A Taste of Life at Windrush Alpacas

March 17, 2007

Does this fleece make me look fat?

Filed under: alpaca, Alpaca Care, Alpaca Health, Alpaca Reproduction, Alpacas — alpacalady @ 7:15 am

PrimeraStaying with the theme of reproductive issues, another thing that can cause problems with breeding females is obesity.

As in most species obesity in an alpaca is not a good thing.  It causes excess strain on the joints and vital organs and can also cause the alpaca’s fleece to become coarser.   There is a saying in the alpaca industry that a fat alpaca causes a fat fleece i.e. the micron count of that alpaca will be higher.

If a female alpaca is obese it can make it difficult for the breeding male to stay in position while breeding.  Often obese female alpacas will not conceive a pregnancy easily, and when it comes time for delivery of the cria the obese alpacas definitely have a harder time.  Obesity in female alpacas can also cause poor milk production.

So how do you tell if you alpaca is overweight?  When alpacas are in full fleece it is impossible to tell just by looking at them what sort of body condition they are in under their fleece.  An effective way to discover if your alpaca is overweight is by body scoring.

To body score an alpaca you need to feel the flesh and muscle over the backbone in the area just behind the withers.  Put the palm of your hand on the alpaca’s spine and feel the muscle and fat on either side of the spine using your fingers.  You want the back to feel like a nice pitched roof.  If you feel that the area is concave into the spine then your alpaca is too thin, if you hand is almost flat due to the fat and muscle over the spine then your alpaca is too fat.  The body scoring system currently used on alpacas rates the body score between 1 and 10 with 5 being ideal.  It is a little difficult to accurately describe body scoring here without the aid of a diagram.  If you are unfamiliar with body scoring then ask another alpaca breeder or your veterinarian to demonstrate it for you.

We weigh our alpacas on a monthly basis and body score them at the time of weighing.  By doing this we can compare month to month the records for each alpaca and determine if the alpaca is losing weight, gaining weight or remaining the same.  In pregnant females a gain of 10-15% is alright as the birthing process and the new cria nursing  will take some of the extra weight away. 

It is difficult to get excess weight off an alpaca.  At lot of people think that just by reducing the alpacas feed they will be able to get the alpaca back to it’s target weight, however cutting back too severely on the feed can cause other problems.  Feed and hay should be adjusted gradually and steps should be taken to ensure that the alpaca gets a little additional exercise to help work of the weight.  If the obese alpaca is a pregnant female, even more care must be taken, as her pregnancy progresses she will still have a need for extra nutrients to allow her unborn cria to grow.   

I have focused on obese alpacas in this post, but for an alpaca to be underweight is also undesirable – but that’s another subject for another day!


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