A Taste of Life at Windrush Alpacas

August 9, 2009

Remember When …

 

It only took us 30 minutes to do toenail trimming for the whole herd. That was several years back when the herd was really small! These days it takes us a lot longer.

 

It would be nice to be able to do maintenance tasks for the whole herd in one day, but with over 60 alpacas on the farm and just Ric and me to do the work that is not a realistic expectation. So instead we break the tasks down to groups of alpacas. One day we will do the junior males, the next day the senior males, the following day the female herd and then the next day the quarantine pen. It makes the work load a little easier and by doing tasks by groups then it makes the record keeping a little easier too.

 

The female herd is by far the largest group and Saturday morning found us giving all the girls and crias a pedicure and manicure (toe nail trimming), treating their ears for ear ticks and weighing all of the spring crias. We didn’t do badly, and were completed with chores and our maintenance tasks by noon. Considering the temperature was headed to the 100’s as we worked we don’t think we did too badly.

 

Thankfully all of the spring crias have now reached the 40 lb. mark and so instead of the weekly weighing that has been happening since they reached 30 lb. they can now go onto the monthly weigh schedule – and at 40 lbs each its time to start some halter training as we don’t want to be carrying them over to the scales any more!

 

The next couple of days will see us taking care of the maintenance tasks for the rest of the herd. It’s not difficult work, it just takes a little time, but it is work that needs to be done and also it gives us a chance to get our hands on each alpaca to make sure everyone is hale and hearty.

 

Following our morning working in the heat it was time to retreat to the cool of the house and enjoy a nice cold drink, write up the herd notes and take care of a few things inside the house before starting afternoon chores. Not a bad way to spend a day really!

 

Rosemary

March 8, 2009

Warm Weather Wigglers

 

Our winter has been very mild and dry and our spring looks as if it is going to be warm, dry and windy (as always!).  Already our temperatures have hit the 80 degree mark a couple of times, the fruit trees are starting to blossom and everything living is getting signals that spring is here.  It is still possible for us to have a downward swing in temperature; a late frost is not unheard of here and unfortunately will kill the fruit tree blossoms reducing our chances of any peaches or apricots from our trees.

 

Along with the warm weather the insect population is starting to become more visible.  We saw a yellow jacket (large wasp type insect) the other day, crickets are starting to appear and the dreaded ticks have also started to make an appearance.

 

Unfortunately our sandy soil and warm temperatures make an ideal environment for ticks, and even worse alpaca ears are an ideal place for ticks to take up residence.  The warm, sheltered environment of the alpaca ear is just the type of place a tick likes to live in and ticks will happily feed not only on the alpacas blood but also on any debris generated by the alpacas ears.

 

We had a bad run in with ticks in the past, our girl TeQueely had a terrible fight with tick paralysis (See entry December6, 2007)  and my battle to save her has made me an avid campaigner for tick prevention.

 

Many alpaca breeders do not realize that their alpacas may have ticks in their ears.  Often there are very few signs of the ticks, sometimes you will see the alpacas shaking their heads, sometimes an alpaca will hold an ear back, occasionally there may be some black debris found in the alpacas ear, but often the signs are few to none.

 

Having spent time exploring an alpaca ears with an otoscope (don’t try this unless you have had some education from your veterinarian as you can easily damage the alpacas ear drum) I am amazed at how many hiding places in an alpaca ear there are.  With an otoscope and alligator forceps I can usually locate any offending ticks and remove them, but ticks are also capable of hiding deep in the ear canal past where the otoscope can reach.

 

So what is to be done about these tiny but potent creatures?  Well as often is the case an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure and there are few things you can do to keep the tick population down.

 

Some alpaca breeders keep guinea fowl or chickens with their alpacas, as the birds will eat any bugs they find.  This can be a good option; the birds will pick up bugs not only from poop piles but also from roll spots and other areas around the pasture.  If you are keeping birds with your alpacas make sure you get them from a farm that is very conscious of the health of their birds, the last thing you want to do is bring viruses or nasty bacteria onto your farm.  Also try and feed unmedicated feed, as the medicines in chicken feeds are fatal to alpacas.  If unmedicated feed is not available then make sure it is kept securely away from the alpacas.

 

Putting diatomaceous earth on roll spots and poop piles may also help keep down the tick population.  Make sure that you use food grade diatomaceous earth as it is safe to be used around livestock, the commercial and pool grades of diatomaceous earth are not suitable for use around livestock.

 

I have heard of some breeders feeding garlic to their alpacas to help reduce ticks and other parasites.  I have not tried that yet and am still researching the pros and cons of using garlic on alpacas.

 

Finally treating the alpaca’s ears during tick season will kill the ticks and depending on what you use may also kill the tick eggs.  We prefer to use Adams Fly Spray and Repellent for horses, it kills both the ticks and the tick eggs and we have found it to be very effective.  We shake the bottle well (the solution tends to separate when it is sitting for a while), pour some into a container and then draw up 2 cc in a syringe.  We administer 2 cc per ear on the adult alpacas, 1.5 cc per ear for the weanlings and 0.5 cc per ear on the crias.  We put the syringe in the ear, depress the plunge and then massage the ear before letting go.  Make sure you stand well back once you let go as the alpacas will shake their heads and some of the solution will fly out of their ears and you don’t want to get it in your eyes.

 

Over the last year or so the Adams Fly Spray and Repellent for Horses has become a little difficult to find.  If Adams is not available I have heard of Catron IV being used, but as it comes out in a foam I find it harder to ensure the correct dosage

 

Once tick season arrives we treat our alpacas ears about every thirty days.  I don’t usually go for routine worming or parasite prevention as I feel that overuse of certain products has resulted in some parasites becoming resistant to the products, but there are some circumstances when you have little choice but to treat on a regular basis. 

 

Having had one experience of tick paralysis in the herd I don’t want to have another, so for now we will continue treating the alpacas on a regular basis and in time we may find other solutions that are just as effective in preventing ticks – and who knows we may even invest in some chickens for our own herd.  Tick prevention and farm fresh eggs – sounds like a good option to me!

Rosemary

March 7, 2009

Back With The Herd

Atlas poses for a picture before having his fleece cover put back on

Atlas poses for a picture before having his fleece cover put back on

 

It’s hard to believe that three weeks have already gone by since the TxOLAN Alpaca Spectacular.  The show string have been in quarantine since their return home and thankfully have not shown any signs of illness.  Having spent their three weeks in quarantine it is now time for the show string to return to their respective pastures.

 

Atlas, Pride and Mags will rejoin Zin and the junior males, while Dream, Zianna and Kaneka will rejoin the female herd.

 

We didn’t put the fleece covers back on the show string on their immediate return from the show.  Call us soft if you wish, but we felt after doing so well for us at the show it would be a nice treat to allow the show alpacas to have a little time without their covers on, of course the first thing they did when they got home was to have a good roll, but that’s okay the dirt will drop out before their next show.

 

This last Thursday we were forecast for dangerously high winds.  It makes me take notice when the local meteorologists forecast “dangerously high winds”, bearing in mind that their idea of “breezy” is 25 –35 mph winds, it makes you wonder what wind speed would deserve the title “dangerous”.   We decided, in view of the forecast, we should put the fleece covers back on the show alpacas before the entire tumbleweed crop of western New Mexico landed in our pastures and in our alpaca’s fleeces!

 

The winds on Thursday didn’t quite live up to the forecast with wind gusts in the 50 mph range; strong enough we were glad we had put the fleece covers back on the alpacas.  The wind was also strong enough that poor Little Man had a real struggle to get across the pasture, but he’s a tough little guy and he made it.

 

Prior to putting the fleece covers on we cleaned the alpacas fleeces of the worst of the vegetable matter and took photos of the show string without their covers on.   The alpacas were not too cooperative about having their pictures taken, but we got one or two shots that we can use.  We also checked toenails and teeth and treated ears as a preventative measure against ear ticks.  Then it was back to the herd for the show string who wasted no time at all in getting reacquainted with the rest of the herd.

 

Rosemary

August 20, 2008

Ticks or Mosquitoes – They Both Bring Trouble

TeQueely

TeQueely

 

 I had a call

 

 

 yesterday from an alpaca breeder who was concerned that one of her female alpacas was having a problem due to ticks.  The breeder had noticed her alpaca staggering as if she were drunk, she had also noticed her carrying one ear back and on checking the alpaca’s ears had found ticks in them, which she removed. 

 

 

Ticks can cause a condition commonly referred to as tick paralysis.  It is caused by the secretions of the female tick and can cause an alpaca to die if left untreated.  Unfortunately alpaca ears are an ideal environment for ticks to thrive in, and due to the anatomy of the alpaca ear, ticks can easily get into the area of the ear that cannot be seen by the human eye or even by using an otoscope.  I know of one alpaca breeder who having realized that one of her young alpacas was having a problem took her to a veterinary teaching hospital where under anesthesia they removed 16 ticks from the alpaca’s ears. 

 

In early 2006 we experienced a bad case of tick paralysis in one of our alpacas TeQueely. TeQueely’s story is one that illustrates not only how severe and life-threatening ticks can be, but also is testimony to TeQueely’s will to live.  Fortunately TeQueely’s story had a happy ending and this year she delighted us by producing her first cria, but there are other alpaca breeders who have not the same luck as we did.

 

I cannot stress enough how important it is to be vigilant for ticks in your alpacas ears, or on any other part of their body.  While not everyone has the skill or time to check every alpaca ear with an otoscope, the least they can do is treat the alpacas ears every month during active tick season and watch for signs of ticks at other times of the year.  I hate to recommend treating every month on a routine basis as over time the ticks could become resistant to the treatment you are using.  Certainly in TeQueely’s case Ivermectin, a commonly recommended treatment for parasites and ticks, was not effective at all on the ticks on our property.  We live in cattle country where I am sure Ivermectin has been used repeatedly over the years perhaps leading to a tick that is now resistant to Ivermectin.

 

We currently use Adams Fly Spray and Repellent for Horses for our ear tick treatment; another product used by some breeders is Catron IV.  With the Adams treatment we put 2 cc into each adult ear, 1.5 cc into each weanling ear and 0.5 cc (or even maybe less if the cria is tiny) into each cria’s ear.

 

The breeder who I spoke to yesterday took her alpaca into her vet who checked to make sure that all ticks that could be seen with an otoscope had been removed.  The breeder will now follow a plan of regular treatments and examinations of her alpaca’s ears to combat any new ticks that may hatch.  She has some work ahead of her, but it will be worth it if she restores her alpaca to full health.

 

While the breeder was at the vet, the vet also mentioned to her the possibility that the alpaca’s problem was West Nile Virus, a terrible virus that is carried by mosquitoes.  As a precaution the vet has taken blood samples from the alpaca for a Complete Blood Count and West Nile Virus testing.  The West Nile Virus test typically takes a few days which may be too late if the alpaca does have West Nile Virus, but the alpaca breeder is keeping a vigilant eye on her alpaca and if the alpaca seems to be deteriorating she will have the vet treat her for West Nile Virus. 

 

In New Mexico we have recently had heavy rains, over the weekend at our farm we had approximately 3.25 inches of rain in two days, which is unusual for us. The increase in water and moisture will lead to a surge in both the tick and mosquito populations and we will need to be alert to any signs of problems with the alpacas.  We have noticed that our dogs have recently been picking up ticks despite us treating them and the yard we keep them in, so we know the ticks are around.  I am sure it is only a matter of time before the mosquitoes start appearing too.

 

I will keep my fingers crossed that the breeders alpaca makes a full recovery, hopefully her actions of removing the ticks from her alpacas ears, consulting with her vet and treating the alpacas ears will prove to be fruitful.

 

Rosemary

November 10, 2007

Herd Health Day

Today we are having a Herd Health Day and have invited some new alpaca owners and potential alpaca owners to join us for the day.  We like to have a Herd Health Day about once a month.  Truth be known though with over 40 alpacas on the farm Herd Health Day usually ends up being spread over two days.

Herd Health Day gives us a chance to have hands on time with each alpaca, we will weigh each one and also body score them.  Weighing gives us a figure for our records to show whether they have increased or decreased their weight and by body scoring as well we get a better indication of whether the weight they are holding is a good weight for that individual alpaca.

Having weighed the alpaca we will then check its teeth and toenails to see if any trimming is needed.  The toenails only take a couple of minutes to trim and most of the alpacas are not too bothered by it.  Some of the breeding males and pregnant females are not too keen on having their back legs handled but with some careful handling and patience most will allow us to trim their toe nails without a problem. 

Trimming teeth is a little more difficult, we do have a special tool to trim teeth with which only takes a few seconds per alpaca but first we have to get the tool into their mouths and that is more of a challenge then trimming their teeth.  The tool we have has a template that sits over the teeth to ensure that we do not over trim and to help keep the alpacas tongue out of the way during trimming.  The tool works well on those with a regular bite but if we have an alpaca with an uneven bite or maybe one tooth that is longer than the rest then we usually have to use a Dremel tool to trim. 

To be able to use the Dremel tool we have to have a hard cutting blade, as the alpacas teeth are quite tough.  We also use a dog rope toy to put into the alpacas mouth to keep it open during trimming.  When trimming starts it is important that one person keeps an eye on the alpacas tongue to make sure it is kept away from the cutting blade.  Additionally it is a good idea to have a spray bottle of plain water available to spray onto the alpacas teeth to keep them cool during trimming.

Herd health day is also a good opportunity to assess each alpacas fleece.  Fleece can change in it’s qualities from year to year based on nutrition and also the genetics of the alpaca, so it is a good idea to monitor your fleeces for changes and also to assess them realistically.

We also use Herd Health Day to treat our alpacas ears for ear ticks.  With this fall being very mild the ticks are still very active and while we have not seen many signs of ear tick problems so far, we would like to keep it that way and so a preventative treatment is a good idea.  We like to use Adams Fly Spray and Repellent For Horses, which we draw up into a syringe and administer in doses of 2 cc per adult ear, 1.5 cc per weanling ear and 1 cc per cria ear.  We syringe the solution into the ears, massage the ear for a couple of seconds and then stand back as the alpacas will want a good shake when released.

As we work through our herd we will make notes in our barn book of all of the alpacas weights, body scores, treatments given and any other observations.  Those notes will then be transferred into our herd software program.

Herd Health Day is an important part of our routine and we hope by inviting new alpaca owners and prospective alpaca owners they will get a chance to learn more about caring for their alpacas.  From our experience there is nothing like that hands on time to prompt questions and tips that will prove useful to an alpaca owner.

By the time we are finished with Herd Health Day it will be time to do chores, but we will have accomplished a lot during our day and will be able to take time off in the evening as reward for a good days hard work.

Rosemary

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