- The alpaca is a ruminant with three
stomachs; it converts grass and hay to energy very efficiently,
eating far less (as a percentage of its body weight) than
other farm animals.
- Alpaca manure is lower in organic matter
content than the manure from most other barnyard livestock
(cows, horses, goats and sheep) but still has enough to
improve soil texture and water-holding capacity. This lower
organic content allows alpaca manure to to be spread directly
onto plants without burning them. It is the decomposition
of organic matter content of the manure that indicates their
efficient digestion system.
- The nitrogen and potassium content of
alpaca dung is comparatively high, an indication of good
fertilizer value. Nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium are
the major plant nutrients. (They are the familiar N-P-K
on fertilizer bags, N-P-K= 1.5-0.2-1.1) Phosphorus is relatively
low as in most livestock manure. The Calcium and Magnesium
content is about average.
- South American Indians use the alpaca
waste for fuel, and local gardeners find the alpaca's rich
fertilizer perfect for growing fruits and vegetables.
- A herd of alpacas consolidates its waste
in one or two spots in the pasture, thereby controlling
the spread of parasites and making it easier to collect
and compost their fertilizer.
Alpacas of Misty Ridge
Located in Mt. Vernon, Washington, Misty Ridge Alpaca Farm
is situated in the heart of tulip country. As I passed through
the area last summer, I stopped by and spoke with the owners,
John and Shannon Ellis, about their alpaca manure and asked
if I could pick up a trailer load for testing at home. Given
the volume of manure generated by their 300 Huacaya and Suri
alpacas, they were more than happy to accommodate my request.
The following Saturday, I showed up at the appointed time
with my trailer in tow and their herd manager, Miguel, loaded
me up. As he did, he kept asking "Are you sure you have
enough?" In my zeal to get started with my next manure
test, I took a bit more than my trailer could safely hold,
proving that alpaca manure is quite heavy when wet.
This manure was kept under a covered shed roof out of the
northwest rainy weather. Even during the summer months it
had a very interesting consistency, ranging from hard, whitish
dry "pebbles" to a wet, deep green "paste"
with scattered straw and hay intermixed. The odor was quite
different from that of other farm animals, giving new meaning
to the word "distinctive". As I headed down the
highway, I received more than a few quizzical looks as steam
poured out from beneath the tarp.
Composting Alpaca Manure in O2Compost Micro-Bin
With my first shovelful, I immediately realized that alpaca
manure definitely needs to be mixed with some type of a bulking
agent to improve its porosity. It was simply too heavy and
dense to allow air to flow evenly through the mix. Fortunately,
I had just completed composting a batch of horse manure and
sawdust so I used this as my amendment. To mix the compost
and manure together, I spread out a large tarp and placed
approximately 1 foot of compost on it. Following this, I shoveled
roughly the same amount of alpaca manure onto the compost
and then I turned the two together. Shovel work is never very
efficient, but this job would be relatively easy with a farm
tractor and front-end loader.
Once mixed, I loaded one of my micro-bin test units to within
6 inches of the top. I then topped the bin off with finished
compost and covered it with a plastic tarp and wood frame
cover. Following this, I set the timer to turn the blower
on for 30 seconds every 30 minutes and I inserted three 20-inch
long temperature probes at 18", 24" and 30"
above the ground.
By the next morning (~16 hours), the pile temperature came
up to 155°F throughout the bin, a clear indication that
everything was progressing as expected. Bin temperatures stayed
high for teh better part of 3 weeks and then trailed off slowly
to ambient temperatures by the end of 6 weeks. At first, the
odor was strong but not unpleasant and within a few days there
was barely any detectable odor at all. Although there were
clumps of alpaca "paste" in the initial mix, these
inclusions broke down quite well, yielding a finished compost
that has a pleasant fragrance. With a high nutrient content
and no weed seeds, this compost will be a welcome addition
to my vegetable garden this coming spring.