How to Start an Alpaca Farm – Building a Barn for Alpacas

During our recent farm visits here at Perfect Timing Alpacas, many of the questions posed by prospective alpaca owners concerned building a barn for alpacas.  The following describes our knowledge and experience on the topic.  The above photo shows our old tobacco barn during a stage of the rehabilitation process. In this photo, you can see what we added on to the original structure to make it the barn it is today.  Thumb through our photo gallery and you’ll see a photo of the finished barn.

When we purchased our seven acres, the only structure on the land was an old, 1950s tobacco barn.  It was in total disrepair; however, it had great bones and was definitely worth saving.   We hired barn builders to re-hab it for us and also added two 14′ overhangs on either side of the barn.   The bigger the better.  I would go with at least 14 feet.  I know others who have made them shorter in length and now wish they were larger.  14 feet seems like plenty to us.  One we left open to create large covered areas off both our male and female barn stalls.  The other overhang we enclosed to create an equipment “shed” for all our heavy farm equipment that runs the length of the barn, which is about 60 feet long.  Our barn itself – not including the overhangs – is roughly 50′ by 60′ feet.

Keeping the barn wood vs. covering it with metal has proven to be a good decision.  The barn stays cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter with the wood.  Having been an old tobacco barn with space between the wall boards allows proper air ventilation during the summer months.

We have three inside stalls plus one open area between two of the stalls and have configured the areas so we have a lot of flexibility in how we use them.

A birthing/isolation stall was built mostly for when crias are born and need to spend time nursing and bonding with mom during those first crucial hours of life.  It’s a good place to isolate mother and child so that the cria learns how to latch on to mom’s teats.  You really want the nursing and bonding to be firmly in place before sending Mom and baby back out into the herd.  Our isolation stall has wood walls about 2/3 of the way up and then the top part has metal bars – kind of like a horse stall.  This way the mom is able to still see the rest of the herd while she’s in there with her new baby. It’s important for her not to feel totally cut off from her friends.

I think the workroom is an important component of the barn.  You want a space large enough to hold all of your supplies and the ability to keep that room relatively clean.  We have a water hydrant in ours (plus another hydrant in the center of the barn) as well as a shop vac for quick clean up.  We also have a large countertop with stools.  We’re mostly out there working and have little time for sitting, but it does come in handy when a new cria is born and you need to stay out there for an extended period to keep an eye on things.  There’s a large plexiglass window between the workroom and the birthing/isolation stall.  Many farms are set up this way so they can keep an eye on their alpacas without intruding upon their space.

We also have a small refrigerator for keeping meds and cool drinks during the summer.  And plenty of cabinetry in which to keep our supplies.  We purchased a Black and Decker garage storage unit that has worked well.  Or you can install old kitchen cabinets.

Something to think about when you put your barn together is making it horse friendly.   We had a large hayloft and stairs built when we rehabbed our old barn.  We made the hayloft higher than we actually needed to because we assume one day, after we are gone, someone may want to keep horses on this property.   We also designed our fencing with this in mind.  It always helps to plan for re-sale!

One of the smartest things we did was to build our house 100 feet from the barn.  It is a very short trip from our house to the barn, which is truly wonderful when it’s cold outside.  It’s also quite handy during those hot summer days when you need to turn fans on and off, refill water buckets regularly, and hose your alpacas’ bellies and legs.  Even more so, the close proximity of barn and house is especially beneficial when you are waiting for a pregnant mom to give birth.  You’ll generally begin cria watch (keeping a close eye to see if mama is in labor OR the baby has already arrived) about two weeks before mama’s due date.  This can easily mean a full month – or more – of cria watch, and you’ll want to be checking on her every two hours once you think she is getting close to delivery.  That’s a whole lot of checking, and it’s nice to have to walk only a short number of steps to accomplish the task.

Be sure to install some lights in the barn.  We don’t use them a lot but if you’re out there checking at night you are going to want enough of them in the right places.  Also, one can probably never have too many electrical outlets.  Just be sure to locate them high enough up so the alpacas can’t mess with them.  Keep cords out of reach of your gang, as some alpacas like to chew on them.

Water source…it’s a good idea to centrally locate your hydrant and put a long enough hose on it so you can reach all your buckets for filling.  Of course, once winter comes, you will have to unhook the hose and carry water buckets.   Try to make it so you don’t have to carry those buckets too awfully far.

I hope the above tips have helped give prospective or new alpaca owners some good ideas for their barns.  Feel free to contact us if you have any questions.  We are happy to share our experiences with you.