This article will point out the nutritional needs of the third trimester dam recognizing fetal nutrition needs and a successful fall birth. Many owners do not recognize the important issue of late summer "fetal feeding" – and just when their pastures are at a nutritional minimum.
We will first review pasture nutrition during the grass life stages and then the dam’s pregnancy nutritional needs. Lastly we will discuss several management perspectives allowing you some "food for thought".
Spring grass is simply a nutritional joy. It is so sweet that many of us pick fresh dandelion leaves as an addition to our table salad. New grass is high in protein, with large amounts of digestible carbohydrate and lots of vitamins. Short grazing times provide a full day’s nutrition. After a long winter, this vegetal forage is just what the alpacas need.
Vegetal forage means that the plant is in the vegetative state. It has lots of leaf, little stem and is gathering energy through sunlight, rain and adequate (not extreme) heat.
As the summer progresses, the grass matures. It gradually shifts from the spring vegetal growth stage to the reproductive stage. This latter stage is characterized by more stem growth, less leaf production and a shift towards making the seed head or seedpod.
Forming seed heads is the major function of grass physiology and it is a very costly one for the plant. As the plant matures, more and more of the plant energy goes into the seed head thereby ensuring that a future plant has the best chance to grow in the next generation. However, the cost of producing seed is that the plant becomes "woody", full of stems, low in both carbohydrate and protein and the leaves become far less palatable. The major carbohydrate becomes lignin. This is the indigestible plant cell wall "glue" that contributes to the stem stiffness or wood like characteristic. The plant wants to get the seed head as high in the air as possible thereby spreading the seeds as far as possible. A stiff strong woody stalk does just that.
An example of this is an oat or wheat field. The seeds, planted in early fall, germinate and the resulting grass is a superb late fall/early winter grazing forage. The next spring, the vegetal growing phase is quickly followed by a shift to the reproductive stage as the plant puts all its energy into making the seedpod. By harvest time, the plant is a yellow, nutritionally devoid substance we call straw. All the energy has gone into the seed.
Is seed nutritious? Yes, when you remove the hard outer husk as mills do and this results in a grain. The alpaca rumen does not do well on grains and is far better digesting the leafy forage. That is why a mature seed laden plant is not nearly nutritious for an alpaca when compared to the plant in the vegetal state.
Late summer is hard on forage grasses. The combination of high heat, low rainfall and intense sunlight dries up our pastures and send many of the plants into summer dormancy. These dormant plants store energy in the roots. Leaf growth slows and then stops. Resultantly, July, August and early September are hard on pastures and the animals that graze on them. With later fall rains, the roots send up new shoots with the forage trying again to produce seeds.
Think of grass like intact males (alpacas, that is). Always trying to reproduce . . . .
Now shift your attention to the nutritional needs of the pregnant third trimester dam. She was bred last fall and now in mid summer she is starting to look quite pregnant. Alpacas and other camelids differ from other animals in that most fetal growth occurs in the third trimester.
A common estimate is that at least 60% (some say 75%) of cria fetal growth occurs in the last three to four months (third trimester). This fetal growth is largely protein based and requires a significant shift in the dam’s nutritional requirements. In order to process this ingested protein, her energy (carbohydrate) needs are at least three-four times higher than in the non-pregnant state. In summary, much larger quantities of both digestible protein and carbohydrate are a necessity in the last trimester. For a cria born in October, this means July, August and September are the peak fetal growth months. Note the unfortunate coincidence of months of increased nutritional need and the poorer pastures.
Besides heat and lack of moisture, there is a third reason why our pastures are not doing well – these late term dams are eating machines! Estimates are that a late term pregnant dam equals the nutritional needs of at least three non-pregnant alpacas. Just a few late term pregnant females can eat down a pasture. With a pasture eaten down, there is little forage to convert sunlight into plant energy. The energy deficient plant does not have the resources to establish new leaf and the plant dies. Grazed down pastures are pastures about to die. Forget that formula of "five alpacas to the acre" . . . .
It is now clear that a significant nutritional need occurs just at the time when our pastures are at a nutritional minimum. What to do?
First, you can trick your grass thereby maintaining it in the vegetal stage. The key is mowing. By removing the early seed head in late spring and early summer, the plant will remain in the vegetal leafy stage storing energy for later seed head development. But constantly removing the seed head locks the plant into the vegetal growth stage. Thus, mowing is one way to keep your forage protein at a maximum. But this only works if there is appropriate soil moisture and if you mow before the early appearance of seed heads.
You can irrigate, but irrigation may be expensive, tedious (dragging around hoses), or simply not practical in very dry conditions. Rainfall, of about an inch or so per week, is optimum. But late summer is also well known for little rainfall.
Is your forage protein adequate? You say your alpacas are out grazing and it is hard to get them off the pasture. They MUST be getting good stuff as they are eating like crazy. RIGHT?
You may be right, but here is where you may be wrong. When forage quality drops, alpacas graze longer and harder. They may look like they are enjoying what they are eating. But in reality this behavior is an initial starvation response. What looks like tasty high quality forage could actually be a dangerous nutritional underfeeding/undernourishment of your pregnant dams.
Measure of late summer forage protein is critical. As the saying goes, if you can measure it you can manage it. This is just as important as having your fall hay tested for protein content in preparation for winter.
To test your pasture, first mow and rake up a handful of grass in 5-8 places in the pasture. Place the semi-dry grass in a paper bag, but do not seal it. Bring this into your agricultural county extension agent for analysis. The forage assessment cost is typically $10 or so. In a week, you will know the protein content of your forage.
Good quality forage has a protein content in the mid teens. This is adequate for the vast majority of non-pregnant alpacas. However, typical protein pasture forage in later summer may only be 10% or less. This is like cutting food intake by 1/3’rd. You would never do this for a pregnant animal, but that is the reality of poor quality forage.
I have one pasture that goes down to 6-7% in dry late summer conditions. The alpacas eat it like crazy, but they are really crazy for protein and energy. Think of what you would do if you were starving and all you had to eat was celery. Celery has little food value, but you would eat and eat and eat just to be consuming something.
Here are some behavioral changes that indicate your pasture may have low protein. If you notice your late term females grazing longer, then suspect a low forage protein level. The non-pregnant or early gestation alpacas can do fine on the lower protein forage, but the late term animal simply needs more grazing time to make up for the lower quality.
Late pregnant dams get grumpier and will defend a prime forage spot in the pasture. Low quality forage often makes the alpha animal that much more socially aggressive. A third possible behavior change is choking on the supplement pellets. Overly hungry dams will bolt their food and then will look for more. This can set off alpaca wars. Worse yet, the least dominant animals often get little or nothing.
One suggestion is to give a nighttime forage supplement to those late term dams. Lock those vulnerable animals in a stall and let them to eat undisturbed in peace. Check their muscle mass weekly. The best way to check is body scoring.
I like the 1-10 scoring system (10 = obese) and I evaluate the spinal muscles right above the shoulder blades. Simply tracking weight gain is not the issue, as every dam SHOULD be gaining weight during pregnancy. The key is that she holds muscle mass. A few flakes of alfalfa (3-5 lbs per alpaca per day) are a superb forage supplement in late pregnancy if your pasture is protein deficient. Resist the temptation of only giving more pellets. The alpaca gut works best digesting grasses, and pellets are not forage. Don’t increase this alfalfa ration to all, as everyone in the herd will gain too much weight.
Resist the temptation to overfeed and allow a normal body score alpaca to get fat. A fat alpaca makes the birthing process more difficult and dangerous for both dam and cria. You do not do them any favors getting them fat.
Thus, we must walk the line between having our late term dams too thin and too fat. Body scoring is a MUST!
The key to all this is early intervention. Do not suddenly wait up to the point where you have female alpaca "wars", bare brown pastures and body scores going down. Start supplementing with a bit of alfalfa at the first sign of behavioral changes. To do this you will need to "think like an alpaca" and to recognize symptoms of a situation before it gets critical. Clearly, measurement of your pasture protein is another crucial management tool.
Your crias are the literal lifeblood of your herd and of your farm’s financial future. Forage sampling is not expensive, body scoring takes only a few seconds per animal and the cost of a few bales of alfalfa is small. These management steps result in robust fall crias nursing on healthy dams in a pasture where peace and quiet are the norm.
Next month we discuss the preparations and lists of equipment to have on hand for your fall births. Until then, stay cool, keep the alpacas watered and think about your pastures.
Stephen Hull, MS, PhD, Tom Cameron, DVM & families
"a full service alpaca farm including seminars and consulting"
TimberLake Farms, Inc.
12001 East Waterloo Road
Arcadia, OK 73007
405 341 8444 (home/farm)
405 550-3023 (cell)
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AlpacaStreet is introducting a brand new auction concept called My 1 Hour Auction. There will be 4 "My Auctions" starting September 17 and continuing nightly through September 20th. Each auction will feature only 1 breeding program, and each will be customized for that particular breeder.
- Choose the night you want (first-come/first-served)
- Choose the type of auction (Standard Reverse Auction or TEASER Auction)
- Choose the number of alpacas on each auction panel (from 1-8)
- Choose the total number of alpacas to auction (from 18-80)
Your alpacas will receive a great deal of promotion, including...
- On-site promotion
- Alpaca Showcase page on AlpacaStreet starting September 10th
- Your auction will be featured in at least 3 national email blasts
- Post-Auction showcase for non-sold alpacas
You can have your own My 1 Hour Auction for only $100 set up fee and $15 per lot. A lot can be either an individual alpaca or a package.
Because of the highly customized nature of the auction, you must call in your order to 330.727.5334 between 9am and 10pm eastern Mon-Sat.
Current My 1 Hour Auction Schedule:
Dec 10 Tapestry Farm Alpacas
Dec 11 Wisdom of the Fox Alpacas
Dec 12 Mountain Sky Ranch
~ 2013 ~
Jan 14 Casweck Alpacas
Jan 15 Available
Jan 16 Crosswind Farm Alpacas
Jan 10 The Alpaca Group
Feb 11 Available
Feb 12 Available
Feb 13 Available
Feb 14 Humm V Farm Suri Alpacas
If you have questions on how the My 1 Hour Auction can be a powerful marketing tool for you, contact Dan Coulter at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 330.727.5334
Last year after sheering season, looking at a trailer full of freshly shorn fleeces, I was in a frustrated tizzy as to what I was going to do with them.
We have been raising alpacas since 1997 and we have always tried to do something with our fleece. In the past we have sent fleeces to AFCNA, had yarn, batting, and rovings made, and offered fleeces for sale. We have a farm store, and I hand make several items for the store and to take to local craft shows. Looking at my current inventory of yarns, roving, and battings, I quickly realized I did not need to invest in having more of the same made from our current harvest.
I started researching different options for our alpaca fiber but was very frustrated with the lack of options I was finding. I did not want to send my fleece somewhere, only to have to buy product back in return. SNIP After having a discussion with a client that moved out of state that had the opportunity to attend a seminar on Fiber Sorting for Maximum Profit presented by the Course Broads Inc., I became very intrigued. At the time, I could not really comprehend what sorting had to do with finding an outlet for our fiber. After listening to what he to say, I took his advice and checked out the North American Alpaca Producers. www.naafp.us, and the Coarse Broads Inc. www.fibersorting.com websites.
BAM! There It Is… The excitement came!
Here is an opportunity to not only get products made from our fleeces here in the USA, but to gain invaluable information on fleece information for our breeding program.
One of my pet peeves is that visitors would came to the farm and say that they were interested in raising alpacas, but were told by other farms that there was nothing to do with the fiber. I would take them into my store and they were amazed and baffled as to why breeders would say those things.
Owning a farm store is not for everyone, but being able to communicate that there is an outlet for having items made and sold by others to make a substantial profit from their fleece once again became a sales tool for us as breeders.
It was not long after reviewing these sites that I found myself wanting to know more and wanting to share this opportunity with our clients and other local breeders who continually ask us "What should we do with our fiber"?
Last November we hosted a seminar presented by The Coarse Broads in the hopes of getting all our questions answered and to learn more on how fiber sorting could benefit our breeding program.
We were blown away to say the least. We used to take our fiber to the mini mill and say "here make us some yarn". Well, not any more. Wether our fiber is going to be sent to the NAAFP, sold, or taken to the mini mill it is going to have a purpose.
Watching Robyn and Carrie sort and evaluate fleeces as part of the seminar was the explanation point we all needed. Watching them grade and sort by sight, a fleece from a single alpaca, and put it into 2,3,4, or even more bins destined for different uses based on the fibers length and diameter (micron) was amazing.
It all made so much sense, that I decided that I needed to learn how to sort alpaca fiber. In March I traveled to Harrisville NH., along with two others that had been at the seminar, to take the Coarse Broads 4 day Certified Sorting Class. Since the seminar in March I have had over 300 fleeces cross my sorting table. I now look at alpaca fiber in a totally different manner. We used to just throw away older fleeces or put them in with the 2nds to make felts. Not anymore, some of those fleeces are going to be made into duvets. We can offer our fleeces for sale, saying that you are buying a uniform all grade 3 fleeces that you can spin into a beautiful sport weight yarn. If we decide to take our grade 2 fleece to the mini mill, we can tell the mills that we want a super-fine light weight yarn made that would be great for a fancy shawl or scarf and that will be superior to any yarn we would have had made by just sending in fiber and saying, "make us some yarn". The end products will now be superior in quality and in wear ability because it is now uniform as a result of being sorted.
There are so many benefits from certified sorted alpaca fiber.
Unlike micron testing that only evaluates a 4 inch sample of the alpacas blanket, a sorter will grade the entire blanket and neck of each alpaca giving the breeder a individual alpaca sort record with data that includes the weight of each fleece by body area, grade of each area, comments on luster/brightness, density, and uniformity of crimp, crimp style or lock structure, test for tenderness, and sorter comments on the fiber. By having the fiber sorted every year, we can see how each alpaca fiber changes. Does it change in weight, micron grade or fiber length.
The sorters will also provide the breeders with a herd summary report that lets them know how much fiber their herd produced in each, color, grade, and processing length.
Before taking the sorting class I never paid much attention to length of our alpaca fiber. I did not realize there were different processes and uses for the different lengths. Alpaca fiber that is between 1.5" and 3.75" inches in length should be used in a woolen process, and fiber that is 3.75" to 6" in length should be used in a worsted process.
This report gives us at a glance where we not only need to improve, but also aids in suggested uses for the fiber.
Ultra-fine: Grade 1 fiber having less than 20 microns is best used for making items that will be worn next to the skin, baby items, underwear, etc.
Super-fine: Grade 2 fiber having a micron of 21 to 22.9 for gently used items, scarves and shawls.
Fine: Grade 3 fiber which is the most versatile grade having a micron of 23 to 25.9 can be used for yarns, socks, and knitted ware.
Medium: Grade 4 fibers having a micron of 26 to 28.9 can be used for socks, throws, yarns, outerwear, or felt.
Intermediate: Grade 5 fiber having a micron of 29 to 31.9 can be used for Batts, duvets, outerwear, and felt
Robust: Even fibers form the leg belly and chest with very high micron can be used for making beautiful alpaca rugs or for insulation.
Sorted fiber results in less waste. Mills usually charge by weight of unprocessed fiber.
Sorted fiber has 10-15 percent less loss in the mill than unsorted fibers.
A huge benefit to certified sorted alpaca fiber and the answer to my question of what sorting had to do with finding an outlet for our fiber is the North American Alpaca Fiber Producers or NAAFP. Here was a co-op that was developing products made from all grades of alpaca fiber to be processed in the USA utilizing already existing commercial mills and processors. A co-op that would allow us to not only take advantage of reduced processing cost, but also offers retail outlets and marketing for the items made over and above what I feel I can sell out of our farm store. It offers those without a farm store the means to make a profit off their fiber who do not wish to sell products themselves.
I encourage anyone who is looking for an outlet for their fiber and wants to support a USA fiber based industry and make a profit off the fiber produced on their farm to do as many others are doing and start having their yearly fiber clip sorted and taken to the next level of being made into quality yarn and finished products.
Quit stumbling to answer the question of what you do with your fiber. GET YOUR FLEECES TO MARKET.
To inquire on fiber sorting services
Jody Hezoucky 330-627-6000
or contact Natural Fiber Producers www.naturalfiberproducers.com to find a certified sorter or apprentice in your area.
marketing concept you will come up with next - bravo! GH NH
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Thanks for all your hard work and dedication! Is your head swollen up yet? : ) I tell everyone how unique and innovative your marketing ideas are and how much I benefit from being on AS and I only tell people about alpacas and products that I truly believe in. : ) .....and I believe in you & AS. YK NJ
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