Handling Alpacas

Alpacas naturally don’t like to be handled and it can be a stressfull experience for both Alpaca and owner so it is important to make it as stress free as possible for all concerned.

Alpacas are intelligent animals and will get used to a routine quickly.

We have a small area in each field where we feed the alpacas daily. They come into this area of their own volition for their daily feed. We let them feed and then relax for a while.

Within this small area we have a small handling pen constructed from 4ft high hurdles. Animals that need specific treatment can be separated out from the herd but still remain close so that they are less stressed.

The more thought and planning you put into your husbandry area the easier it is to carry out husbandry tasks and the less stress there is all round. We will happily offer advice on the best set up for your husbandry area, it is important to get it right.

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By using fenced runs alpacas can be moved from one area to the other easily. Its all about cutting down their options, they then know what is being asked of them. Our handling pen is small, the less space they have the better, if they think they can get away they will try, remove that option and there is less stress all round.

Parasite control, Vaccinations, Vitamin A D &E, toenails and shearing.

Alpacas are susceptible to the same parasites that infect our native animals such as sheep and they need medicating accordingly.

We generally don’t worm our alpacas routinely. We have discussed our situation at length with our vet and have developed a worming regime based on body condition scores, fecal egg counts and overall health of the alpacas. This is helped by the fact that we don’t overgraze or overstock our alpacas.

The Patou herd is stocked at about 4 alpacas per acre so that there is always clean pasture for them. We have found that using this regime we do not have to worm our herd very often. The added benefit of this strategy is that we minimise the risk of the parasites building up a resistance.

I must stress that this system works for us and was instigated having discussed the matter at length with our vet. It may not work for all and we always recommend that you involve your vet in deciding the best parasite control regime for your alpacas.

Sometiimes it is necessary to worm in addition to this dependant on weather conditions or the prevalence of parasites at certain times of the year. If in doubt speak to your vet.

Keeping the fields/paddocks clean by regular removal of dung undoubtedly helps to keep the worm burden down.

We also treat cria for Coccidia using a drench called Baycox Bovis, they are particularly susceptible to this at weaning time or at other times of stress. Adult alpacas normally build up a good immunity to Coccidia but it is something that is always worth considering if you have an alpaca who is losing weight or energy without good reason.

We live in quite a wet grazing area where Liver Fluke is prevalent. We routinely treat the herd with Fasinex twice a year which kills off all stages of the fluke.

Vaccination against the clostridial diseases is important although there is little hard evidence that it is effective in alpacas. Our vet said that it is better to vaccinate that not to. That was good enough advice for us.

We use Lambivac at a dosage rate of 2.0ml per alpaca regardless of size and age. The injection is given sub cutaneously.

We vaccinate the whole herd in March and September. Cria are then vaccinated at 1 month old, two months old and then every 6 months with the rest of the herd.

Vitamin A D & E is something that we give to our alpacas during the winter. This is due to the lack of sunlight in this country. In their native South America alpacas living at altitude get a healthy dose of strong sunshine all year round which produces their natural vitamins. In the UK we need to supplement the alpacas with vitamins A D & E. Failure to do so, particularly young cria may lead to rickets and ultimately death. We use an injectible A D & E which we administer sub cutaneously from October to April.

Dosages vary from product to product.

If in any doubt about any medication it is best to seek advice from another alpaca breeder or your vet, simply ignoring the situation and doing nothing is the wrong thing, your alpacas rely on you.

Alpacas have soft toenails very similar to our own and on the rocky plains of the altiplano they are worn down naturally. On the lovely soft pastures that we put them on the nails don’t get worn down and therefore to prevent injury and deformation of the toes we have to trim them.

The frequency of this varies from one animal to the other. We find that alpacas with black toenails require trimming a lot less frequently than those with light coloured nails. A rough average is 3 times a year although some may need trimming more frequently.

It is easily done with minimal instruction. We use sheep foot rot shears which seem perfectly designed for the task.

  

Shearing is required once a year in early summer. We usually try to get ours sheared at the end of May or the beginning of June, and hope for dry weather before, during and after! The fleeces can then be sorted and sent to the mill etc.

There are various shearers around in the summer and it is best to book them early as they do get busy!

The most important thing about keeping alpacas and monitoring their health is to know your animals. Alpacas hide illness very effectively, it is a built in instinctive defence mechanism. A weak or unwell alpaca will be singled out by a predator.

If you observe you alpacas daily and get to know how they move and how they behave you can hopefully pick up any subtle differences that may indicate that something is not quite right. Condition scoring to check for sudden weight loss is also a valuable tool in determining the health of your alpacas.

If you do that and investigate when you do notice a change in behaviour you will be doing the best thing for your alpacas. If in any doubt seek advice quickly.