Last weekend, Noah and I attended a Whole Herd Care and Monitoring Seminar put on by MI-ALPACA at the Michigan State School of Veterinary Medicine in East Lansing. The main presenter was Dr. Pam Walker, DVM, MS, DACVIM, Professor at Ohio State University and farm veterinarian for Alpaca Jack’s Suri Farm in Findlay, OH. Dr. Walker’s seminar covered:
Differential Diagnosis of Diarrhea in Camelid Crias Gastrointestinal Parasites in Camelids How to Know When Your Camelid Is Sick Neurologic Problems in Camelids Medications for Camelids Care of Pregnant Dam to Birth Then Taking Care of the Cria! Biosecurity Measures in Shows and Breeding Herds
Also, Dr. Judy Marteniuk, DVM, MS large animal vet and professor for Michigan State University presented a lecture on Generally Accepted Agricultural & Management Practices.
Noah and I really enjoyed Dr. Walker’s lecture and feel as though we took away a lot of useful information. We also received a helpful book with chapters on each of the topics presented which will really come in handy on our farm. While there were some veterinarians and vet students in attendance at the seminar, it was really tailored for alpaca farmers. Dr. Walker was easy to understand and interesting to listen too. In addition to teaching at Michigan State University and Ohio State University, she has worked for Alpaca Jacks, who has a herd size in the hundreds, for the last 8 years. She truly is an alpaca expert! She has pretty much seen everything! While I learned a lot of useful information from the seminar, here are some of the highlights that I found most interesting and helpful.
In the book that we received, there is a whole section on medications and de-wormers and it gives in laymen’s terms what they do, how they should be administered, what their uses are, and what alpacas they should and should not be used on (pregnant females, cria, etc). She also gave us information on pharmacies that only carry certain meds, including ones she has had them make up for her. We also learned where to get good plasma and colostrum.
Dr. Walker did an awesome job on telling us the symptoms of many different parasites, diseases, injuries, and illnesses that affect alpacas so that we can better diagnose our own alpacas when something is wrong. She also gave us information on what tests we should have run and what labs perform those test if we see certain symptoms so that we could pinpoint the cause.
One interesting thing I learned is a slurry recipe that she makes for alpacas who are unable to eat or crias who are unable to nurse. I thought it was very interesting as I recently made up my own slurry recipe for a very thin cria we had and my recipe was very similar to hers. One of the main differences that I learned was that I had put Karo Syrup in my recipe for added sugar and energy (which our vet had recommended to us last year with a sick alpaca). Well according to Dr. Walker, ruminants, like alpacas cannot utilize the sugar found in kayro syrup and molasses. It won’t hurt them, but it doesn’t do any good.
Another thing I learned was that Dr. Walker recommends breeding large maiden females as early as 14 months old before they reach 150 lbs. She said that she first makes sure they are at least 120-130lbs and interested in breeding by kushing in the presence of a male. If they are not kushing, she does not force it. The reason she breeds earlier though is because large females who are more prone to be fat will have fat stored in their mammary tissue when they are maidens and can possibly cause them to be poor milk producers.
She also told us exactly how to best do fecal tests for alpacas. Unfortunately, I suspect our veterinarian is not doing them correctly for alpacas and they are charging us $20 each. Noah and I have decided that we are either going to try to find a fecal test seminar to take or get a parasite book and teach ourselves. We already have the microscope, and we plan to look for a centrifuge on ebay. I think being able to test our own alpacas will really help us to have better overall herd health on our farm. Also, we have been using the fendendazole paste to treat for certain parasites if they show up in our fecals and she recommends using the liquid as it is more affective. We also learned different drugs we can try if our parasites become immune to certain de-wormers.
I also learned that all alpacas have mites, especially the ones that live between their toes. The only time you see mange in alpacas is when alpacas have a sensitivity and allergic reaction to the mites. I have heard of farms treating this with frontline spray, which Dr. Walker said is not effective. She recommends using a lime-sulfur ointment that she has compounded at a certain pharmacy and that our vet can order. We have not had mange on our farm, but this is good to know if we ever do.
Another really interesting thing I learned was that Dr. Walker believes that any probiotic paste…including probios and jumpstart are not effective. She said that because the organisms are dehydrated, they are dead and therefore do nothing in the gut of an alpaca. She recommended using live culture plain yogurt, which is what I normally put in our alpaca’s bottles and slurries. But I have used the paste on adults. In the future, I will use yogurt instead.
Another interesting tidbit I learned is that she does not recommend using Diatomaceous Earth (DE) for parasite control in alpacas. In the last year or two, I have heard a lot of talk about this from other farms and on forums online. I have heard of farms putting it on their poo piles and some feeding it to their alpacas. Dr. Walker said that while it can kill parasites if they ingest it by lacerating their insides, she doesn’t think enough parasites eat it to be that effective. She said it can also be very dangerous for alpacas if they inhale it or get it in their eyes as it can cause the same type of lacerations in their eyes or lungs.
I also learned about some good and safe ways to disinfect the barn which I plan to try this spring.
There was also some good information in the dam and cria section, but we had already learned most of the basics of birth in our neonatal seminar we took a few years ago. But the refresher was nice hear.
I also enjoyed hearing Dr. Walker talk about all the different cases she has encountered. She talked about different treatments that she has tied and perfected or tried and decided are not helpful. It really helped me to normalize illnesses, disease and injury in alpacas and make me realize that you do what you can, but not all alpacas can be saved, and the sad fact is that some need to be euthanized. Also, sometimes the treatment can be more expensive than an alpaca is worth or leave an alpaca with a poor quality of life so it doesn’t always make sense to treat them. Although somewhat depressing, I found this refreshing as I am always worried something tragic might happen to one of our alpacas. I think it is just an anxious response I have after some crappy things happening in life over the last few years, including our first alpaca dying last year. I always expect the worst. Her talk helped me to understand that sometimes bad things happen to our alpacas and we can only do our best and if they don’t make it, it is okay.
Lastly, we learned about Vet-A-Visit Day 2011 at MSU. It is an open house for the Vet School on Saturday, March 19 from 9am-4pm. We probably won’t be attending as Noah has to work and I have something else planned that day already, but it looked like they were offering lots of fun and free events that day for adults and kids. I wanted to mention it in case anyone else was interested in attending.
After the seminar, I talked with Dr. Walker for a little while. I met her over the phone a year ago when we purchased our suri Paisley from Alpaca Jacks so I gave her an update on how Miss Paisley was doing. I also asked her if she has any females that routinely give birth during the night since one of our boarders has given birth to her first 2 cria at night without any problems even though alpacas will almost always give birth before 4:00 in the afternoon. The later you get past 2:00pm, the more likely you are to experience dystocia (birth complications). Dr. Walker said she will occasionally have females who will routinely give birth at night with no problems and they make sure to breed them in the warm months so crias aren’t born outside when it is cold. We also discussed our female Lady’s recurring mastitis. Actually, Dr. Walker suspects that it is not mastitis at all, but that Lady’s produces so much milk and her udder gets so engorged that it breaks blood vessels which is why there is blood in the milk. She said that she has had dams like this, although I don’t think as severe of cases where one of the teats actually ruptured like Lady’s did 2 years ago when her cria was only nursing off 1 of the teats. She said the other teats should have stopped producing milk if he wasn’t nursing off them, but obviously they did not. She suggested stripping milk out of Lady several times a day and forcing the cria onto her teats, but still supplementing with a bottle. We had completely bottle fed cria number 1 and actually tried this method with Lady and cria number 2 and it was a horrible disaster. Not only did Lady fight us tooth and nail….or maybe I should say spitting, bucking and kicking when we had to strip her out, but the cria would refuse the bottle even though he wasn’t getting enough milk because he preferred his mom. Also, Noah and I work full time, so we don’t have the luxury of being on the farm all day and having time to strip her a half dozen times a day. Needless to say with her cria number 3, we went back to completely bottle feeding and letting her dry up even though it can be a little time consuming, but much easier. Most likely, we will do this again this year as this method has worked best for us.
Dr. Walker used to be a vet for Michigan State and I wish that she still was. She would be an awesome vet to have nearby! On the way home, Noah and I daydreamed what it might be like to have such a large alpaca farm that we would be able to employ our own vet. Maybe someday if I win the lottery I suppose! : ) All in all, the seminar was awesome and probably could have been 2 days instead of 8 ½ hours. It was definitely worth the $65 for us both to attend! I would definitely recommend any of her seminars. It was also nice spending the day with Noah and getting back to our “alpaca roots.” We have been so busy over the last year with preparing for our first child, having Eliza and now working (Noah is working 75 hours per week right now) that we haven’t spent hardly any time together, especially doing “alpaca stuff.” The alpacas have really been put on the back burner the last year so I really enjoyed spending a day to focus on them again and make some new plans for our farm this year.