A collection of informative articles on all aspects of alpaca farming:
A lot of people ask the $64,000 question "when is an early birth - too early?" The answer - if it is known at all - is found in statistics, physiology, pathophysiology and a lot still remains unknown. Here is what appears to be known and unknown. First, it is not definitely known what the true gestation length (full term birth) date really is. The numbers of 335 - 345 days have largely come from South America where pasture breeding is largely done. However, some preliminary studies with known breeding dates suggest that this range will remain largely correct. There clearly is a "bell shaped" curve when looking at numbers of births vs. days gestation length. Let me use some "made up" numbers as an example. The peak incidence may well be at 340 days with only 10% of births or so falling before 320 and after 360 days. However, it is the outliers, or those unusual births way before or after the peak of 340 days, that especially cause concerns. Here is what we do with our breedings. First, we really try to achieve a single breeding to achieve a pregnancy. This minimizes uterine damage as Dr. Walter Bravo has clearly shown uterine endometrial damage with multiple breeding. Then take that exact breeding date and add 11 months. This is the "335 date" or 11 months. Then circle the calendar one full month before that (~ 305 days) and put that animal on late term pregnancy watch at that time of about 300 days. This is a dangerous time for a birth as the cria will most likely be very premature. For the rest of this, let's assume that all the dates referred to are all from single breeding pregnancies of fixed known dates. Births, a full month before the 335 date are scary. At this ~ 300 day date, the crias have not developed full term body mass, the lungs have not matured (surfactant issues), the tendons have not tightened up, the cardiovascular/cardiopulmonary system are in full fetal stage and neurologically they just do not "seem right". Other prematurity signs are floppy ears, failure of erupted teeth and weak suckling reflexes, inability to regulate homeostasis (regulation) of body temperature, blood glucose levels and other systems. Extreme intervention will be necessary to save a cria born a full month early - but farms and vets have done it! These early births are generally dangerous for the crias, but not so much for the dams.
Sometime between gestation lengths of 305 - 335 days will result in a "full term" cria as indicated by upright ears, erupted teeth, good reflexes, tight tendons, good homeostasis, etc. That being said, physiology and alpacas do NOT read the textbooks of a 335 (or 345 or some other number) gestational length! There are some fully developed crias born at say 325 days and then there will be premature looking crias at say 350 days. However, the earlier they are born in general means that the less developed they will be. These dates of about 305 to about 320 days represent a period where more uterine development time results in a more mature cria. At this point, all they really want is a "womb with a view" (had to do it!). We start to give a sigh of relief when the pregnancy hits 320 days as in general this will be a "full term" birth and checking for an acutely premature cria is not necessary. It is likely that crias of a gestational age of 320 or later are well developed. But the "full term" time is a gray area. So, what do you call a cria who is perfect in all ways nursing and active with a 340-day gestation, but has floppy ears? We call this "a full term, fully developed cria with floppy ears!" We do not have a scoring system that is universally accepted for camelids like the human APGAR system. Camelids have a simply fascinating and incredible ability to delay births - sometimes called pregnancy "hibernation". This is when you have a 370-day birth with a slightly premature cria even with a single known breeding. How can this be? Recall that the fetus remains very small throughout most of the first trimester. It is thought that perhaps this is the time when development of the fetus can essentially stop and may be "on hold" for a period of time. Extreme heat is thought to cause this, as high temperatures are known to cause developmental abnormalities in rapidly dividing cells. If the physiology essentially stops development and cell division, then there may well be fewer problems with the dividing cells in heat extremes. Pretty clever of our camelid friends - huh? However, this remains all a theory and no one really knows why some births are much later than others. Then comes another worry after 350 or so days and especially at beyond 365 days (a full year after breeding). Should she be induced? Is the cria still alive? Is the cria moving inside indicating a healthy baby? This is where your experienced vet is so critically important. They can help you make a judgment call. What we have talked about here is science, physiology, statistics (and a bad pun). However, a clinician can "read" your animal and has that clinical judgment that is so important.
Work with your vet. Very late births can be dangerous for both cria and dam - sadly, sometimes both die. This is where known dates of breeding and knowledge of the dam can be of vital assistance to the vet. They can't rely on "how big they look". We have some pregnant dams that are waddling by 250 days and others maintain their "svelte figures" right up through the birth. Then pregnant huacayas look different from suris - and it will matter if they are shorn or not. What is the vet to say when you mention that the breeding "was likely sometime last November". Was it early or late November? A thirty-day shift is a huge one in terms of the vet making an informed and rational decision. Again, this is why observed pen breeding is so helpful to fix the breeding date The subject of what causes birth is still under significant research. Most, BUT NOT ALL camelid births occur in the daylight hours. If you believe that ALL births occur in daytime, then we have a Brooklyn bridge for sale. This is another feature to watch. Record the birth time of each cria, as there seems to be a similarity in birth time with each individual dam. However, we have been fooled here too. Spring gestation lengths seem to be about two weeks longer compared to fall births. The reason(s) appear unknown, but photoperiod length, amount of sun, cold/heat, feeding/nutrition, length of prior nursing cria and other factors may well play a role here. So there is a lot of difference between a full term "by dates" and a full term "by development". In general, most births seem to occur between 320 and 350 days (note how this birth time window is getting wider?) and they will be more fully developed with later gestational lengths. There does seem to be some consistency with a specific dam with regard to birth time in both dates and time of day given a similar comparison of fall or spring births. There is a big danger period both early on and then very late in gestation.
But throughout this time, there is this vast and long worry period, a constant grumpiness that occurs in all alpaca owners despite many years of experience, lots of healthy births, reading and listening to veterinary experts. This alpaca pregnancy induced emotional human patho-psychology is immediately eliminated by a running active cria! It is amazing to see the smiles on owners with a "good normal, full term and fully developed cria". Enjoy your healthy births and support those of us who have had trauma births. Eventually, the tough ones will happen to all of us and it remains hard no matter how many alpacas you own. You always wonder if you could have done more, something different or some other "blame" onto yourself. Don't beat yourself up and always look forward to good births. The glass should always be "half full."
Forages for Use in Camelid Pastures
By: Daniel Linden
An understanding of the basics of pasture types, grass types, and even to the various types of pasture systems that can be used is critical to optimizing farm land that is in use for llamas and alpacas.Llamas and alpacas are members of the tylopoda suborder in the camel family in a group of animals that are known as ruminating non-ruminants or pseudoruminants. They do not have the same number of stomach compartments as the bovine and ovine families. They only have 3 of the 4 stomach compartments that are present in other ruminant species. Because of this and other differences, we will refer to the separate chambers of the stomach as the C1, C2, and C3 instead of the rumen, reticulum, omasum, and the abomasum. This distinction is only made because this helps to explain some of the differences in digestion between camelids and cattle and sheep.
Camelids in South America have adapted well to the arid, mountainous regions of the Altiplano in which they originated. They have evolved separate stomach compartments to aid in the digestion of plant cellulose, the indigestible fiber in the stems of plants. The first stomach compartment, the C1, is a fermentation vat that holds the plant material that is ingested while specialized microbes that live in the C1digest the plant material. The plant material is broken down into constituents that the animal would otherwise be unable to use. This symbiotic relationship between the animal and the microbes is what has allowed the camelids to survive in a harsh environment with poor quality forages. The first chamber is the one that must be looked at when you consider forage strategies for llamas and alpacas. It is this chamber that will turn the grasses and plants into usable components and energy for the camelid.
As plants mature they gain more and more connective tissue in the plant walls. This can take the form of pectin between the cell walls, which is well digested, or more commonly, as lignin, cellulose, or hemicellulose, which are fibers in the cell wall matrix that are not well digested. More mature plants have a larger amount of lignin-hemicellulose interconnections that make for an increase in the difficulty for the animal in digesting these plants. Younger plants have not developed as many of these interactions and are therefore more digestible, but are also smaller and contain less plant material for the animal to eat. The farm manger must find a happy medium between plant maturity and the amount of tonnage that is to be harvested.
The type of forage that is in use is definitely a critical component for maintaining pasture health. Options include grasses, legumes, a mixture of each, or a mixture of both? Each forage type has its own pros and cons and should be selected to get the most out of the land and environment.Grasses are plants whose stems and leaves are made up of the same structure.They are generally moderate in protein and energy, but have high yields and are tolerant to a range of adverse weather conditions. An example would be crabgrass or fescue.
Legumes are plants that have leaves growing out from a central stem. Legumes contain rhizomes on their roots that can take nitrogen from the atmosphere and convert it to nitrogen that can be used by the plant for fertilizer. This gives more plant growth and less of a need to fertilize. Legumes generally have higher protein levels, but yield less tonnage per acre than grasses.
The type of pasture system that is used is a major consideration for each farm and is unique for everyone depending on their personal situation. It must be remembered that each farm is different and there is no cookie cutter approach that will work for everyone.
The simplest type of pasture system is the homogenous grass or homogenous legume system. This system uses only one type of forage for the entire pasture. An advantage to this system is that it is easy to determine fertilizer rates, yields, and time of harvest. Since there is only one species of forage, harvesting is done when the majority of the plants are at their optimum stage of maturity. The drawback to this system is that with only one plant species present there is a higher susceptibility of all plants being affected by the same thing, whether it is a disease, pests, or adverse weather conditions. It is also more difficult to adjust for forage growth slumps due to extreme cold or hot periods. An example of this would be a pasture that is all Orchardgrass.
An alternative system is to use a mix of either all grasses or all legumes. A mixture of forage species takes the best attributes of each type and combines it together. This gives a mix that will hopefully have a consistent growth regardless of the weather. This also makes it harder for one thing such as a disease or pest to wipe out the entire crop. One of the disadvantages is that it is harder to synchronize the harvest times and the rate of fertilizer application. An example would be a pasture that is 50% Orchardgrass and 50% Kentucky bluegrass.
Perhaps the best system is to use a mix of grasses and legumes. This gives the nitrogen fixing and higher protein levels from the legumes with the mass tonnage and the hardiness of the grasses. The drawback to this system is the added difficulty of timing harvest and computing fertilizer rates for multiple species. The added hardiness of the grasses removes some of the problems with winter and summer slump from poor weather conditions and is the main advantage.
The next topic that needs to be discussed is the forage species that is to be used. Three commonly used legumes are alfalfa, clover, and a newer variety, Birdsfoot trefoil. These are all nitrogen fixing legumes that have the advantage of higher protein levels than those that are found in most of the grasses. The drawback to legumes is that they are somewhat harder to establish than many of the grasses and not as tolerant of adverse weather conditions.
Alfalfa is one of the most popular legumes. However, alfalfa is not very tolerant of wetness or poorly drained soils. It also does not perform well in acidic soils. If the soils in your area have poor drainage and/or are acidic, you may want to consider an alternative. Alfalfa is a plant that is not tolerant of frequent close grazing. Most animals will selectively graze the legumes before moving on to their next favorite forage. In the end, this leaves unpalatable plants which may then have a chance to out compete or choke out the legumes. This means that alfalfa will not work well in an extensive grazing system that allows the animals time to selectively graze only a few species. In an intensive system where the animals are unable to selectively graze, alfalfa may work nicely.
Clover is more tolerant of wet, poorly drained soils and acidic soils than alfalfa, but can not stand up to the intense, dry summers of some areas. There are a variety of clover types, including red, white, and jumbo white clover. The jumbo varieties of white clover have a higher amount of forage growth, but are less hardy than the smaller varieties. Red clover, like alfalfa, may cause bloat in some animals. The white clover varieties seem less likely to cause bloat in animals. Clovers are able to be grazed frequently as long enough plant material remains to allow the plant to recover sufficiently before the next grazing. Clovers perform well in both intensive and extensive grazing systems when managed properly.Birdsfoot trefoil, a relative newcomer to the grazing community, is a well-rounded legume for pastures (Figure 4). It performs well in dry weather, and in wet and acidic soils. While Birdsfoot trefoil performs well in intensive grazing systems, it cannot handle frequent close grazing or selective grazing like that in the extensive grazing systems. Birdsfoot trefoil is also high in tannins, which are chemicals in the leaves that may act as a factor in internal parasite control. Thus lowering the frequency necessary for chemical treatments. Research is still being performed to determine the affects.
The next set of plants that needs to be looked at is the grass category. The four that are the most commonly used in this area are Kentucky bluegrass, Orchardgrass, tall fescue, and timothy.
Kentucky bluegrass is a dense sod grass that performs well somewhat wet soils. It performs fairly well in acidic soils, but excels in frequent grazing systems. It is one of the most forgiving grasses and is pretty long lived. This makes it easier on the farm manager since it does not have to be reseeded every few years.
Orchardgrass is not very tolerant in acidic or wet soils, but in an intensive grazing system that allows for infrequent close grazing it performs very well. Orchardgrass is one of the most productive grasses in the Midwest. The drawback to orchardgrass is that it matures rapidly. This makes the fiber more interconnected and less digestible. A few of the newer varieties have a slower maturation which allows it to be used as a staple grass along with others in a grazing system. These newer varieties need to be a serious consideration for any farm that utilizes a rotation time that is frequent enough that the plants are unable to reach a mature size.Tall fescue is very tolerant of acidic soils, wet soils, and even tolerant of dry conditions. It is one of the most commonly used plants for summer grazing when most other plants are going semi dormant. The palatability is lower than many other plants, but since it is one of the few plants to be active in the summer it is still useful. It works especially well in an intensive system that allows for regrowth between grazings.
Tall fescue is a matter of some debate between grazers. It is known for its habit of causing fescue toxicosis, a disorder that may be harmful to animals. This toxicosis is caused by an alkaloid produced by an endophyte fungus that infests some varieties of fescue. Fescue toxicosis can cause placental thickening, elevated body temperatures, the feet to slough off of cattle and may cause abortions in horses. It also causes agalactia, which is a drop in milk production in lactating females. Camelids seem to be more resistant to toxicosis than cattle and horses, but may still be susceptible to problems. The endophyte has been bred out of some of the newer varieties and an endophyte-free variety has been developed. This variety is not as hardy as the endophyte infected varieties and over time the infected form seeds may infect the endophyte-free pastures and out compete it resulting in an endophyte reinfection over time. A tall fescue variety has recently been developed in New Zealand that contains an endophyte variety that does not produce the harmful alkaloids. The seed is sold in the United States under the name Max-Q. It is more tolerant of adverse weather than the endophyte-free variety, though less tolerant than the infected variety, and does not cause the toxicosis in animals.
Timothy is a cool season grass that has a shallow root system. This makes it a poor choice for areas that have frequent dry spells. It is hindered by wet soils and grows poorly when frequently grazed. Timothy is mostly used in making hay, but can also be used in intensive grazing systems. The best system for timothy use would be an intensively grazed pasture system that makes hay with the spring excess.
Now that we have looked at the differences between types of forages, species of forages, the methods of harvesting, and different systems for grazing, we can decide what ways that we can use to best utilize our personal pastures. This will improve and optimize all of our pastures for the betterment of all the alpacas and llamas in our care.
David E Anderson, DVM, MS
What is Intensive grazing and how do you do it?
Daniel Linden, BS Camelid Nutrition Graduate Student Ohio State University
Management Intensive Grazing (MIG) is a wonderful concept. It was used in the 1950's to some success and has been used in New Zealand with very good success. The concept is that by intensifying the manual labor of a grazing system one can increase the animal stocking density by 20-30%. And reduce cost by allowing animals to harvest their own forage instead of the farmer harvesting the forage for them.
MIG involves rotating animals through a series of paddocks that have optimal growth of forage in each pasture as the animals enter. This generally uses 8-9 inch tall grass that is in the growth stages and NOT in the flowering or bud stages. Once a plant has gone to flower it is too mature and way too fibrous for good nutrition. The animals are allowed to graze the plants down to 2-3 inches and are then moved to the next pasture. Some systems allow crias or tuis (weanlings) to graze the new pasture first like a creep grazing.
The key to MIG is to have proper sized pastures that allow the grasses to regrow before the animals are put back in this pasture. This requires 3-4 weeks depending on the season. This also reduces some of the parasite burden because it removes the animals from pastures with new feces that will contain parasite eggs. It doesn't remove the problems totally, but may reduce the problem.
The number of paddocks and the size depends on many things:
How often you are going to move them? Sheep and cattle are moved every 3-7 days. Dairy cattle 2 times / day.
How fast does you forage grow? Summer slump will slow down growth and reduce the speed that you can rotate them.
Do you have rapidly maturing plants that go to seed before you can rotate the animals? If so you need to mow the grass to keep it young enough for the animals to digest. Excess in spring and fall can actually be mowed and made into hay since there is so much of it.
Each p[addock size will be determined by the lay of the land. Try to make each pasture a 1:1 or 1:2 size ration. A pasture that is 100 ft x 300 ft will not get good grazing in the back because the animals won't want to walk that far. Also every paddock needs to have a water source that is easily excessible. Animals graze closer to water sources. If they walk a long distance to grass and water they won't utilize the pasture well.
As far as what plants to use this is a sticky situation. This depends on your soil conditions. Legumes are essential. Clovers and alfalfa are commonly used, but clovers do better in wet soil than alfalfa. Also keep the % legume below 25%. High legumes can cause bloat and weight problems. Grasses are easier. Timothy is up to you. I don't care for it because it is pain to establish and keep alive. I know some peolple that won't have pasture or hay without it. That is up to you. Orchardgrass is great, if you get a new slower maturing variety. Kentucky bluegrass is hardy and just keeps coming back. Some people recommend fescues and rye grasses, but I do not. There are too many problems with these types of grasses that I feel it is better to be safe than sorry. Bromegrass is nice for lots of growth. Avoid the sudangrass crosses. They can produce prussic acid that is harmful.
David E Anderson, DVM, MS Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Surgeons Associate Professor of Surgery, Food Animal 601 Vernon L Tharp Street College of Veterinary Medicine The Ohio State University Columbus, Ohio 43210 Anderson.email@example.com Phone: 614-292-6661 Fax: 614-292-3530 VISIT OUR WEB-SITES: http://www.vet.ohio-state.edu/docs/ClinSci/bovine/index.htm http://www.vet.ohio-state.edu/docs/ClinSci/camelid/index.html http://www.internationalcamelidinstitute.org
DETERMINATION OF THE EFFECT OF SHADE AND HYDROTHERAPY TREATMENT ON
P.Ramsey, D. Linden, and D. E. Anderson. Dept. of Veterinary
Alpacas and llamas are native to the Andes Mountains residing at an altitude of 4,000-14,000 feet and their thermoregulation mechanisms have become adapted to this mild environment. These animals often suffer heat stress during the months of summer in North America. Effective shade and ventilation are critical to the prevention of heat stress. However, many owners use intermittent hydrotherapy as a preventative tool during excessively hot days. We hypothesized that a single administration of water would have little effect on body temperature and that there would be no difference between application to the whole body and the thermal window (ventral abdomen, inner thighs, and perineum). This study was designed to determine the interaction of shade and hydrotherapy on body temperature regulation and thermal distribution. 18 llamas and alpacas were divided into 3 treatment groups and 2 replicates (shade, sun): Group 1- no hydrotherapy, Group 2- hydrotherapy on thermal window only, and Group 3- whole body hydrotherapy. First replicate: all 3 groups were placed in the sun without any shade for 2 hours. Temperatures were recorded at 0,15,30, 45, 60, 90, 120 minutes rectally and at three different surface sites (neck, back, and tail base). Skin surface temperatures were determined using laser surface thermometer. Replicate 2 (24 hours after replicate 1)- fully shaded barn and no box fan ventilation, (all assignments-same). With the exception of the rectal temperatures, there was a slight decrease in temperature at 30 minutes after hydrotherapy. Unfortunately, this was short-lived and the temperature of all the treatment groups rose as the study went on. Ultimately, there was no difference between the whole body versus thermal window hydrotherapy treatment groups or the no hydrotherapy group. However, llamas and alpacas in shade had lower rectal and surface temperatures compared with those in full sunlight.
David E Anderson, DVM, MS
Rachel Elliott, Veterinary Student David E Anderson, DVM, MS, DACVS College of Veterinary Medicine www.icinfo.org
So you are thinking of becoming the proud owner of a llama or an alpaca. Welcome to an exciting and growing industry! While camelids are much easier to work with than many traditional livestock, these animals can be challenging at times when it becomes necessary to handle them. To help you as you begin working with these interesting animals, here are a few handling guidelines that should be used. These guidelines will make working with camelids much easier on both you and your llama or alpaca, and they will make any veterinary visits go more smoothly.
One of the most important aspects of camelid behavior to remember is their herding instinct; both llamas and alpacas are extremely herd-oriented animals. This can be both an advantage and a disadvantage as we work with them. One of the benefits of their strong herding instinct is that this can make moving groups much easier. The animals will tend to stay together and make less work for us as we move them. A disadvantage of this behavior is that it makes it difficult to single animals out for individual treatment.
Perhaps the most effective way to overcome this is to use a series of catch pens that gradually become smaller, until you are able to separate individual animals. Avoid making sudden movements that can be interpreted as threatening gestures as this may frighten the animals and make it much more difficult to catch those that you need. As you single out the individual that needs your attention, approach the animal slowly and take hold of the neck close to the head. This will allow you more control over the animal, as it will likely try to escape your grasp. For a secure hold that will be safer for you and the animal, place the head in the crook of your elbow and pull it close to your shoulder.
Congratulations, you've captured your first camelid with a minimum of stress and injury to either the animal or yourself. But what do you do with an animal that is adamant about getting away from you? Luckily, there are some tricks that will help you keep control of the animal long enough to treat it. With both llamas and alpacas, one of the easiest methods is "earing". This technique involves bringing the hand not involved in head restraint up along the animal's neck and grabbing the outside ear. Do not use a twisting motion to control the animal, rather, simply squeeze the base of the ear firmly and hold as the animal is treated. This is similar to earing in horses.
Another restraint method used for alpacas is to rest your other hand on the point of the shoulders at the base of the neck and gently but firmly press downward. This should help you to control the animal and keep it still for any treatments necessary. For an animal that is continuously swinging around and not standing still, you may use your free hand to grasp the base of the tail to help hold them in one place. You may also have another person do the same for you, especially with larger animals.
A unique camelid behavior that can be used to our advantage in handling is the "kush." This is a term for sternal recumbency, in other words, when the animal lays down with its legs up underneath its body. Depending on the animal, some llamas and alpacas will kush when you grab their tail, when they are stressed, or for no obvious reason. When the animal does go down while you are trying to handle it, allow it to do so and simply restrain the animal and apply light pressure to encourage it to maintain the posture. This handling method works well when multiple people are in the pen; one or more people can help to hold the animal while another performs the procedure. While not the least stressful handling option, it can be useful when an animal is not willing to submit to any other forms of restraint.
When properly trained, use of a halter on llamas and alpacas can be invaluable as a handling tool. Training consists of getting the animal used to handling and used to the halter from an early age. Proper halter fit is essential for its use; this is necessary due to camelid nasal anatomy. A good portion of the nose directly behind the nostrils is cartilage rather than bone. Improper halter fit can lead to pinching of the nasal passage and panic in the llama or alpaca as these animals mostly breathe through their nose. Make sure the halter is sized appropriately for a llama or alpaca and that the halter rings are almost to the corner of the eyes. This position will assure that the noseband is sitting past the cartilage on bone. Now you may use a lead rope to direct the animal, giving them an appropriate amount of slack in case something should startle the animal.
These are just a few handling tips that will help to make working
with your new llama or alpaca go more smoothly. When you become more
comfortable with these procedures and camelid behavior, your experiences
as an owner and handler will be much more enjoyable. These skills will
also be useful in the event that your llama or alpaca becomes ill; continuing
care will be more easily accomplished when you are able to give the
medicine prescribed by your veterinarian. When you have questions on
animal handling, remember to ask other owners or your veterinarian.
They can assist you in becoming better at working with these unique
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