A Taste of Life at Windrush Alpacas

April 28, 2009

One Paca Too Many

 

Sometimes things within the alpaca herd are a fine balance and the smallest of changes can upset that balance and cause problems.

 

Our herd pointed this out to us recently. 

 

When Marti, Orchid and Candytuft completed their quarantine period we allowed them to join the main female herd.  As usual there was much sniffing and checking out of the new additions to the herd.  We then had to figure out where Marti and Orchid were going to eat at feeding time, Candytuft at that time was not eating pellets and so we thought she would most likely go wherever Orchid went.  (Note:  Candytuft has since discovered the pellets and is now not at all shy about pushing her way into a feed bowl!).  Marti has stayed with us before and we felt confident that she would figure out a good place for her to eat.

 

Our custom at feeding time is to have the girls eat in pens in groups of similar need.  We group fast eaters together, slower eaters together, heavily pregnant girls together etc.

 

Orchid went in to eat with Chai, which worked out well as Orchid does not hold back when it comes to getting her share of the pellets and neither does Chai.  Marty started off eating with Orchid and Chai, but after a couple of days decided that she didn’t like that arrangement and instead went in with the eight dams of the fall crias.

 

We didn’t think too much about Marti’s move to a different pen.  The pen the eight girls feed in is a large one, certainly large enough to accommodate nine alpacas at feeding time – or so we thought.

 

A couple of days after Marti had moved to the bigger pen I noticed that Clarissa, who also eats in that pen, had a slight choke.  I made sure that Clarissa was okay and didn’t think too much more about it.  The next day though Clarissa started to choke again at feeding time, this time a bit harder. 

 

Choke in alpacas can be a serious problem; left unattended the choke can cause additional problems and can even result in the death of the alpaca.  Interestingly there is an article about an alpaca that died as a result of a choke situation in the latest edition of Alpacas Magazine.   The article is worth reading and explains the possible consequences of an unattended choke.

 

We were concerned that as Clarissa had choked two days in a row that she might have scratched or irritated her esophagus and so decided that we should feed her soaked feed for a couple of days.  To do this effectively we needed to put Clarissa in a pen on her own to eat, and so utilized a catch pen that we had available.  Clarissa enjoyed her soaked feed and did not choke again, but she also took really quickly to eating on her own in the catch pen.  By the second time of feeding her in that catch pen she ran over to it and was standing waiting for us as we arrived with her food bowl. 

 

Clarissa had not choked at all before Marti joined the feeding group, but apparently the addition of Marti to the group just tipped the dynamics and balance of that group enough to cause a problem.  As far as Clarissa was concerned Marti was just one paca too many.

 

Within a couple of days Clarissa was back to eating unsoaked feed without any problems with choking.  Marti and the other seven girls in her feeding group were getting along well and Clarissa was still running to the catch pen at every feeding time and so we decided to let that arrangement continue, with Clarissa now having what we refer to as “her own private dining area”.  Balance has been restored to the herd and everyone is once again happy.

 

Rosemary

November 13, 2007

Choking is a scary thing.

Filed under: alpaca, Alpaca Care, Alpaca Health, Alpacas, camelids, General — Tags: , , , , — alpacalady @ 7:29 am

I was going to write more on halter training today, but a phone call I received last night prompted me to think about choking in alpacas and so thought I would write a little about that subject before my mind got diverted.

With alpacas having such beautiful long necks there is a lot of area for a ball of food to become stuck.  Usually alpacas do not have a problem swallowing their food.  In a natural grazing situation, they take small bites and do not feel pressured to grab that tasty blade of grass before the next alpaca comes along and therefore the opportunity to choke is little.

As the alpaca industry has developed most alpaca breeders in Northern America feed their alpacas some form of grain or pellet supplement and good quality grass hay.  The alpaca breeders are doing their best to provide optimum nutrition to their herd, but with those efforts comes a higher chance of getting a choke situation.  

Grain or pellets are not the alpacas “natural” diet and so the alpaca has not evolved to deal with large clumps of food traveling down its throat.  One alpaca might try to take another’s food, which encourages them to take larger mouthfuls than they normally would, swallow faster and sometimes cause a choke.

Usually it is quite obvious when an alpaca is choking, they will cough, make louder swallowing or gulping noises than usual, put their head down towards the ground, flare their nostrils and in some instances regurgitate food.  It is an unpleasant experience for the alpaca and also a scary one for the owner to observe.  If the choke continues the alpaca may cush and lay it’s neck out along the ground, it can also start to bloat or even colic a little during a bad choke episode or if the choke is not attended to fast enough.

One of the problems with choking is that typically the alpaca becomes stressed and tense about the situation, and the more tense the muscles of the alpaca are the less able they are to release the stuck food.

If we see an alpaca choking during feeding time we monitor that alpaca but keep enough of a distance to where the alpaca does not feel stressed about our presence.  If we can see that the choke is resolving itself we will do no more than observe the alpaca.  Once we are convinced the choke is over then we will leave the pasture but not before.  Often that is all that is needed, but on the few occasions when the choke continues then more action may be called for.

If you are inexperienced at dealing with an unresolved choke your best course of action is to call the vet, he or she will be able to guide you through steps you can take to help the alpaca to relax and to dislodge the stuck food.  Often the vet will recommend a dose of banamine to help the alpaca relax, the banamine takes a little while to kick in but it is usually very effective in relaxing the alpaca and resolving the choke.  We also like to give a choking alpaca some Bach’s Rescue Remedy as that can help them to relax too.

We have some steps in place at our farm to help prevent choke in the first place.  Our feed is specially made for alpacas and has been developed to dissolve should it become lodged in the alpaca’s throat.  At feeding time we group our alpacas so that the slow eaters feed together and the faster eaters feed together.  By feeding our alpacas by their eating habits the risk of choke is lowered.  Another important thing is to have enough feeders or feed bowls to allow each alpaca to have sufficient room to eat.  We feed most of our alpacas using individual rubber bowls, and are careful to leave adequate space between each bowl.  We also have some feeding trays dotted round the pens.  The feeding trays are set a little off the ground and made of PVC pipe cut in two and mounted on a wooden frame.  An additional step we take is to always be present when the alpacas are eating grain, it doesn’t take them long to eat it and you can catch a choke situation much earlier and decide which action, if any, to take.

With good feeding practices chokes are rare things, if you have an alpaca that frequently chokes during feeding time it would be a wise move to have it checked out by your vet to make sure there isn’t something physically wrong with the alpaca that is causing it to choke so frequently.

Choke situations can be a scary thing for both the alpaca and the owner, but with the correct handling they can usually be resolved easily, and with good feeding practices they can be reduced or avoided, which is the best way to be.

Rosemary

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