ALPACA DIGESTIVE SYSTEM
The alpaca digestive system is unique. An alpaca is not a true ruminant because they have only one stomach with three compartments. True ruminants have 4 compartments.
"Big deal...who cares...so what?" you say. Well, if you understand your alpacas digestive system, then you will know how to feed your alpaca and keep them healthy.
Alpacas chew their food only enough to mix their food with saliva to lubricate the food and help it pass down the esophagus. Kinda like a hungry teenage boy. This food bolus slides its way down to compartment one (C-1) of the alpacas stomach (not sure how many compartments a teenage boy has, but to some it seems like 20).
Compartment one of the alpaca digestive system is where the fermentation process starts. Water and nutrients are, also, absorbed in compartment one of an alpacas stomach.
Your alpaca will regurgitate its food and chew some more...up to 75 times (hopefully your teenager doesn't do this). You may see an alpaca bringing up its cud. A bubble-like lump will move up its neck.
Alpacas chew their food in a figure eight motion. Once the alpaca has finished chewing, it will swallow the food, passing it into the other compartments of the stomach. The alpaca will then bring up more food to chew and continue this process.
What's important in the alpaca digestive system is the microbe population in C-1 for fermentation to take place. The microbes need your alpaca and your alpaca needs these microbes to function properly. If you upset the balance of this population, you will cause your alpaca to become compromised. You must be very careful and go slowly with any changes you make to an alpacas diet.
In compartment two (C-2), your alpaca further ferments his food.
In the first part of compartment three (C-3), your alpaca absorbs water and nutrients. The far end of the third compartment secrets acids to digest his food. This is where
can form in your alpaca if he is stressed. The PH of your alpacas stomach is fairly neutral in C-1 & C-2. It is very acidic in C-3.
The microbes in C-1 & C-2 are digested in C-3 and provide protein for your alpaca. This is an important source of amino acids for your alpaca.
The nitrogen balance in your alpacas stomach is very important, too. Your alpaca recycles urea in the stomach so that the microbes can synthesize the protein your alpacas need.
Without going into too much anatomy and physiology, you can see how important it is to keep your alpacas digestive system in balance. Your alpaca needs his microorganisms to break down cellulose, urea, and protein. The microbial byproducts provide your alpaca with fatty acids for energy.
What does all this mean? If you are taking your alpaca to a show or another farm, provide him with food he is used to eating. You can slowly add new feed if you must get him on some other food. Every year when we buy our hay, we make sure we have left over hay that our alpacas have been eating so we can add the new hay slowly.
If your alpacas are going to be in a stressful situation, it's very important not to change their feed. It can be helpful to add probiotics to get them through a stressful situation, too.
As we said before, the alpaca digestive system is unique. Now you are more aware of why it is important to feed your alpaca quality food that provides the microbial population needed to keep your alpacas stomachs working correctly. A healthy, balanced microbial population in the stomach is a healthy alpaca.
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