A Taste of Life at Windrush Alpacas

August 29, 2017

A Difficult Month at Windrush Alpacas

Filed under: Alpaca Health — Tags: , , , — alpacalady @ 8:30 pm

July 2017 was the most difficult month we had at the farm in 18 years of raising alpacas.

Mid-month our herd was hit with two diseases – West Nile Virus and Polioencephalomalacia (PEM). Sadly, we lost three of our alpacas – Echo, Queen, and Moonie. Each succumbed to one of the diseases.

The course of events was difficult for everyone as several other alpacas had symptoms and we did not know what we were dealing with. We had to wait several days – and longer – for test results to know how to most effectively treat any animal with signs of distress.

The beginning

Early in the week of July 17 Echo, one of our alpaca boys, started with strange and sudden neurological symptoms. He rapidly went downhill. Since Echo did not respond to anything the vet was trying and only got worse, we made the difficult decision to euthanize him.

A few days later, our livestock guardian dog Duke alerted us that something was wrong in our female pasture. On checking the girls, we found eight of them with symptoms similar to Echo’s.

We started treating the girls immediately and contacted our vet. By the time we were loading up to go to the vet, two of our girls, Queen and Moonie, were in bad shape. Sadly, by the time we got to the vets it was apparent that Queen was suffering terribly. The vet said the chances of Queen making a full recovery were very slim. Once again, we had to make the difficult decision to let one of our alpacas go.

Moonie stayed on at the veterinarian’s hospital. She was blind by the time we left her and the vet told us there was a 50/50 chance of Moonie regaining her eyesight. Moonie was on IV fluids, receiving antibiotics, and anti-inflammatory medicines.

Like Queen, Moonie was one of our older girls which is probably why she was more susceptible. Out of the six other girls, Snow, Clarissa, and Carina responded well to treatment at the farm. Betty, Theresa, and Ana Lynne had fewer neurological symptoms but their appetite was very depressed. They were definitely not themselves.

Our vet has worked hard with us to try and determine caused the illness in our herd. The prime suspect was some form of toxin in our feed or hay or West Nile Virus. Blood samples were submitted for testing. It was the weekend, so we knew it would be several days before we had results. In the meantime, we became very observant of our herd and prayed that no-one else would show symptoms.

At the end of the first week, we were emotionally and physically exhausted.

On the morning of Sunday, July 23, we had some good news.

The girls who were affected but remained on the farm were all back to eating and drinking on their own. One had been a little slower to respond than the others so we kept close attention to her, but we were hopeful she would follow the path of recovery of the others, which she did.

Moonie, still at the vet, showed signs of improvement that morning, too. On Saturday, we gave the vet some Oxbow Critical Care we had used to encourage the appetite of the alpacas on the farm. The vet tubed Moonie with the Oxbow and on Sunday morning Moonie was eating and drinking on her own. I took that as a hopeful sign.

Moonie still had very limited vision, she appeared only to be able to differentiate light from dark. We were hoping that her vision would improve with time.

Sadly, by the afternoon, Moonie had taken a turn for the worse. She had four seizures within 15 minutes. The vet sedated her and gave her stronger doses of anti-inflammatories. When we left, she was able to hold her head up. We were still hopeful.

On Monday morning, however, we had to put Moonie to sleep. She rallied a little during the night and then started to crash around 2:30 a.m. I was with her when she passed.

We had a necropsy done on her and samples of all of our hay, feed and water had been submitted for analysis. We were still waiting on the West Nile test results from Echo. We needed an answer soon.

Our vet contacted four clinicians at CSU who all felt that this had to be something in our feed, hay or water. She told us there was also some other blood work she could run that could help us figure out what on earth this was.

We remained on alert for anyone else in the herd showing symptoms. With there being about week between the first incident and the second we realized there was a chance this could happen again.

That same morning, we had two boys possibly showing very early symptoms of whatever this was. At this point, we were so paranoid that we didn’t know if we were being oversensitive or if we were getting more cases. We were ready for this nightmare to be over.

Through this difficult couple of days, we had to acknowledge the brighter moments. Most significant was the recovery of the girls on Sunday. Then the discovery that we have a new vet in town who has good knowledge of working with alpacas (the vets and staff at Clovis Veterinary Hospital were amazing)!

Our new livestock guardian dog who, despite having been here little over a week, alerted us to what was happening with our girls (and this guy is a rescue who we have no background history on, who doesn’t appear to have been around livestock before), and the outpouring of love and support from the alpaca community, family and friends.

On Tuesday, the two boys who we had a concern about seemed to be normal.

Our vet, Dr. Hornig, told us our samples ended up going to Texas A & M rather than CSU partly because she felt that Texas A & M would have a better knowledge of noxious weeds in this area. The samples from Moonie went to Texas A & M too so that there would be consistency and continuity in our case. Dr. Hornig had spoken to the lab at Texas A & M and was working with them to systematically run various tests in an effort to keep our costs down.

She spoke with our other vet Dr. Orton. Together they identified certain things they felt should have priority when it came to testing. When those things are eliminated then they would start working down a list of possible causes. It would be a timely process, but a necessary one to get this right.

I spent some time that evening walking through the herd doing my last check before I lost daylight. Everyone seemed peaceful, content and calm. We hoped, that in time, we would join them in that peaceful, content, calm state too.

Click to read about Test Results


April 8, 2008

Feeding – When Pen Assignments Change

With the merging of the visiting girls with the main herd of girls we had to decide how to incorporate the five extra alpacas into our feeding routine for the main herd.  As it was the visiting girls and crias figured out for themselves where they should eat.


We feed supplement to our girls and crias in various groups within catch pens based on their nutritional needs and their personality.  What’s personality got to do with feeding you may ask, well if we put a timid alpaca in with a group of dominant alpacas we can pretty much guarantee that the timid alpaca isn’t going to get much to eat.


The way we feed our alpacas works well for us, some people having watched our morning routine think that it must have taken a lot of time to train our girls to go into the various pens, but alpacas are intelligent creatures who love routine and usually once you have fed a particular girl in a particular catch pen she will head back to that catch pen at feeding time.  Some of the girls even beat me to the catch pens as I am feeding and are patiently standing in the pen by the time I get there.


The male groups are fed differently with us placing the required number of bowls on the ground and allowing them to figure out who gets which bowl.  Male alpacas usually have less nutritional changes during the course of the year making their feed requirements simpler, but we do still monitor their weights and observe their behavior.  Should we have a male alpaca in a group that is not being allowed to get to the feed or hay then we would either make an arrangement where we could give him access to feed and hay on his own for a while, or possibly move him to a different group of alpacas.


With the visiting girls in the main herd, the first couple of feedings after joining the two groups was a little confusing, but only really for the visiting girls.  The main herd all know which pen they are assigned to, but the visiting girls Celeste, Marti and Cariad plus their crias Skylar and Copper were trying to find their place and so tended to go from pen to pen. 


Interestingly Marti, who is a maiden alpaca, immediately headed to the pen where the expectant maiden girls eat, she seemed to identify that group of girls as being similar to her and decided that is where she should eat.  Celeste headed into the second pen of girls that we feed; these girls eat at a moderate speed and are heavily pregnant.  Celeste has only just been bred, but is still nursing her cria Skylar and so is receiving a little extra supplement and it was a good fit for her to eat in that pen.


Cariad decided initially that eating with the llamas might be a good idea (Cariad loves her food, perhaps she thought that as the llamas are bigger they would get more to eat).  By yesterday she had changed her mind about having llamas as feeding companions and went into the same pen as Zoie, Chai and Rosie, all three of which are dominant fast eaters like Cariad and that arrangement seemed to work well.


The crias Skylar and Copper also did well as they headed over with the other crias to their pen.  They were a little hesitant about going into the pen though and we had to gently guide them in.   Being with a group of crias of a similar age will be good for Copper and Skylar, they were born within a short time of each other and being the only crias at their home farm they are closely bonded.  I hope am hoping that interaction with other crias will help them become a little more independent of each other.


We only merged the two groups on Saturday afternoon and by Monday afternoon they had everything figured out – and we think we’re the ones making the decisions.  I sometimes have to wonder!



March 19, 2008

Blast Gives Me A Fright

Filed under: alpaca, Alpaca Care, Alpacas, camelids, Crias, General — Tags: , , , , , — alpacalady @ 7:52 am

Blast Head Shot

As the warmer weather arrives it is not unusual to look across the pasture and see the alpacas all stretched out in the sun.  Alpacas love to sunbathe, lounging lazily on the ground with the only movement being a twitch of an ear or the flick of a tail.  What a life! 

As herd animals though, when something happens that causes an alarm call or for one of the alpacas to be on alert the vibrations of what is happening easily travel through the herd and they gather together to check out what is causing the consternation. 

In the middle of yesterday afternoon, I went outside to take some pictures of the alpacas.  It was a beautiful day even though the wind was still blowing, as it seems to have done for months on end now.  The alpacas were in a good mood to be photographed, Cinnamon posed for me, Anya checked out the camera to see if she could eat it and Blast came up to give me ‘paca kisses as he sometimes does. 

I went back into the house to look at the pictures I had taken (ah the joys of digital photography) and in a short while heard an alarm call.  Looking out of the kitchen window I could see the boys looking at something.  I checked the girls pasture and they too were looking in the same direction. Outside I discovered what was causing the alarm, three dogs were wandering through our back pasture checking out the compost pile and looking for rabbits.  I recognized two of the dogs a belonging to a neighbor, the third dog was new to me.  I headed out to the back pasture and chased the dogs away; they soon scurried off toward the house where two of the dogs live. 

As I walked back to the house I could see that all of the girls were gathered at the gate watching my activities – except one.  On the other side of the pasture lying on his side was little Blast.  He was very still and I could see his neck was arched back, not usually a good sign.  I hurried over and watched him from across the fence but could not see him breathing.  Even more concerning was the reaction of the rest of the herd who were standing at a distance, ears forward in curiosity as to what was the problem with Blast.

I couldn’t believe something could have happened to Blast so quickly, it was only moments since I had taken his picture, but several years ago I had an experience when a young cria was up nursing from his dam one moment and dead the next, so deep down I knew it was possible something had happened. 

Rushing through the gate I called Blast’s name, there was no sign of a reaction, not a twitch from him.  By now the rest of the herd were edging closer to Blast and Ma Cushla who is always the auntie to all of the crias was at the head of the group, her neck stretched forward as she tried to get a look at Blast.  Then as I got within inches of Blast he slowly opened one eye but still maintained his position with his neck arched back – maybe he was injured?  But no, he was not injured for within seconds he straightened out his neck, gave himself a shake and stood up – he had been in a very deep sleep!

Alpacas are deep sleepers, Blast’s grand dam Jenny would go into such a deep sleep that you could stand right next to her and shout her name and she wouldn’t move a muscle, eventually she would wake up and give a filthy look as if to say “what’s your problem” – it seems as if Blast has inherited that trait from her. 

I must admit that ever since he was a little cria Blast has liked to sleep on his side laying next to his dam Clarissa.  He always seems very comfortable and relaxed and yesterday’s experience shows just how relaxed he is at our farm.  It does concern me a little though that despite the herd giving alarm calls he didn’t awake from his slumber – even Jenny would have woken up for an alarm call, and for Blast to be able to sleep through that makes him vulnerable.

Perhaps as he grows he will learn to respond more to the alarm calls of the herd. Naturally I am pleased that Blast is safe and well, maybe next time he pulls that trick on me I will be able to be less anxious.  Little Blast definitely gave me a fright and I don’t really want to go through that feeling again.


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