Urea is a non-protein source of nitrogen that can be used by fore-gut fermenters such as alpacas, goats, sheep and cattle as a source of protein. The microbes in the first compartment of the stomach are able to convert the nitrogen in urea (chemical formula CO(NH2)2; containing approximately 46% nitrogen depending on purity) into microbial protein, that is then available to the host for digestion.
Urea can form up to 1% of the total ration of an alpaca per day, on a dry matter (DM) basis. So a 70 kg alpaca, eating 1.5% of its bodyweight per day (maintenance ration) will consume approximately 1.05 kg DM per day. Thus 1% of this is approximately 10 g of urea/adult alpaca/day. Therefore, if you are feeding out pellets manufactured for adult ruminants as a supplement to adult alpacas:
- Check the amount of urea in the pellets e.g. 3% urea
- Weigh how many pellets each animal is receiving e.g. 200 g/adult alpaca
- Calculate amount of urea each animal is consuming per day: 3% of 200 g = 6 g urea/head/day
- Always introduce supplements slowly so the microbes have time to adjust to new feeds over 10-14 days.
- Be aware that urea can kill ruminants if too much is consumed too quickly.
- Ensure that the ratio of nitrogen to sulfur in the ration is 13:1 when supplementing with urea.
- Remember Dr LaRue Johnson’s adage: “You do not have to feed alpacas pellets, because they make their own”! Think about supplementing with whole oats and lupins instead!