Alpaca Management, Poisonous Plants, Weaning, Halter Training
Your fields should be free of any poisonous weeds and shrubs and should run a maximum of six alpacas to an acre. When deciding how to manage your grassland and alpaca numbers, try to ensure that you have adequate grass in the winter for alpacas to forage and browse, benefiting their psychological health rather than them standing about on an expanse of muddy grass waiting for the next ration of hay or feed.
Fields should have sturdy sheep fencing or wooden post and rails – no barbed wire. A field shelter is essential and can be a horse shelter with two doorways. This will be used during adverse weather conditions and when flies are bad. Flies can torment alpacas in the summer; in their homeland they don’t have a fly problem because of the Andean climate. Also a shelter will be needed if a newborn cria needs protection overnight.
A clean fresh water trough is required and ice must be broken every day in frozen weather. With the high daytime temperatures in the Andes after frozen nights, water melts quickly, so alpacas have no knowledge of having to break ice and therefore will go thirsty. Always buy more troughs than you think you’ll need for feed; standard, long plastic/rubber sheep troughs are good. Plenty of space for each individual lessens the chances of squabbles and food being spat out at each other whilst squabbling! Also if a 'creep' is not built for cria to eat in, they will still have access to trough space.
Build angled solid-sided wooden boxes from the floor up in your shelter for hay. This system limits fleece contamination by hay and seed. A few metal alpaca hurdles are useful for constructing catch pens or any temporary pen. Although a temporary hurdle or catch pen can be used for mating, a sturdy, high, wooden catch pen of ten to twelve feet square will keep both the female alpaca and the stud male safe at mating and ‘spit-off’ time.
Alpacas are modified ruminants, which
chew the cud. They are very efficient grazers and browsers, but they do require dry roughage to assist digestion. Feed dry, soft, low protein hay ad-lib. Depending on the status of your alpaca whether pregnant, lactating, growing etc. feed the appropriate amount of a camelid mix every day. These concentrates are essential to help replace the minerals and vitamins that they require and which are absent in British grazing. Adequate and correct nutrition of alpacas ensures a healthy immune system and good levels of fertility in males and conception in females. Take a soil sample of your grassland for testing to find out what your grazing is particularly lacking.
Any dark coloured alpaca with hair missing on the bridge of it's nose is an indication that the level of vitamins and minerals is not quite correct. A serious deficiency will affect the fertility of a female and if her body feels compromised by the lack of the correct balance of vitamins and minerals she could reabsorb a pregnancy, or not fall pregnant. Alpacas demand a high level of vitamins and minerals, because the South American Andes has the highest mineral content of almost any soil in the world, coupled with high levels of Vitamin D received from high altitude sunshine.
Vitamin supplementation is advisable once a month during the winter months and for the darker colours, a few times during the summer. Special attention should be paid to young stock. Regular vaccinations are required against clostridial diseases and they should be regularly wormed with Dectomax or similar.
Toenail trimming three times a year with lamb foot-rot shears or as required and possible teeth trimming. With alpacas living up to twenty years, good dentistry is important!
Alpacas need shearing once a year in late spring or early summer. Suris can be left for two years, although fibre processors prefer one years growth of Suri fleece. There are dedicated, travelling alpaca shearers who will also undertake teeth and toenail maintenance. Link to shearers page.
Alpacas are peaceable animals, which do not look for trouble and rarely test fencing however they should be checked twice a day, more often if there are young and several times a day if cria are due. Although they have a reputation for hardiness and health there is no substitute to knowing the individual characters of your herd. A useful tip is to spend time simply watching your alpacas, because knowing the normal habits and behaviour of your animals will help you to almost instinctively recognise when something is amiss. An alpaca (not imminently due a cria) which looks off-colour, is behaving strangely, is not with the herd, is lying in the dung hill, is making an unusual noise is ill. Alpacas have a strong herding instinct and they know that to be separated from the herd is dangerous for them. They will attempt to mask illness or pain until they can no longer hide it. Act immediately when you find an ill looking alpaca and if in any doubt at all - call your vet.
Try to regularly body-score your animals on a scale of 1 to 5 with 3 being the optimum - once a month have a careful look at each of your alpacas to assess it’s condition by feeling a position about 4 inches along the spine from the base of the neck. If the spine feels sharp, then the alpaca is underweight and could need extra feed, teeth trimming or a faecal worm count undertaken. The spine should feel comfortably supported by flesh rather that submerged or what is called tabletop fat! Learn about all these subjects on an alpaca course.
The root systems of trees and shrubs go much deeper than grass roots and their leaves contain many minerals that are no longer obtainable on surface herbage. An alpaca in its natural state is a browsing animal that finds nutrients not only in pasture, but also in the leaves, twigs and bark of these trees and shrubs. Camelids are browsers because their mineral needs are high and this can then cause problems when they graze on dangerous plants. Many poisonous plants are not palatable and would only be eaten in desperation - an alpaca that has access to good quality mineralised pasture (soil analyse and/or use Grasstrac every year), coupled with good quality ad-lib hay and quality mineralised Camelid feed is much less likely to suffer plant poisoning, providing of course they do not have access to high-risk herbage like Rhododendron (see below). Fowberry Alpacas run in fields with several heavy- cropping Oak and Horse Chestnut trees although they peck at these this seems to have no adverse affect on them or their pregnancies. Learn about feeding alpacas on a training course.
Below is a list of commonly found poisonous plants:
- Ivy, particularly berries
- Privet, particularly flowers and berries
- Ragwort, cumulative effect
- Bracken, cumulative effect
- Buttercup, most toxic at time of flowering with ‘burn’ effect on mouth/lips
- Pine, other than a small wind-blown branch, cupresses, Lleylandi
- Rhododendron and Azalea, deadly
- Yew, deadly
- Laburnum, deadly
- Oak leaves and acorns in high quantities
- Horse Chestnut – all parts, bark, flowers, leaves and conkers
- Hemlock, deadly
- Maples – all Acer family
- Elderberry – cyanogenic plant
- Oil Seed Rape Brassica family - suspect
- Deadly Nightshade/potato and tomato stalks
Also many of our ornamental garden plants, for example:
- Hypericum (St John Wort),
- Arum lilies - Lily of the Valley
- Variegated Thistle
- Flowering bulbs, e.g. daffodils, snowdrops
If there is even a remote chance that an alpaca field gate could be left open and alpacas escape (they love to explore) into an area of cultivated garden with poisonous plants, prepare for any poisoning by keeping to hand activated charcoal which acts as an absorbent in the digestive tract to blunt the impact of many poisons. Also the tannins in ordinary tea given in a drench has been known to help. Phone the Vet and sample the suspected plant.
© This article is opinion only and offered in good faith. No responsibility is accepted for loss.
Weaning cria from mothers is a necessary evil. Mothers must start to concentrate on the growing baby inside them and the demands they are making, without the added drain of milk production for the current cria. Many older mothers are excellent milk producers and can lose condition with extended nursing.
Most cria are weaned around six months, although we have weaned at five months and eight months. When making the decision to wean, only you will be aware of your cria’s history, whether it was premature, how good a start it had in life, how it has furnished in it’s six months and the health and condition of the mother. When you have assessed this and your cria are eating grass and hopefully pecking at camelid pellets (we use Camilibra Cria) they can be weaned by moving the mothers to a different paddock. Weaning is a more difficult adjustment for babies than the mothers and cria will be less stressed by being in familiar surroundings, the same place to eat and sleep and hopefully with some other adults, like related maidens to be aunties to them. If your cria have been used to their own ‘creep’ for feeding, then that should continue after their mothers leave, otherwise, ensure plenty of trough space, so cria are not edged out of important hard feed. Mothers should be moved onto pasture, with no sight of their cria and given little hard food for a short time to help milk dry up. Remember to check udder for heat, swelling or redness in the unlikely event of mastitis. Keep the routine for the cria the same as they are used to with no new introductions, like training or injections for a while. Minimising stress at this time for the weanlings will ensure a smooth transition to independence. Weanlings placed into a large herd of adults (whether they know them or not) are particularly prone to the stresses associated with being at the bottom of the pecking order, leaving them with weakened immune systems and vulnerable to such things as Coccidiosis and other illness.
IF YOU HAVE ANY COLOUR OF CRIA THAT IS NOT THRIVING, IS NOT PLAYING, IS WALKING STIFFLY/BUNNY-HOPPING WHEN RUNNING, IS SLIGHTLY HUNCHED ON THE RUMP WITH CROOK OF NECK DOWN, IS NOT YET EATING ANY HARD FOOD, BUT OTHERWISE LOOKING WELL, ALWAYS THINK OF SUB-CLINICAL RICKETS. Rickets is quite prevalent in young alpacas, because of the hugely lower levels of sunshine in Britain, especially in the winter months. If your cria are not eating a balanced well formulated vitamin and mineral supplement like Camelibra Cria and you suspect rickets, talk to your vet or us.
The time weanlings spend apart from their mothers
depends on factors, such as the age of mother and
the character of the mother and weanling. Experienced mothers know they are preparing for the next baby and will not entertain their offspring looking for milk again after the herd are back together. A maiden mother may not be so firm and a weanling sucking again may stimulate her back into milk. Even older mothers that are having time-off from pregnancy have been known to allow weanlings back if pestered. Between nine to twelve weeks is around the norm, but be vigilant and notice what is going on in the herd after re-introduction. Many alpaca farms keep their herd permanently separated off into peer groups, we feel it is more natural for a female herd of all ages to be together, where young females learn the ropes from their mother, sisters and aunties. Daughters have been seen playing midwife at their mothers’ subsequent birth, which is an excellent
educational opportunity for the maiden. Troublesome boys of course have to be apart from weaning.
If done considerately, weaning alpacas should be easy and trouble free, leaving you to enjoy your weanlings’ first steps to independence. Learn about weaning your cria on an Advanced Alpaca Course.
Having noted and rejected some methods of halter training alpacas, we have used our experience with other animals, and have found the following way worked for us. We do not try halter training adult alpacas because, as with most animals, training should be undertaken when young. The best halters to buy are called Zephyr alpaca headcollars.
We start catching the cria fairly often straight after they are born - while mothers are having their feed. When very young the babies tend not to run away. They are held initially for a matter of seconds and soon get used to being caught, spoken softly to and held around the neck with one arm. Gradually they get used to being stroked, down their legs and having their toes touched, especially their head and ears as they have a natural ‘Midge Buster’ cream applied each day in the summer. We always leave a daub of cream on the top of their head, which is then transferred to mother’s underbelly when cria is feeding.
When the crias head and face are actually
*big enough for the tiniest cria halter (around six months), we carefully fit it and leave it on for some minutes. After they have experienced the halter on several times and are used to it we attach a halter rope. They can prance around, however we allow them almost the length of the rope, but no more as they can flip over backwards and hurt themselves. When they stop dancing around, the pressure on the rope slackens. With time they calm down and can be encouraged to walk with you. Mothers are always in the enclosure while working with younger cria and take no interest in proceedings; training is as short and regular as possible, but can then be reduced to once a week.
This method may seem time-consuming and longwinded, but it is a gentle process where the cria are not
shocked or frightened.
An older well trained adult alpaca is useful to offer a lead to others.
Avoid over-handling cria in their first year of life with inappropriate cuddling and petting as this can do more harm than good. Learn about haltering your alpacas on a course.
*The halter nosepiece should be adjusted to fit snugly right up under the eyes on the bridge of the nose, and kept in place around the head firmly, but not too tightly. Avoid at all cost the nosepiece slipping down the bridge of the nose to interfere with the nostrils and the alpaca’s breathing. With heavily fleeced faces, trimming may be required to keep the halter nosepiece in the correct position and this is permitted in the show ring.