, it’s a shearer who’s inspecting and trimming teeth.
So if you’ve got an experienced shearer who’s familiar with alpaca teeth, that may be another option for managing alpaca teeth trimming. In any case, you can always ask your vet who should do it – and they could give you a referral.
Shear Your Alpaca Each Year
Alpacas don’t shed their fiber. So the only way to help them avoid overheating (and maybe even heat-related sickness or death in a hot summer) is to shear them.
Shearing your alpacas each spring will help them have a cool, enjoyable summer. And it’ll be even more enjoyable summer if you make sure they’ve got a well-ventilated barn (or shed) so they can enjoy the breeze in the shade. Some alpacas of Instagram fame also enjoy getting sprayed with water – or even sit in a kiddie pool.
If you can handle shearing your alpacas, that’s fantastic. Ideally, get a shearer to show you how to do it before you try it on your own.
Finding a shearer should be easy – talk to a local 4H group to ask for a referral – or go to a local “baby animals” event to find a shearer. Just be sure to schedule your shearing each year – a shearer’s schedule fills up fast!
Alpaca Grooming: Do Pasture Grooming instead of Brushing
One of the best and easiest ways to groom your alpacas is to keep your pastures and paddocks clean. Regularly evaluate your alpacas’ living and grazing spaces for anything that could get into, tangle, or mat their fleeces.
Things to watch for include:
- anything with crazy amounts of seeds
- beech masts
- a pasture with freshly mowed or topped grass
- and anything else you notice is causing a crazy mess
Keeping your pasture clean and clear of crazy things will help your alpaca’s fleece stay cleaner, too. You may also want to clear pastures that immediately surround where your alpacas are, too. We’ve got a pretty thick raspberry patch that grows up to where our pasture will be. I’m going to have to make sure I cut it back some before we get any alpacas – so it doesn’t become an issue for their fleece and fiber quality.
Oh, and one other tip for keeping your pasture areas clear – make sure there’s plenty of space around hay to eat. That way, your alpacas will be able to eat without dropping hay on each other. Otherwise, that’s going to lead to a super messy feeding station – and some super messy alpacas.
Alpaca Show Grooming Tips
If showing your alpacas is something that potentially interests you, it looks like it can be a lot of fun. And my research shows me that it’s pretty similar to general grooming for shearing preparation.
In fact, showing an alpaca is supposed to be pretty low-maintenance style of preparation: alpacas are to be shown at a “pasture-ready” state – so ready to be sheared is definitely going to have them show-ready.
Even so, some Suri alpacas may need to be brushed. That will depend on the show and how you want to present your Suri alpaca, though.
Places you could show your alpaca are fairs, shows, 4H events, and the ever-popular baby animal days at various agricultural venues and events. My kids love seeing alpacas at the city’s baby animal days events during the springtime – so maybe one day we’ll show ours there, too.
Cite this article as: “The Do’s and Don’ts of Grooming Alpacas: an Essential Guide.” Backyard Homestead HQ, 16 March 2020, backyardhomesteadhq.com/the-dos-and-donts-of-grooming-alpacas-an-essential-guide/.