Alpacas are cheap to feed because they eat very little — only about 2 percent of their body weight every day. One standard square bale of hay will feed an adult alpaca for about two weeks. This said, an alpaca's dietary needs are very different from other livestock. Because alpacas come from a region of South America where there's lots of copper in the soil — and, therefore, in the forage — they actually require copper as a supplement. Too much copper could kill a sheep or a cow, but an alpaca could die without it.
Otherwise, according to Piper, they need wide-bladed, grassy hay like orchard grass, fresh water and a clean pasture. They don't need much in the way of food, but medications are another story.
Alpacas are hearty animals and they don't get sick easily, but once they fall ill, it's hard to get them well again. Some medications you'd use to treat a horse or other large mammal don't work at all, but even when the medication is correct, the dosage is much different. Because an alpaca metabolizes medications differently than other livestock (they have a single, three-chambered ruminating stomach like a camel), treating one for a common illness — tapeworm, for instance — requires about seven times the dosage by weight than you would give a horse.
"I treat a 150 pound alpaca with the same dose I'd give a 1,000 pound horse," says Piper. "Some large animal vets don't know to do this, though, because they haven't treated camelids before. There are only a couple vet schools that teach camelid studies, so it's important to find a vet in your area that knows how to treat them."