Routine Health Care
Something we strongly recommend is halter training! You will find that your alpaca will be much more manageable during routine procedures if trained. Starting when they are young (2 weeks to 6 months) is ideal but an older alpaca can be trained as well. If you are working with a high strung animal, keep a buddy in the pen while training. (See “training” below for lots of tips!)
A chute can be effective for some procedures such as an ultrasound or dental work. However, most procedures can be done quickly and efficiently just by herding a few animals into a pen area to work. Naturally they feel more comfortable in familiar surroundings with a few friends present.
There are several herd management software programs available to track your alpaca’s health. For a small herd it can be just as easy to use a simple spreadsheet, or pencil and paper. Whichever method you choose, keeping accurate records is a must! The health of your alpacas will be determined by you and your herd management program.
Parasite control should be considered a year-round management practice. An infestation of parasites any time during the year can cause stress for an animal making them less tolerant of extreme conditions. Work with your veterinarian to develop the best prevention schedule for your area.
Clean fecal matter from pastures no less than once a week. Because we have smaller areas, we clean daily. This is also a good time to watch for any abnormal beans, plops, or possible parasite infestations. Provide fresh water daily and scrub water buckets at least twice each week to keep away bacteria and mildew.
Consult with your veterinarian to determine what types of vaccinations are recommended in your area. Whether your farm is situated next to a creek, lake, forest area, or bare ground, you will have unique needs. Make sure you are vaccinating for threats particular to your area. At the same time, don’t “over vaccinate” – keep in mind, the farm you purchased your animals from may have a situation very different from yours. You may require more or less prevention on your farm.
Take quarterly fecal samples from each pasture to your vet for testing. By staying a few steps ahead, you can keep your parasite loads to a minimum.
During routine care, take some time for the following:
- Check mouths! Learn what a proper bite should look like and regularly check teeth. Some alpacas wear down their teeth and never need a trim. Others may have faster growing teeth and require an occasional trim. The best scenario is to trim at the point when the teeth are only slightly long. The longer the teeth grow, the thicker they get. The longer you wait to trim, the harder the animal has to work to chew grasses and hay. While checking teeth, take a moment to smell their breath – it should smell like grass. If it smells putrid, that is a sign of decay – time for your veterinarian to take a look!
- Routinely feel both sides of the face around the jaw bone, down beneath the nose, and run your hands up each side of the head to the back of the ear. If an abscess forms, this will likely be your first clue. If you find an irregularity, consult your veterinarian.
- Check ears for dirt (mites?) or strange smells (infection?).
- Check eyes for infections, scratches or punctures.
- Weigh your animals quarterly and get to know their “top condition”. Keep in mind that, as their fleece grows back in, their weight will rise so a slight drop in weight after shearing is normal (you can gauge the difference by also weighing the fleece once shorn). You will also need to take into account that pregnant females will put on their most weight during the last 2 months of their pregnancy. If you don’t have the luxury of owning a scale, learn how to body score. Body scoring should also be done quarterly and is the next best thing.
- Feet should be examined regularly for cuts and bruises. Unless your alpacas are kept on cement, their toenails will most likely need to be clipped 2 to 4 times each year depending on growth rate. Having a couple pairs of sharp pruning shears on hand will help with this chore. Clip each side of the nail so that it’s level with the footpad, and then clip off the tip. Excessively long nails can lead to discomfort and lameness
All of the health checks listed above are easily done if your animals are desensitized and trained early on. It’s much easier to teach good habits, than to break bad ones!
A great time to perform a full check-up on your alpacas is at shearing time. Take advantage of the time each animal spends on the shearing table and really check them over! You are often your vet’s eyes, ears, and nose when trouble arises. Know your alpacas and work to keep them in prime condition!!
Emergency preparedness Whether you have an unfortunate farm accident, a downed alpaca, or just someone who isn’t quite acting normal, be prepared before you call your vet. The following list outlines information you can provide to your vet so they can be fully prepared before they arrive.
- Is the animal able to stand?
- Is it limping or unable to walk in a straight line?
- Has the animal been eating and/or drinking like normal?
- Have you noticed signs of diarrhea or constipation?
- Are their gums pink, or do they lack color?
- Is there discharge or mucous from the nose, eyes, rectum or vagina?
- Take their temperature – is it too high or low?
- Is there apparent injury? If so, to what extent?
- Do you have a feeling for what may have happened?
Relay everything to the vet. The more information you can provide, the better.
Walk your pastures monthly – look for sharp objects that may have unearthed. If your pasture is close to a road, look for things that may have been tossed into the pasture (we hate to think that someone would do this, but unfortunately it happens).
Inspect grasses, clover and weeds – schedule a time for fertilizing or replanting.
Inspect your fences for areas in need of repair. Look at the hot wire connection – make sure nothing is hanging onto it or leaning into it (weeds or small animals); check for loose connections or corrosion.
Check your hay mangers – make note of any repairs. Check for twine that may have followed a flake of hay to the manger – a piece of twine could choke or cut an animal.
During the winter, make sure to break icicles from low roofs or mangers.
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