A Taste of Life at Windrush Alpacas

July 25, 2009

Taking Care of the Herd Elders



Primera - our oldest girl

Primera - our oldest girl

As an alpaca herd grows it is inevitable that you will have older alpacas within the herd. Alpacas can live for a long time with some being reported to live into their twenties and even still being able to breed at that age. Personally I have found that there seems to be a drop off point around the seven year mark, I am not sure why that is but it seems that if alpacas make it past seven years of age they go on to live a long and happy life.


As in humans the elderly alpaca can be as vulnerable as the newborn or very young alpaca, so as your alpacas age it is good to pay special attention to them. With alpacas being stoic an elderly alpaca might be quite ill before he or she shows symptoms.


At 14 years old Primera is the oldest alpaca in our herd. Primera came to us when she was about 5 years old, she had been donated to our vet for research as she had never had a cria survive. Primera would get pregnant easily and carry the cria to term but once her crias were born they would start to decline and eventually die. When Primera arrived at our farm she had a female cria “Aniera” at her side. Aniera was struggling, she had very little muscle but lots of fiber and long toe nails. Despite our vet having transfused Aniera and giving her supplemental milk she had become hyper thyroid. Aniera was born during the foaling season and our vet was busier than ever, so he asked us to take in Primera and Aniera and care for them. Sadly when she was three months old Aniera died.


Our vet decided to breed Primera again, but this time brought her to us to give birth so that we could care for her and her cria. When the cria was born (this time a little boy “Geraint”) we intervened from day one. Geraint was transfused, put on a bottle, transfused again and had blood-work done on a regular basis. Geraint also started to become hyper thyroid, but this time we caught it really early and put him on thyroid medication. Geraint survived and is now four years old.


Our vet feels that perhaps Primera has something in her milk that kills her crias, or has some genetic trait that she passes on to her crias that affects the way they process milk, preventing them from building muscle. Like Aniera, Geraint was very thin as a cria and yet produced a very long staple of fleece and toe nails that grow like weeds, so we do wonder if there is something strange about how Primera’s crias utilize protein.


Primera has not been bred since Geraint and has established a role here as a great companion alpaca for visiting alpacas that are in quarantine on their arrival here. Of course Primera still produces fleece, it has very little crimp style, but it is quite fine and consistent and she produces a good amount of it so she is still contributing to the income of the farm.


Primera is very much a hands off alpaca. She does not enjoy human contact, cushes when we try to trim her toe nails and becomes very vocal when we try to handle her. Primera is definitely an alpha female and the other alpacas all respect her position in the herd.


So when I was doing evening chores three nights ago and I noticed Primera cushed in the pasture and not eating I knew something was not right. When Primera let me sit beside her and stroke her I was convinced that all was not well with our girl.


Primera seemed to be in some pain, not bad pain but she did appear to be almost wincing. I offered her hay and she nibbled a little bit but really was not too interested. Her temperature was fine, she was breathing normally and there were no real indications of what could be wrong. I tempted Primera with some alfalfa and she ate it readily showing that she still had some appetite. I gave Primera some MSE drench (a great pro-biotic and enzyme drench) and also offered her some warm, soaked beet shreds as she seemed a little shivery. The drench she was not impressed with, the shreds she ignored.


We had received a lot of rain that morning and our temperature had cooled off a lot, I started to wonder if perhaps the change in pressure was bothering Primera. I had noticed during the winter months she seemed to sit around more on the days that the weather changed and had wondered then if perhaps she was starting with arthritis.


I kept an eye on Primera until very late at night, she was reasonably comfortable when I left her but allowed me to stroke her neck and even give her a kiss on the nose as I wished her goodnight. I do believe that alpacas understand when we show them that we care for them and that can sometimes be a good motivator for them to hang in there and battle whatever is bothering them. Primera rested her chin on my hand and seemed to relax a little as I scratched her under the chin.


By the morning, Primera was up and about, nibbling at hay and drinking water, but she had now developed watery diarrhea. We stated Primera on some antibiotics, gave her some more MSE drench and also some Biosponge to help firm up the diarrhea. Over the past few days Primera has definitely improved, she is still not back to normal, but each day she is a little livelier, each day her appetite is a little stronger.


As I have treated Primera I have discovered that this hands off alpaca actually enjoys a little massage. Every time I give her medicine I follow it up with a massage down her neck and along her spine. Primera doesn’t move away but stands still and enjoys the massage, particularly in the area above her kidneys. Imagine how achy we feel when we have a stomach bug and how some warm soothing touch can feel good and lift the spirits. I think that is why Primera is so willing to stand for her massage every day.


I am sure in time that Primera will really start to feel better and at that point will go back to being her grumpy, growly self, but that’s okay as it will be a sign that she is better. In the meantime we will continue with the medicine and the TLC and enjoy our time with our eldest girl.




1 Comment »

  1. I hope she feels better soon!

    Comment by Susan Frank — July 25, 2009 @ 1:32 pm

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: