Nic Cooper, Southern Alpacas Stud
In winter alpacas can lose condition, because of malnutrition, and this can be masked by the fibre covering on the animal.
There are many causes of malnutrition in camelids. But in each case the way to effect a remedy is to notice it early, and react to the signs. The best way to check is to get your hands on the animal and "body score" it.
The following pictures relate to the backbone of the camelid, just forward of the pelvic area. The comments on the right also refer to the feel of the ribs and brisket. SNIP
Score 1: Backbone very prominent. Ribs are clearly felt. Brisket shows no fat.
Severely undernourished, get on good pasture and supplemental feed rapidly. Do faecal egg count. If eggs, or if no improvement, get the vet.
Score 2: Can feel backbone, ribs are prominent, firm brisket. Thin animal. Check pastures, supplement feed, may consider faecal egg count dependent on age, pasture, and season.
Score 3: This animal is fine. Can feel the backbone, but does not stand out. Can just feel ribs. Brisket has some movement when handled.
Score 4: Described as "somewhat overweight". Difficult feeling backbone, cannot feel ribs. Nothing to worry about, but cut out supplemental feed.
Score 5: Obese! Cannot feel backbone or ribs, brisket wobbles when touched. This animal is a problem and may have difficulty with reproduction.
Difficult to deal with – isolate (or rotate companion), limited rations, lots of exercise. Try putting water at one end of a very long fully grazed yard, and hay at the other.
Camelids can get worms, especially when grazing in winter on short grass, and forced to eat near their dung piles, or when grazing with other animals (e.g.sheep).
If you suspect worms, we recommend faecal egg count tests to check. And test the most susceptible animals in the herd first – those ages 3 months to 9 months old. If there is no problem here it is unlikely in the rest of the herd.
And remember, a "score 1" means your animal is dangerously sick. Don’t wait, take action now – and that probably means calling your vet.
Nic Cooper and Linda Blake
Nic Cooper farms about 200 huacaya alpaca on the outskirts of Christchurch, New Zealand. He has been breeding alpacas since 1989 and has extensive knowledge of alpaca and the industry with alpacas sold and exported worldwide.
Nic has a specific interest in alpaca genetics, nutrition, and fibre and is an experienced NZ Alpaca Judge.