Alpaca Research Article

Most Scientific research has focused on how to obtain maximum yields of field crops such as hay and pastures.  This has been successful, but has contributed to increased mineral composition in the forages.  The ideal potassium nutrient level for hay and pasture is less than 2.25% (Dry Matter Basis) in forages for Alpacas. Lab results have revealed that many pastures and hay samples have 2.00 – 4.00% potassium (Dry Matter Basis).  Field studies have found that potassium levels above 2.25% in the forages will bind up other minerals, and cause an imbalance in Alpacas.  This will create a metabolic and physiological chain of events that has a negative affect on gestation, lactation, fiber production, etc. on any animal.  When Alpacas are grazing a pasture, or eating hay, it is vital that you are aware of the potassium value.

Potassium is very important for plant overall growth and health. The grass needs adequate potassium levels to reduce the effect of plant diseases, but too much potassium in the soil will increase the potassium level in the forage. There is minimal research data available pertaining to limiting the potassium level in forage, and still supplying the necessary potassium fertilizer to the plant to prevent a potassium deficiency.

Although, the researchers have focused on maximum yield of field crops, Holmes Laboratory is promoting “ON FARM RESEARCH” geared specifically for Alpacas. If you are interested in using your farm or ranch to promote and help the Alpaca Industry, it will require detailed information, documentation and sampling techniques.  The main objective of this study is to observe and collect data on the potassium level in the soil, and the potassium level in the grass pasture or hay, that came from that same field.  This will make it possible to more accurately customize the potassium fertilizer recommendation for that field, and increase our knowledge on how to prevent a potassium deficiency in the soil, but also try to keep the forage potassium level less than 2.25%.

Importance Of Soil Testing For Efficient Management

Soil is defined as a complex medium of organic and inorganic materials providing water and nutrients to the root system of plants to support their growth and development.  This is one of the most important functions of soil, but occasionally, the soil in your pasture or hay field, may be low in one or more nutrients by those plants. The deficiency of needed nutrients are normally expressed in the appearance of the forage. Such symptoms include a light green coloration of the grass blades, weak or thin density, or a rapid decline in quality during periods of heat or moisture stress.  The only way to determine if important nutrients are low or lacking is to conduct a soil test.  It is very important to submit a soil sample for analysis before you apply any lime or fertilizer.

Holmes Laboratory offers a comprehensive Alpaca Soil Diagnostic Analysis that includes results of nutrient levels in the soil, and how to correct a deficiency or imbalance.  Another situation to be aware of is a field that might have an excess of nutrients due to over fertilization or an abundant manure application.  If you do not know the past cropping history and management of a pasture or hay field, or do not have recent soil test results, now is the time to begin accumulation detailed data about each field.

Professional Alpaca consultants explain to owners how important it is to keep accurate health and production records on all animals.  If the soil supplies all the nutrients available to the forages, and the major consumable nutrient to a Alpaca is forage, then is it consistent to an efficient managed operation to also keep accurate records of all the soils on your farm or ranch?

When a soil sample is submitted to Holmes Laboratory, please identify it as a Alpaca pasture or Alpaca hay field to receive special conservative recommendations to prevent over fertilization. The priority is on the nutritional well being of the Alpaca animal instead of how to produce the most forage from a field.

Potential Alpaca health and nutrition problems have been prevented by soil testing before the animals are allowed to graze.  This awareness is very important as the Alpaca Industry expands with new owners, and additional land is developed into pasture and hay fields. If you are interested in knowing more information about your soil fertility parameters, please follow the instructions on “How To Take A Soil Sample“.

Sampling Technique For Pasture, Hay Fields and Hay Bales

Take two clean plastic buckets to the field, along with a large scissors and a soil probe or pipe. One bucket will be for the soil samples, and the other for the grass. Follow all instructions on: “How To Take A Soil Sample“. At each location that a soil sample core is taken, also sample the grass by grabbing a handful and using the scissors to cut about three inches above the soil. Hold the grass over the plastic bucket and cut into 4 – 6 inch long pieces. This will allow for better mixing in the bucket. DO NOT pull out the grass plant, or mix roots with your sample. Any soil contamination will increase the mineral levels, and will not be an accurate representation of the potassium in the grass.

After 10 – 15 locations have been selected, thoroughly mix the grass and completely stuff a quart bag to ensure enough sample for testing. Be sure to label the soil and the grass and state that they both are from the same field. Complete the Alpaca Sample Information Form and send to Holmes Laboratory. 

Sampling Technique For Hay

Use a clean plastic bucket and a large scissors. Select 10 bales that were harvested from the same field as your collected soil sample. Reach into the center of the square bale and remove a handful of grass. Hold over the bucket and cut into 4 – 6 inch long pieces. Repeat for all 10 bales. Mix thoroughly and fill a quart plastic bag. Be sure to label and complete the Alpaca Sample Information Form and send to Holmes Laboratory.