As I’ve been researching alpacas for our backyard homestead, I wondered if fighting would be a problem. So I sat down to research how, when, and who they fight – and what I can do to prevent or help minimize any aggressive behaviors.
Alpacas primarily fight over breeding rights. Alpacas may also fight over resources like food, water, and prime real estate. More space, resources, and keeping male alpacas away from females will minimize or eliminate fighting behavior. Aggressive alpacas are atypical and may need to be culled.
Keep reading to learn more specifics – including what alpaca fights look like and how to prevent them to the best of your ability.
Why and When Alpacas Fight Each Other
Based on my research of wild alpacas (because wild alpacas aren’t a thing here in Utah), alpacas don’t typically fight a lot. They aren’t an overly-aggressive animal. However, if alpacas are going to fight, it’s usually to establish or assert their breeding hierarchy. In other words, males will fight over breeding with the females.
Some of the younger males may play-fight in order to practice and improve their fighting skills (so that they can challenge for breeding rights), but it’s less brutal than the actual fights of adult males. In the wild, there are whole herds of bachelor alpacas who roam and live together – waiting for an opportunity to challenge a herd’s male for the prime spot as the breeding male.
Other than that, most wild alpacas don’t do a lot of fighting – unless they’re short on resources and space. Even then, wild alpacas are more likely to just walk away to look for more resources than to fight.
Domesticated alpacas have a few reasons and times when they fight, which I’ll list here. Their reasons are pretty well in line with their wild cousins – and domestic alpacas should be just as prone to avoid aggressive behaviors.
|Reasons for Fighting||Rationale, Example, or Notes|
|Breeding rights or status.||Intact males will fight to see who’s the top male for breeding rights.|
|Prime Real Estate||The best real estate is the one where males get the best view or access to females. Ideally, you’ll want to keep their pastures physically and visually separated.|
|Resources||If food and water are in a perceived short supply, then the alpacas may fight to keep control of the resource by claiming a spot next to it. For example, if there’s only one watering trough, the most assertive alpaca may camp next to it and chase off any other males.|
|Limited Space||Based on my research, alpacas that don’t have enough pasture space are more likely to fight. This is due in part to the limited resource but also they just don’t have enough room to get away from each other – and they’re bored.|
|Boredom||Bored alpacas have nothing better to do – so they may start fighting or practicing to be good fighters.|
|Practice||Younger animals (especially males) will practice fighting to hone those skills as they get older.|
|No Reason – They Fight Everything||Okay, this isn’t a valid reason and is a strong sign that you’ve got an aggressive or berserk animal who may need to be sold, separated from the herd and retrained, or culled.|
So the main issues for alpaca fights on a backyard homestead (or a farm) are going to be related to breeding, space, resources, and boredom. These factors should influence your decision to keep alpacas, the pasture size they’ve got, and everything else. In other words, alpaca fights are something that can be anticipated and (mostly) prevented. But don’t worry – we’ll talk about about all of this – and how to manage things – later on in this article.
There are a lot of fantastic videos on YouTube that show just exactly what an alpaca fight can be like. To see the full potential of the brutality, there’s a great BBC Earth video that shows two guanacos (a cousin of llamas and alpacas) fighting in the wild. It gets pretty crazy.
Or, here’s a video of two male alpacas who start out play-fighting and then things get a little bit rougher. It’s a good way to see all of the normal alpaca behaviors – and to learn more about how alpacas show dominance and deference by fighting.
Just a reminder that, based on my research, this alpaca owner could a few things to mitigate and prevent future fights. But we’ll get into that later on in this article. First, we need to talk about dominance.
How Do Alpacas Show Dominance?
Alpacas don’t use dominance like other animals (like dogs) do to establish a general pack order, like for who gets to eat first. Rather, fighting for dominance seems to be limited to breeding rights. Other than that, an alpaca herd shows general dominance and deference in an effort to get along and coexist. Again, my researc it doesn’t affect who gets to eat first.
Alpacas use a combination of spitting, vocalization, and body language to show dominance or deference. These combinations will largely depend on the situation. Even so, here are a few examples I’ve found that have common themes and threads in my research.
In quiet and calm environments, body language will be the main communication tool for dominance and showing deference. In a noisier environment, you’ll also see vocalization, spitting, and more obvious signs of body language.
|Tail||Tail up over its back||Tail held rigidly away from the body to increase how big the animal looks|
|Neck and Head||Lowered||Head tilts back or raised in attempting to push down the neck of the other animal|
|Ears||Ears neutral and listening||Ears will be back and likely flat|
|Body||Lowered or sitting down||Standing broadside (asserting equality) or pushing the other animal out of the way|
|Body (more intrusive)||Dog-like behavior of crotch-sniffing, feet-sniffing, rolling over on their back||Pushing their way into the situation or even chasing/pushing another animal out of the way|
|Face||Won’t look directly at the other animal||Looks directly at the animal and evaluates the threat|
|Teeth||Not shown||Teeth bared, may attempt to bite the other animal’s neck, testicles (to emasculate a rival), or body to demand deference|
|Mounting||Will hold still to be mounted||Will mount the other alpaca to breed or show dominance|
|Fighting Stances||Run away||This includes chest butting, neck wrestling, standing on hind legs, and charging in an attempt to knock down the opponent and kneel on them|
|Play Fighting||May initiate, participate, or run away||Will win the match|
|Spitting||None||Will spit at a rival to encourage them to back down|
|Vocalization||None or humming||Lots of hoots and noises that sound scary – to scare off the would-be rival|
Now, a few notes about baby alpacas (cria) because they have a few exceptions to the above generalities.
Crias will learn these skills and put them to all sorts of good uses – from learning their place in the herd to using deference to sneak milk from a larger female alpaca who’s also nursing young (but not their mother).
Male crias will also play fight, wrestle, and mount from an early age. It’s not always a sign of them trying to assert dominance or breeding rights and roles. Rather, it’s more like practice for them – they’re practicing and learning important skills that they’ll need to develop to be a successful adult alpaca.
Finally, it’s common for cria to try and show deference to their human handlers and owners – just like they would a more senior alpaca. My research shows it’s important to reject these signs without resorting to physicality, or there will be future and escalated problems. Sadly, my research didn’t show an approved way to do just that.
Do Alpacas Fight a Lot?
Based on my research, alpacas don’t fight a lot, no. They’re herd animals who would prefer to work things out instead of fight. They can fight if they have to (and they can be fierce), but they’d much rather not.
Wild alpacas really only fight about one main thing: breeding rights. Other than that, if food or resources are an issue, they might fight. However, they’re far more likely to just wander off in search of those resources. After all, they aren’t stuck in a pasture.
Domesticated alpacas on a farm or backyard homestead aren’t very prone to fighting, either. The amount of fighting you’ll see will largely depend on the types of alpacas you’ve got around.
- If you’ve got two female (hembra) alpacas, for example, those hembras won’t be fighting over breeding. Physical altercations between females are rare. You’re more likely to see some posturing and spitting.
- However, if you’ve got two intact males who are getting frisky (and who can see the females in the next pasture over), then you’re going to have a physical fight on your hands.
There are a few other times you’ll see the alpacas fight.
|Normal Reasons Alpacas Will Fight||Notes|
|Breeding rights||Intact males will fight for dominance and breeding rights.|
|Scarce resources||If food, water, shade, and/or shelter are perceived to be a scarce resource within your pastures, then the alpacas may fight over them. In worst-case scenarios, they may even prevent others from any access to those resources.|
|Boredom||Alpacas with insufficient pasture space and entertainment (obstacles or interaction) may become so bored that they pick fights – just for something to do.|
|When threatened||Alpacas aren’t MMA fighters, but they will charge and physically fight when threatened. They will even fight predators when their herd (actual or adopted) is threatened.|
Beyond these few instances, though, alpacas aren’t fighters.
Please keep in mind that this list is only about fighting. Your alpacas (no matter the sex) may still use quiet posturing in dealing with the herd for status or position. But that’s not fighting, which is why it’s only mentioned briefly.
If you’d like to review what alpaca posturing looks like, please refer to the earlier section of this article where I shared my research findings on how alpacas show dominance.
Are Male or Female Alpacas Better?
Male and female alpacas are both great for different things – so the answer to which is better is this: it depends. What do you want your alpacas to do? How will they help your backyard homestead or farm? What are your expectations of your alpaca?
For this question, let’s refer to the following chart – so we can see a common list of when each kind of alpaca may be the best.
|Machos (Intact males or studs)||2-3+ years old||$1000-$10,000+||Machos will try to breed with any hembras.|
|Wethers (males that were castrated or gelded)||None.||$200+||Great pets, protectors, and sources of fiber.|
|Hembras (females)||18+ months old||$100-$2000+||Great pets, fiber source, and for breeding.|
|Cria (baby alpacas, gender neutral)||Per the sex||Variable.||They’re just so cute that I had to include them!|
You’re going to want to consider each of these factors when deciding if male or female alpacas are better for your situation. Here are a few, most important considerations.
- If you’re limited on how many animals you can have (like we are), then you’re going to need to factor that into your final decision.
- Is breeding one of your goals? If it is, you’ll need to weigh the costs, pros, and cons of each type of animal. You’ll definitely need females – and then either a stud or access to a farm who will stud the hembras for a fee.
- Are you looking for a pet? Then you’ll want to consider that, too.
Based on my research, if you aren’t 100% sure what you’re looking for keeping on your backyard homestead, you may want to start with a couple of wethers. That way, you won’t be investing several thousand dollars – only a few hundred. Then, if you need to pivot (either because it turns out that alpacas aren’t your thing – or you’d like to expand because you absolutely love these animals) you’re free to do so.
For our situation, we’re leaning towards either wethers, females, or one of each. We don’t have grand aspirations of breeding, but we do want docile animals with some level of protection for our motley crew of backyard homestead animals.
And in case you’re wondering what the research says about if alpacas can guard other animals, the short answer is yes – they can. You can read the full answer (and see the research) in my article on guard alpacas here.
How to Help: Change the Setup to Minimize Scuffles
Because alpacas aren’t naturally aggressive animals, if they are fighting a lot then something is wrong and needs to be changed. Unless the fights are about breeding and all the alpaca are in the wild. Then they’re probably fine and should work it out themselves.
But if there’s fighting for any other reason, then things need to be evaluated and changed on a systemic level. Because, as one alpaca expert pointed out, it’s not like we can move into the barn (and pasture) to constantly watch the alpacas to prevent fights. That’s just not a viable solution!
So instead, let’s make some positive, lasting, and systemic changes to prevent issues. Here is a complete list of fight causes, the root issues, and two solutions for fixing the problem.
The first solution is a best-case scenario fix. These fixes are the industry standard fix, based on my research. They will work better if you have more space on your farm or homestead. Next is a smaller, backyard-homestead sized fix. They should work for even the smallest of homesteads, but are still based on the industry standard recommendations.
|Cause of Fights||Root Issue||Best Fix||Backyard Homestead Fix|
|Breeding Rights||The males can see or access the females.||Put the males and females in separate pastures that aren’t visible to each other.||Consider keeping only females – and hiring a stud when needed.|
|Scarce Resources||Food, water, shelter, or shade is perceived to be limited.||Find and fix the limited resource. Build more shelters, put out more feed (and spread it around), and add more water sources.||Use a movable shelter and add more feeders and watering systems if you can.|
|Boredom||The alpaca needs more friends.||Add more alpacas to the herd and separate the herd into multiple groups and pastures.||Spend more time with your alpacas or give them more animal friends.|
|Boredom||Your alpaca needs more things to do.||Add obstacles to the pastures or take them on walks. Either of these can be done on leads.||Take your alpaca on a walk on a leash or lead.|
|Boredom||Your alpacas need more territory.||Change their pasture or put food and water in the barn to lessen territorial attachment. Change the pasture or make it bigger.||Keep feed and water in the barn. Give the alpacas more things to do.|
|Threats||You need a better fence.||Improve your fence and other predator deterrents.||Improve your fence.|
|An Aggressive Alpaca||Aggressive alpacas aren’t normal.||Change the system, watch for improvement, and prevent other alpacas from becoming aggressive. Try retraining. Sell or cull the animal if needed.||Evaluate and/or your systems. Re-home aggressive alpacas.|
Having a better system and setup for your alpacas does take some extra work and effort on your part. However, it’s going to have a huge impact on your alpacas and their overall behavior. And it’s going to make your farm or backyard homestead safer, happier, and more cooperative – no matter what kinds of alpacas you’re keeping.
So take some time to set up a better system to encourage all of your alpacas to get along and play nicely. Based on my research, this will mean better-mannered alpacas who are happier, healthier, and safer. And if you are breeding alpacas, these tips will help you have a better experience with all of your alpacas – and to have well-mannered studs even when they’re surrounded by females.
How to Help: Never Try to Break Up a Fight Yourself
Once your alpacas have started to fight, it’s important that you remove yourself from the situation for your own safety.
While alpacas aren’t large animals, they’re still not small. They can be 36″ (3 feet) tall at the shoulder – and then there’s still the neck and head on top of that. Plus, they can weight 120-180 pounds.
Do you really want to get between 180 pounds of teeth, hooves, and spit? I sure don’t. And in all of my research, the experts agree – don’t try to break up an alpaca fight.
Instead, focus on doing what you can to prevent them. Then, if a fight does happen, get out and stay safe. Once the fight has calmed down, then you can get back in there to evaluate for injury and your overall setup for improvement and preventing future issues.
You can refer to the earlier section of this article for things you can do to prevent fights and other issues in your herd.
All right – now let’s go over a few related questions that really need to be answered here, too. And if you’ve got a question that isn’t listed here – please contact me and let me know so that I can get it answered and added.
Can You Keep Two Male Alpacas Together?
It’s very common to keep two (or more) male alpacas together, so yes! Go for it.
When keeping male alpacas together, it’s most common to separate them into two herds. Most alpaca ranchers and farmers keep the intact males (machos or studs) in one pasture and the castrated males (wethers) in a separate pasture.
However, if you’re just keeping two males together (and that’s it), then it’s totally possible to keep one macho and wether together – or two of either together.
For a backyard homestead, though, it might be a great idea to consider having two wethers – they’re far cheaper than buying machos and then you won’t have to worry about breeding. You can read more about alpaca pricing and how many alpacas to get right here.
Can Alpacas Be Aggressive?
Alpacas aren’t usually aggressive. However, there are cases of intact males going a little bit crazy, or berserk.
When an animal (like an alpaca) goes berserk, it becomes aggressive towards everything. In other words, it’ll attack anything and everyone – with almost no sense of discrimination or reason. These berserk males will attack people, other alpacas, and sometimes even inanimate objects. They’ll cause all sorts of damage (physical and emotional) and even destroy long-standing herd hierarchies.
These berserk males are generally not re-trainable. In all of my research, I haven’t found any that were successfully rehabilitated after going berserk.
Once berserk, these animals may be considered dangerous. As such, it’s far better to prevent a situation that will drive animals berserk. Because once they’ve gone berserk, options become far more limited and sad. The usual options for a berserk male are to separate them, sell them to an owner who can handle them, or euthanize (cull) the animal.
For more information on aggressive and dangerous alpacas (including how to retrain them), read my post titled “Are Alpacas Dangerous?” by clicking here.
Are Male Alpacas Dangerous?
Generally, alpacas aren’t dangerous, no. However, there are cases where male alpacas do become aggressive and attack pretty much everything and everyone.
If an alpaca becomes that aggressive, they may be a berserk male. Berserk males generally do not improve if wethered and retraining generally fails. If they become too out of control and dangerous, these berserk males may need to be culled.
From my research, I’ve found that many male llamas (not alpacas) that are raised in US-based petting zoos go berserk – and have to be put down before they’ve reached even 2 years of age. So while that’s not alpaca-specific, it’s still good to keep in mind, as alpacas and llamas are cousins.
- Bennett, Marty McGee. Understanding Male Behavior in the Alpaca. Alpacas Magazine, alpacameadows.com/wp/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/Understanding-Male-Behavior.pdf.
- Franklin W.L., “The High Wild World of the Vicuña”, National Geographic, Vol 143, No 1, Jan 1973.
- Hoffman E. and Fowler M., “The Alpaca Book – Management, Medicine, Biology, and Fiber”, Clay Press Inc., Herald, California, USA, 1995.
- Paul, Elizabeth. “Alpaca Behavior.” Alpacas Australia, 2007, pp. 14–17. https://www.alpacaconsultingusa.com/library/AA_AlpacaBehaviour.pdf.
- Schulte, Norbert, and Hans Klingel. Herd Structure, Leadership, Dominance and Site Attachment of the Camel, Camelus Dromedarius. Brill, 1 Jan. 1991, brill.com/view/journals/beh/118/1-2/article-p103_7.xml.
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