A Taste of Life at Windrush Alpacas

January 22, 2008

Zeus’s Weight Gain – What We Did

Zeus On Camera

Several people have contacted me regarding Zeus’s weight gain and how we accomplished some success with him.  Leigh Thomas kindly made a comment to the blog asking the same question and so I thought it might be helpful to write a little about what we did for Zeus.

First off I have to say that any time you have an alpaca that is causing you concern it is best to consult with your veterinarian and gain his or her expert opinion.  We had spoke to our veterinarian about Zeus and he was of the opinion that the main factor in Zeus’s erratic weight gain was a maiden dam that had low milk production.  Sometimes this will happen with a maiden dam, it does not necessarily mean that they will always be this way.  Often on the next pregnancy their milk production will be greatly increased and their next cria will gain weight without a problem.  There are some dams though that are poor milk producers and always remain so despite the breeder’s best efforts, one has to question whether those dams should continue to be bred.   Milk production can be a heritable trait and so that dam may go on to continually produce female cria that themselves have a difficult time producing milk.  Fortunately poor milk producing dams are the exception rather than the norm.

Something else to consider is testing the crias thyroid function.  That was going to be our next step with Zeus if he had not started to show a better growth rate.  A thyroid imbalance will often cause a cria to be slow to gain weight.  Typically those crias that do have a thyroid problem exhibit low energy levels, but not always to the point where it causes the breeder concern.  I remember one young male alpaca that came here for boarding who was extremely undersized for his age; his owners had thought that he was just a quiet alpaca who was slow to grow.  We body scored the alpaca and he body scored around 3 out of 10, he was most definitely thin.  With his owners consent we ran a thyroid test on the alpaca and the results revealed that his thyroid was under active.  In humans an under active thyroid often results in weight gain, but this is not usually the case in alpacas.  We started the alpaca on a thyroid treatment and within a short time he gained weight and within a couple of months we were able to take him off the medicine.  He has been fine ever since.  This particular alpaca also had crusting around his nose and mouth that we think was related to his thyroid condition.  We cleaned the crusting daily with a diluted tea tree oil solution and over time as the alpacas thyroid came into balance so the crusting stopped.

But back to what we did for Zeus.  I really believe it was a combination of things that helped Zeus get back on track.  First we are fortunate enough that one of our other dams, Carina, allowed Zeus to nurse from her alongside her own cria Carissima.  As long as Carina was distracted by a large bucket of hay she was happy to let Zeus nurse.  We made sure that Zeus, his dam Zoie, Carina and Carissima all went into pen together twice a day to allow Zeus two good nursing sessions from Carina.  Interestingly I caught Zeus nursing from Carina again the other day, she was busy eating at one of the hay feeders, but on seeing her Zeus perked up his ears ran over and started nursing from her.  We are also blessed with a nursemaid llama, Inca, who will come into milk on occasion and let crias nurse off her.  Zeus did nurse of Inca although of late that seems to have stopped.

The other thing we did was to ensure that Zoie got additional nutrition to help increase her milk production.  We added some alfalfa hay to her diet and also some calf manna.   As Zeus grew we waited for him to show interest in Zoie’s feed and then gradually introduced him to eating calf manna too.  You have to be careful about certain grains and young crias as you can cause digestive problems if a cria starts to eat grain at too early of an age.  However we had used calf manna before on our vets recommendation, he feels that it is easier to digest than some of the other feeds available and so is less likely to cause problems in crias.

The brand of calf manna we use is Manna Pro.  It is a brand that has been around for many years and is used for many species of livestock.  I like Manna Pro because it has some ingredients in it that just make sense to be used in a situation such as Zeus’s. 

Manna Pro has Brewers Yeast in it which helps with digestion of the calf manna, but also Brewers Yeast can have a positive effect on milk production.  Two herbal ingredients of Manna Pro are Fenugreek and Anise Oil.  Both Fenugreek and Anise are ingredients that I use in the herbal lactation stimulant that I make up for my expectant dams (we feed the herbal lactation stimulant two weeks prior to birthing and for two weeks post birthing).  The Manna Pro Calf Manna also contains Vitamin A supplement, VitaminD supplement, Vitamin E supplement and Vitamin B12 – all vitamins that are used to help encourage good growth.   Linseed Meal is another ingredient that is in the Calf Manna and which is helpful to good growth and overall condition. 

The Calf Manna runs about 25% protein, which is a high protein level for alpacas.  Certainly I would not feed it to the whole herd, but for those who are struggling to keep weight on or for dams that are low milk producers it can be a good choice.  The other caution I have about feeding calf manna to alpacas is the copper levels, which may be a bit high for alpacas.  Feeding it short term should not be a problem but I would not suggest using it long term as an alpaca’s regular daily feed.

Finally I think it is important with young crias to make sure they are getting adequate access to hay or grazing.  Very young crias of course do not graze or eat hay, but as they age you will see them starting to nibble at the grass or walking around with a piece of hay in their mouth.  Once crias have started to nibble on hay or grass do make sure that there have somewhere that they can have access to hay without the adults being able to jostle them out of the way.  Some breeders use a creep feeder, which enables the crias to go in and out of an area of the pasture, but blocks the adult alpacas from entering.  We use our “cria club” a pen where the crias go in the morning and evening while the adults are receiving their feed.  The cria club is for crias only and allows them to have some time with a hay feeder and, once they are old enough, a tray of pellet supplement.  Here they can eat in peace without being threatened or shoved out of the way.  The cria club is also an excellent place to introduce crias to being handled and halter training.

Having a slow growing cria can be a very frustrating and worrying experience.  Crias can crash rapidly, which, of course, is the last thing any alpaca breeder wants.  With your vet’s input and your persistence and good management crias can be helped to get over the stumbling block of slow initial growth.


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