Key points for keeping alpacas comfortable in summer

Shearing

Shearing is often a time when various other husbandry tasks are undertaken – it is a great time to take stock of your camelids’ body condition, teeth condition, and to have a look at their skin that has been hidden underneath mounds of fleece all year. It is not necessarily the best day to inject and worm animals, as they are already subject to significant handling stressors on shearing day, no matter how gentle shearing itself may be.

Worming

Though temptation is there to simply dose with wormer, parasite treatment should really be targeted at the problems you have on your holding. Worming in the absence of a problem and using wormers ‘just in case’ is a sure-fire way to promote resistance, rendering medications useless when you need them most. Since you have animals grouped together ready for shearing, now is a great opportunity to take faecal samples from your animals, and using your laboratory of choice (veterinary, independent, or even your own), really get to understand the parasite challenges on your pastures. Different wormers target different worm species, and coccidia (another internal parasite) are treated by a different class of medication entirely so it really pays to know what you are dealing with. Your vet can best advise you on sampling, but individual samples taken (gently) direct from the rectum yield the best quality information. Be sure to let the lab know the age, condition, and any previous treatments of the animals to help tailor the treatment required.

Sticking with parasites, shearing can suddenly reveal a lot about what is lurking under fleece and is often a time when we discover mite burdens, or worse, flystrike. The good news is that these conditions are easier to manage once fibre is short, so if you do have any immediate concerns such as crusting, itching or scabbing (particularly on the legs, and the groin/’armpit’ regions), your vet can take the appropriate samples and set a course of treatment depending on the mite responsible.

Fly control

Preventative fly repellents should be used over these warmer months: flystrike can advance frighteningly quickly and should be treated as an emergency. The most common comments I hear when attending a fly strike are that the affected area looked like a ‘wet patch’ or as though the alpacas had rolled in something, so if you see darker patches on fibre, it is definitely worth investigating. Initial treatment such as washing and flushing out all fly larvae can limit damage while you seek veterinary advice; struck animals often need extra supportive care.

Vaccination

It is very common for shearing to be accompanied by vaccination for clostridial disease, often administered by shearers as part of the service. Although done with the utmost care and attention, is rather a big day for alpacas, and one has to consider careful whether you feel vaccinating on the same day as a stressful event is worth the risk of adverse reaction or poor immune response. Any management change puts stress on animals, even if they do not appear disgruntled, and I usually advise that vaccination is undertaken in the calmest, safest way with minimal interaction, especially in the case of pregnant females. Vaccination, right down to exactly which product to use, is a personal decision, which should be made with advice from your vet, considering your holding’s risk profile, handling facilities and capabilities.

A few things need to be considered when vaccinating. The first is that vaccines absolutely must be kept cold, or risk being inactivated. Therefore, whomever is administering the vaccines must preserve the cold chain. The next is that vaccines expire within mere hours of being broached, so care must be taken that you are not out with the limit of your chosen vaccine. Do check our vaccine handling tips before planning your vaccinations.

Please speak to your local Westpoint practice if you would like any advice on alpaca husbandry.

Written by Ami Sawran BVSc CertAVP PhD MRCVS