HOW TO RAISE ALPACAS
Learning how to raise alpacas can be a new challenge if you have never owned livestock. We owned horses for eight years prior to owning alpaca so we had some experience. Still, a full fleeced animal is very different than a horse and camelid internal systems are quite different, too.
The best way to learn how to raise alpacas is to visit other farms and be sure you purchase from someone willing to let you come to their farm to practice hands on with alpacas before you bring yours home.
We made a weekly visit for two months to the alpaca farm from which we purchased our alpacas to learn how to raise alpacas. We helped herd and catch alpacas. We asked lots of questions and participated in training and haltering. After we brought our alpacas home, we still visited that farm and communicated by phone.
We attended alpaca shows, association meetings, seminars, and fiber events to learn how to raise alpacas. These taught us a lot.
The one thing that was hard to get a handle on how to raise alpacas was assessing the health of an alpaca. Alpacas are very stoic and you may not know you have a sick alpaca until it is in danger.
When you are new to alpacas, it is hard to know what is normal
behavior and what is abnormal behavior. The first time you see your alpacas sunning, you may think they are dead. They certainly look it.
Many times we walked out into the field just to make sure they were ok. They give you a look like "What's your problem, I was enjoying the sun?". Now we watch from the house with binoculars to see if ears are twitching and they're breathing. Soon they're done sunning and up walking around doing their alpaca thing.
Your alpaca should look alert. They should be moving around
sometimes, cushing sometimes. Eyes should be clear, ears up, good alpaca posture. They should be hanging around the rest of the herd, getting food, visiting the dung pile, going on alert when a scary piece of paper blows by, and doing general alpaca herd business.
To help you learn how to raise alpacas, we compiled a list of abnormal behavior that might mean your alpaca is sick. There's obvious bleeding or broken bones but these are more subtle indications that something is wrong.
- Is a normally active alpaca cushing a lot?
- Is your alpaca walking strangely?
- Are they trembling?
- Are they holding their head low?
- Are they standing hunched? (indication of pain)
- Are they limping?
- Are they excessively rolling?(possible colic)
- Are they laying on their side kicking?
- Do they keep getting up and down?(an indication of labor in a pregnant female)
- Are they off by themselves?
- Are they ignoring the herd? (If an alpaca is down, not following his herdmates, this indicates a very sick animal that probably needs a vet right away.)
- Are they not grazing or eating hay you put out?
- Are they unable to cush?
- Are they continually rubbing themselves against the fence, barn, etc.?
- Is their breathing shallow or labored?
- Are they going to the poop pile but not pooping?
- Are they holding their ears funny?(one down, both down)
- Are they shaking their head frequently?
- Do they look depressed in general?(Standing by themselves hanging their head.)
Now that you have looked at general behavior on how to raise alpacas, lets check for some specifics.
Eyes - Eyes should be clear, shiny, with pink membranes. Abnormal indications are:
- Weepy eyes
- Pus-like discharge
- Sunken eyes (dehydrated)
- A whitish-blue spot (ulcer)
- Pale (Pull the lid so you can see the inside. It should be pink not white)
Mouth and Jaw - Look at the outside of the muzzle and inside the
- Are the teeth overgrown?(difficult for them to eat)
- Any lumps around the jaw?(Possible abcess. Looks like they are pocketing food.)
- Are the nose or lips swollen?(Swollen nose around here could mean a rattlesnake bite. Could be a bee sting.)
Ears - Look outside and inside.
- Is there crusty, bloody discharge?(mites)
- Are they acting overly sensitive to their ears being touched?
- Do the insides of the ear look red, swollen?
Limbs - Look a lot to the feet for problems.
- Are the toenails overgrown and curling?
- Is there pus between toes?
- Are there cuts or tears on the soft pads?
- Are there any swollen areas on the feet or up the limb?
- Are there any areas that you touch on the legs that feel excessively warm to you?
- Are there any lumps or bumps on the legs?
As you gain more experience on how to raise alpacas, you'll gain more confidence in your abilities to assess your herd and an individual animal.
Camelid Body Scoring
For a small farm like us, it's hard to justify purchasing an expensive scale to weigh alpacas. So we rely on camelid body scoring to help us assess our alpacas health.
It's hard to tell on a full fleeced animal if they are maintaining their weight just by looking at them. You must do a hands on exam. If you continually check your animals, then you will catch problems before they get out of control.
Ahha! Hands on body check. That's what body scoring means. One more tool to help you learn how to raise alpacas. Check out the information below and you will be an expert at determining your alpacas general body weight soon.
We use the 1-5 scale. It's just easy and is a good enough determination for us of our alpacas weight. Start with an alpaca you know to be a good, healthy weight. Perform the 3 step assessment.
Step 1 - Lay the V of your hand (thumb on one side of spine, all other fingers on the other side) on your alpacas back just behind the base of his neck.
Step 2 - Assess the angle of the V your hand is forming and how much of the bony structures you can feel.
Step 3 - Score your animal using the body scoring system below.
1. UNDERNOURISHED - You can feel the ribs and backbone easily.
No muscle or fat. IN DANGER! Quickly figure out why. Do they need worming, are they sick, poor pasture grass, etc. Fix the problem now or this alpaca might not survive. Get your vet involved.
2. THIN - You can still feel the ribs and backbone but there is muscle, too. HEADING FOR DANGER! Assess the problem and fix before they become a number one body score. Check for worms, poor feed, teeth trouble. Correct and supplement.
3. IDEAL - Your hand will fit nicely without being stretched too far or at a steep angle. There's the right amount of muscle and fat. Keep doing what you are doing, it's working great. Assess again soon to make sure they are maintaining their weight.
4. OVERWEIGHT - The angle of your hand is getting wider. It's now becoming hard to feel the boney structures. Cut back on the feed, move to another pasture with another overweight alpaca and cut back on feed. HEADING FOR DANGER!
5. OBESE - Your hand is flattening out. You can't feel any bony
structures. This alpaca waddles and thighs might rub together. IN DANGER! Being this overweight is bad. Get this alpaca on a diet now.
An alpaca is stoic and may not seem sick to you when they are actually extremely ill. Write down your observations and call your vet if you are not sure. Hesitating may be fatal to your alpaca.
This information is a good start to learning how to raise alpacas but the best way is hands on experience. We hope this helps you spot trouble early and keep your alpacas in tip top healthy shape.
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