ALPACA FARMING RYEGRASS STAGGERS
In alpaca farming ryegrass staggers is something to be aware of. Feeding ryegrass can cause problems.
If you are a beginning alpaca farmer, you may wonder what type of hay is best to feed your herd.
First you need to find out what's available in your area. Second, you need to be sure it's quality. Alpacas do well on most types of grass hay. We use orchard grass and mix alfalfa in with it sometimes.
So, what about ryegrass? It can cause a problem called ryegrass staggers. It seems that alpacas are even more suseptible to ryegrass staggers than other livestock. Young alpacas especially. Females in early pregnancy can abort.
What causes the problem is an endophyte (which is a fungus) that concentrates in the seedhead and lower stem of ryegrass.
Commercial producers of ryegrass seeds deliberately infect the seeds with the endophytes. Why? The endophyte gets nutrients from the grass and in return, they release toxins that protect the grass from insect attacks.
These toxins that the endophyte release to protect the plant can be toxic to livestock, including alpacas. The toxins affect the brain and central nervous system of animals.
As stated before, the endophytes concentrate in seed heads and at the base of the stem. Alpacas grazing on seed heads or pastures with ryegrass that have been heavily grazed, are the ones that tend to be affected.
In alpaca farming ryegrass needs to be managed in your pastures. Don't let ryegrass go to seed and don't let alpacas graze on ryegrass that is less than four inches tall.
The perennial ryegrass seems to have higher amounts of endophytes. Although this is the better growing crop, get the annual ryegrass instead. You can, also, look for endophyte free seeds. If you're purchasing ryegrass from someone else, ask if it's from endophyte free seeds.
Something else to think about...most lawn grass seeds have endophytes, so you shouldn't let your alpacas graze on your lawn.
Recognizing Ryegrass Staggers
The first sign of ryegrass staggers is a head tremor. If an animal is stressed, ryegrass staggers will be even more pronounced. Have your animal stand still. The head tremor will be noticable when they are still. A more severely affected alpaca may have a stiff walk, be uncoordinated, fall, have a saw horse stance, and/or sway back and forth.
If you notice these symptoms and you have ryegrass, calmly, but immediately, remove the alpaca from a pasture with ryegrass to a pasture without. Give them water and good quality non-ryegrass hay. If you've caught it early, your alpaca has a good chance to recover. If you did not catch it early, the damage will likely be permanent.
Mycosorb is a product that binds mycotoxins in the gut without affecting other needed bacteria. It doesn't bind vitamins and amino acids. The mycotoxin is excreted without harm to the animal. It might be a good thing to have on your farm if you have ryegrass in your pastures.
In alpaca farming ryegrass needs to be managed to prevent problems from ryegrass staggers. Do not have endophyte ryegrasses in your pasture. If you choose to have ryegrass, then use the annual type and find endophyte free ryegrass seeds. If you have endophyte ryegrass, then avoid seed head creation and don't let your alpacas graze on ryegrass if it is well eaten down.
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