Many newcomers to the livestock industry start by raising alpacas. Alpacas are simple to care for over a long period of time, compared to traditional livestock, such as goats or sheep. However, the alpaca's nutrient needs include mineral (i.e., salt) blocks. The alpaca's body cannot function correctly without the trace minerals associated with the salt blocks.
The ancient Incas of South America were the first people to domesticate Alpacas. Because the animals were exposed to the high altitudes and cold temperatures of the Andes Mountains, they developed dense fibrous fur. Current alpaca owners cultivate this fur for a profit.
Alpaca Salt Needs
Salt's chemical composition of sodium and chloride provides essential cellular functions in the alpaca's body. Muscle contractions will not occur without the presence of sodium. Unfortunately, the grass and hay that the alpaca consumes by daily grazing does not have enough sodium chloride for proper body functioning. Therefore, a supplemental salt or mineral block must be provided on a daily basis.
Mineral Block Composition
A basic salt or mineral block contains more than just sodium chloride. The blocks also contain necessary trace minerals. These trace minerals include iodine, selenium and zinc. Some mineral blocks offer composition percentage charts to compare the trace minerals within their products. In particular, alpacas require selenium to build antioxidants in their immune systems.
Alpaca Behavior Without Mineral Block Supplementation
A salt deficiency manifests itself in a behavior called pica. An alpaca with pica will search for salt intake anywhere, including in dirt or urine. It will chew on nearby items, even exposed pipes, until its salt craving subsides.
Benefits of Mineral Block Supplementation
An alpaca that has a daily mineral block supply exhibits a healthy fur coat. A healthy coat provides a better profit margin when selling the fiber within the alpaca industry. A quality fur coat sells for more compared to a misaligned, fibrous coat. A healthy alpaca will also grow at a proper rate, have straight legs and produce many years of quality fur coats.
Alternatives to the Mineral Block
According to Penn State University, alpacas do not display the same licking prowess as other livestock, such as cows. Therefore, a mineral block may not provide enough nutrients, depending on the individual alpaca's licking habits. An alpaca owner should purchase loose mineral or salt granules if the alpaca fails to lick a mineral block on a consistent basis.
Using a mineral or salt block requires a constant water supply. The salt will make the alpaca thirsty. The sodium chloride must be balanced with an available water supply.