A Taste of Life at Windrush Alpacas

March 10, 2009

Identifying Ticks


Leigh from Hill Country Alpacas  posted a comment to my March 8, 2009 blog entry “Warm Weather Wigglers” asking which type of ticks we have.


Good question Leigh!  We are fortunate that we do not have deer ticks in this part of the country.  Deer ticks are the type of tick that can carry Lyme Disease, a dangerous disease to both humans and alpacas.


The types of ticks we have in our area are the American Dog Tick and the Rocky Mountain Wood Tick.   


I have been fortunate enough (although perhaps it is a matter of opinion whether this is fortunate or not!) to have our small animal vet show me ticks in their various stages from egg to nymph to adult.   The eggs and nymphs of the American Dog Tick are tiny, adult Deer ticks themselves are tiny so imagine how small their eggs and nymphs are.  If the ticks are not gorged with blood they are small and brown, once engorged though they become large and have more of a grey color to them. 


With any tick related illness it is important to find the offending tick and remove it, which if you are dealing with deer ticks is quite a challenging task.  The tick paralysis that TeQueely contracted was most likely caused by a Rocky Mountain Wood Tick.  The tick paralysis occurs from contact with the saliva of the female tick.  Typically that type of paralysis starts at the front end of the alpaca and progresses backwards.  For TeQueely her front end was definitely affected the most and she still drags her front right leg a little as a result.  When TeQueely was at her worst her eardrums were also severely swollen, to this day I still cannot believe that they didn’t rupture and can only imagine the pain she must have been in.


There are many species of tick in the United States, if you are interested in trying to identify the type of ticks you are encountering there are a couple of websites that have excellent pictures of ticks.  One is courtesy of the Department of Entomology at the University of Nebraska – Lincoln



The other website is www.tickinfo.com , that not only has pictures of ticks but has some fascinating information on its home page as to the ability of ticks to locate their hosts or prey.


Hope the pictures and information don’t make your skin crawl!



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!


August 20, 2008

Ticks or Mosquitoes – They Both Bring Trouble




 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.



July 26, 2008

Griffin Gets A Cool Do

Filed under: alpaca, Alpaca Care, Alpacas, camelids, General, guard llamas, llama, shearing — Tags: , , , , , — alpacalady @ 6:48 am

Griffin Shorn

Griffin Shorn


Earlier in the spring when we sheared the alpacas we decided not to shear the llamas at that time.  The llamas had been shorn the previous year and when we had first acquired them we were told that we only need shear them every other year.  The llama fleece is different from the alpaca fleece in that it contains a lot more guard hair and evolved to give llamas a certain amount of protection from the elements.  So initially we thought we would not shear the llamas this year but the thought was always in the back of our mind that if the llamas showed signs of being bothered by the heat we would go ahead and shear them.


Until recently the llamas had seemed fine but over the last week or two we had noticed that Griffin seemed a little uncomfortable.  She was swishing her tail a lot and nibbling at her hindquarters as if something was bothering her.  We had a quick look at her to make sure there was nothing readily apparent and could not see any signs of lice or bugs or any wounds or sore spots.


So yesterday we sheared Griffin to see if that will help her.  The llamas behave quite differently from the alpacas when it comes to shearing.  They seem to behave better if there are fewer people in the shearing area.  I don’t know why that is, but we do find the llamas are much easier to handle for shearing if only Ric and myself are present.  On some occasions Ric has shorn them completely on his own and they did well.


Griffin did well today, although she was not happy about us shearing her rear legs and so we did end up putting a blindfold on her.  We just used a clean old tee shirt, which we folded lengthwise to form the blindfold, the tee shirt was then placed over Griffin’s eyes and was held in place by tucking it into her halter.


As Griffin’s fiber came off (a beautiful Rose Grey fleece it is) we examined the fleece for ticks, bugs or evidence of any unwanted guests, but everything looked normal.  Her tail however was very matted and so we removed what matting we could and sheared her tail down. 


As dry as our spring was I do wonder if Griffin just has a case of dry, itchy skin.  Our alpaca Ma Cushla developed dry skin, which we discovered when we sheared her.  We changed Ma Cushla’s diet to include more fiber nutrients and some feed developed for pregnant and nursing dams and crias.  The change of diet seemed to help Ma Cushla and so we will change Griffin’s ration a little bit and see if it has a as well too.


Of course now we feel that should shear our other two llamas Maya and Inca, so it’s back to shearing again, then we will be well and truly done with shearing – until next year that is!



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