A Taste of Life at Windrush Alpacas

April 1, 2009

A Pregnant Connection?

 

Sometimes it seems as if a pregnancy can spark other health concerns.  Certainly I have heard of how the hormones of pregnancy can accelerate a cancer something you hate to think about but from time to time it does occur.

 

Our Chai had some health issues during her last pregnancy, first a facial abscess and then a steady but mysterious weight loss.  The abscess cleared up over time and like many abscesses took a while to heal up.  I think just the combination of having an alpaca out in the elements while trying to heal an open and draining abscess makes for a long recovery.   Our vet has always advised against covering an abscess, instead preferring to leave it open to drain, he has also assured us that abscesses in livestock just take time.

 

To me Chai’s abscess was a signal from her body that perhaps she was struggling a little with the demands placed on it.  When she started to steadily lose weight we became more concerned.  We have had cancer appear in alpacas before and hoped that wasn’t the case with Chai.  Our vet examined Chai and ran some bloodwork on her but could find nothing to indicate what the problem was.  Chai’s amylase levels were a little high but not enough to cause concern.  In basic terms Amylase is an enzyme produced by the pancreas that contributes to digestion of food, so Chai’s weight loss could be connected to her amylase levels.

 

There are various conditions that can cause high amylase levels but looking at the total picture of Chai’s bloodwork our vet did not see anything significant.  To be on the safe side our vet suggested we put Chai on a course of antibiotics, if nothing else they would help with her abscess and maybe rectify whatever was causing her weight loss.    Our vet also suggested that whatever the problem was with Chai it may be related to pregnancy.

 

In time the antibiotics worked and Chai started to gain weight again, her cria was born and was healthy and beautiful.  In view of Chai’s situation we decided to give her a break before we bred her back again, our thought process being we should allow Chai’s body to regain full strength and health prior to imposing another strain on it.

 

Now Chai is pregnant and due to have a cria in June, she is about at the stage of pregnancy she was when she started with her facial abscess during her previous pregnancy – maybe as our vet said this problem is pregnancy related.

 

This time we are taking a more pro-active course of action with Chai, while I prefer not to give antibiotics during pregnancy, we feel this is a case when the use of the antibiotic is preferable to not using it.  We don’t want Chai to start losing weight as she did before, perhaps if we can catch whatever this is early enough we can keep Chai as healthy as possible.

 

We will be monitoring Chai’s weight and body score regularly from now on too.  She is a big girl and for now body scores well, but in view of our experience last year it will be good to monitor her for the rest of her pregnancy.  An alpaca’s weight can be a great indicator that hidden issues may be going on. 

 

Chai will also be treated to some photonic red light treatments to help boost her immune system and her diet will be carefully monitored.  As always we will be in communication with our vet about Chai too and will take his advice as to any tests we should run or treatments we should follow.

 

Fingers crossed Chai’s abcess is only that and come June she will present us with another beautiful cria to join our herd.

 

Rosemary

August 23, 2008

A Case of Confused Hormones? (Or Perhaps What’s In Those Weeds!)

 

Primeira

Primeira

Male alpaca behavior is such that when an ungelded male alpaca comes in contact with a female alpaca he will usually start to orgle and then pursue her.    I have seen this behavior in little male crias just a few weeks old; it’s in the genes I guess.  Male alpacas will from time to time have wrestling matches, sometimes due to one male stealing the other’s place at the hay rack, sometimes because a beautiful female alpaca is nearby and sometimes just to reinforce their place in the hierarchy of the group.

 

Usually female alpacas are most concerned with eating, sunbathing and mothering their crias.  Occasionally the adult females will join in with the crias evening play session, its quite amusing to see a fully grown female pronging around the pasture the crias.  Of course when a cria is born the girls in the group are all keen to check out the new arrival.  When a male alpaca is brought over for breeding to one of the females it is not unusual to have several of the females come over and sniff him, sometimes following him over to the breeding pen, other times snorting in disgust and returning to the serious business of eating.

 

Wednesday evening as I finished chores TeQueely came over and did her usual dance by the gate, trying to get my attention (at which she was successful) and letting me know that she was looking for a tasty treat. 

 

There are some weeds on our property that I know are safe for the alpacas to eat and which they are particularly fond of, so I stopped to give TeQueely a handful, knowing that if I failed to do so I would be subjected to disgusted stares from her for the rest of the evening (She has me well trained)

 

As I fed TeQueely one of the other girls Primera came to see if she could get a treat too and so I fed the girls some more weeds including a little bit of green tumbleweed that they seem quite partial too.

 

Having given the girls some attention I went into the house to get ready to visit one of the neighbors.  On my way out of the house as I passed the girls pasture I heard a commotion – spitting, squealing and grunting.  Looking across to see what the commotion was I could see that Primera was trying to breed Anya, one of our adult females.

 

Naturally Anya was not too thrilled with Primera’s attention and was letting her know her displeasure by spitting and squealing, but Primera was not being deterred by Anya’s actions.

 

I decided that I should intervene so went into the pasture and pulled Primera off Anya, but Primera was determined to mount Anya again.  After I had pulled Primera off Anya a couple of times I made Anya get up from her cushed position hoping that would help the situation.  Primera though decided that she would give Queen a try and jumped up and mounted her.  I removed Primera from Queen and stood holding her for a while, she was softly orgling (the noise a male alpaca makes during breeding) and was obviously not quite herself.  I stroked Primera for a while to try and calm her and divert her attention, this was quite remarkable as usually Primera will not let you near her unless she is in a catch pen, yet here she was standing quietly allowing herself to be stroked, looking at me with doe eyes.  Having calmed Primera down I felt that perhaps some form of distraction would help and went and got some of the pellets we feed the alpacas and spread them out in the feeding trays.  That did the trick; Primera’s mind went back to thinking about food.

 

This is the first time we have experienced a female alpaca getting amorous over another female alpaca.  I have heard from other alpaca breeders that once in a while they have witnessed that type of behavior but I don’t think it is a common thing.  From my experience working at a dairy prior to raising alpacas, I know that dairy heifers will often mount other heifers that are in heat.  At the dairy where I worked some of the heifers would wear chalk that would rub off on the backs of the heifers they mounted, indicating to the herdsman that the heifer with the chalk on her back was in heat.

 

So all I can think of Primera’s behavior was that Anya must have been in the right part of her ovarian cycle for her to emit a scent indicating she was ready for breeding.  Either that or there was something really strange in those weeds!

 

Rosemary

April 3, 2008

Hell Hath No Fury Like…….

Theresa

A mother alpaca who feels that someone has threatened her cria! 

Just as I was finishing chores yesterday morning I heard a huge commotion coming from the large blue shelter in the girls pasture.  A group of the girls came running out and I could hear a couple of them screaming.  While the girls do squabble from time to time this was more than squabbling and I couldn’t figure out what on earth was going on.

As the dust settled I could see that the two screamers were Theresa and Rebecca.  Both girls are due to have their crias in May and both are very hormonal!  Alongside Rebecca was her last year’s cria Athena.  Athena is weaned and now over a year old, but she still likes to spend time with her dam from time to time.

The screaming continued as Theresa and Rebecca faced off and along with the screaming there was also some spitting taking place. 

When alpacas get into squabbles I usually wait a little while to see if they sort things out for themselves, more often than not they will.    Occasionally I do have to intervene if a couple of the boys are fighting too hard, but with the girls their battles are usually short.    That was not the case today though as Theresa and Rebecca continued to chase each other in circles, screaming as they went.

I went over to see if I could at least break their eye contact and diffuse the situation.  Fortunately I was wearing one of my hooded sweatshirts – the hoods provide excellent spit protection when required.

The two girls were as mad as they could be at each other.  I walked between them and Theresa stood in a defiant pose with her head and tail up, her lips trembling with anger.  Rebecca was very agitated and continue to scream and spit but now was directing her anger toward me.  I stepped toward her and Athena (who had remained by Rebecca’s side), put my hand up in front of her and firmly told her “No”.  The girls know that this means I am not willing to take any more spitting or screaming and will usually stop at this hand signal.

 Rebecca did stop, but then Athena decided that under the circumstances maybe she should return to nursing, putting her head under Rebecca.  As Athena is well weaned, Rebecca was not going to allow her to nurse and now directed her fury at Athena.  Poor little Athena flipped her tail up over her back in submission, and so I stepped between Rebecca and Athena and again raised my hand in front of Rebecca and told her “No”.

By this time Rebecca was getting the message, but there was still a lot of posturing going on between her and Theresa.  I got the girls moving and did my best to make sure that Theresa and Rebecca went in separate directions, but neither one of them really wanted to back down from the other.

Eventually Rebecca and Athena went into one of the feeding pens and Theresa headed off toward another.  I decided to take each girl a little hay, not as a reward, but rather as a way for her to clear the spit out of her mouth.  Alpacas and llamas will usually head to the hay following spitting, and use a mouthful to get the taste of the spit out of their mouths.

Theresa accepted her hay quite readily, Rebecca was a different story.  Athena by this time had cushed in the pen with Rebecca and looked a little shaken, so I walked over to check her and was met by Rebecca who started to scream at me again.  Athena remained cushed but again flipped her tail over her back.  It then struck me that something had caused Rebecca to be protective of Athena, while she had appeared to be directing her fury at Athena a little earlier, I think she was actually trying to protect her.  What I saw perhaps was not so much anger but fear that something was going to happen to Athena.

I stayed with Rebecca and Athena for a while, talking calmly to Rebecca and letting her see that I was not a threat to Athena.  She started to calm down and then sniffed Athena all over, checking to see that her daughter was okay.

I think that most likely this whole episode started when Theresa chased Athena away from one of the hay feeders.  Theresa can be particularly grumpy at the end of her pregnancy and I have seen her chase other alpacas away from her patch of the hay before.  She can become quite angry in the process and on one occasion a couple of years ago we ended up putting her in a pen on her own for a while until she calmed down.  I guess those hormones are just too much for Theresa by this time of her pregnancy.

Rebecca on the other hand is usually very calm.  She does get excited at feeding time and is quite vocal, grumbling to let us know that we should be getting her feed to her sooner, but I have never seen her get as angry as she was today.  While she has always been attentive to Athena, she has never been a dam who is extremely protective of her cria. She certainly showed Theresa today that even though Athena is more than capable of surviving on her own, Theresa had better not mess with her or else she will have to deal with Rebecca!

The rest of the day was peaceful with Theresa and Rebecca settling down to eat hay in separate areas and Athena joining her weanling friends in an afternoon chase around the pasture.

When I think of all of the girls we have in their last 60 days of pregnancy, I realize that we have quite a hormonal concoction in the pasture right now – maybe I will be wearing that hooded sweatshirt with it’s built in spit protection for a bit longer yet!

Rosemary

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