Winter Blues for Alpacas
Updated: Aug 12
This year I have had a large number of calls from people who have alpacas which are suffering with vitamin D deficiency. I thought this would be a good topic to add to my website. Alpacas already have a tendency to be D deficient but this year has been particularly bad... here's why.
Last year 2019 we in Eastern Australia, had a terrible fire season. As those of you who live in the region already know, the fires covered millions of hectares... more than 18 million hectares or 46 million acres. That's a lot of fire and there's no fire without smoke! There were days and weeks and months of smoky, smoky days. It felt post apocalyptic at times. Then what happened... it started to rain. We all breathed a collective sigh of relief... and then it rained some more... and more and more. Wow! the dams filled, the grass was green, the hay stayed stored, we began to smile again... but the sun, it didn't shine much!
Many alpaca owners do not know how close to the line their alpacas are with regard to vitamin D sufficiency, particularly the darker coloured alpacas. Animals need sun light to make vitamin D. Alpacas evolved in regions where the altitude means a much thinner atmosphere and less filter for sunlight so they are naturally used to higher concentrations of sunlight to make their vitamin D. Then we brought them down the mountain and across the oceans to an unnatural environment for them. Then we bred them to have denser and denser hair covering so we can harvest a greater crop each shearing. Sunlight does not easily get through all that fibre. Consequentially they are not able to process enough vitamin D naturally.
Alpacas are stoic animals; they are animals of prey and do not show weakness if they can possibly help it. If they did, it would make them a target for predators in the natural world. This means that even the most caring owners often do not realise their animals are suffering sometimes for weeks before they finally start to show signs of their pain. Some of the indicators for rickets are seeing your alpacas sitting a lot more than usual. They can lose condition because they are not able to stand and graze enough. Because it is often winter when their deficiency reaches a peak that is when their fleece is longest, often disguising a thin body underneath. It can get to a stage when the poor creatures are in so much pain, they simply cannot get up any more. Sadly this year more and more alpacas are reaching this state before their owners realise there is a problem. These are good people who really do care, they just don't know. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure... especially where pain is involved to this degree.
What can a caring owner do to prevent this?
It is important to include adequate vitamin and mineral supplements into your alpaca's diet. In Australia, many soils are deficient in a number of critical minerals. Unfortunately vitamin D does not usually maintain potency in general food supplements so you need to add more even if you are giving them pellets. In my opinion, it is better to give them a good supplement regime than to give them pellets when you know little about what is actually used to make the pellets. You need to ensure that they have an adequate top up of vitamin D in Autumn, Winter and Spring. If you are not comfortable with injecting, they can have an oral dose but it needs to be double the injectable dose as it has to go through the digestive system and not all of it survives.
This is my recommended regime: Please note I am not a vet and you should get veterinary advice on this before undertaking this supplementary regime.
Get your alpacas used to eating a 'muesli mix' on a regular basis. It will ensure they have adequate nutrients and may also make them more friendly if you take to hanging around while they eat. They may even take to eating out of a bowl you hold or your hand if that is something you would like to happen. This may take quite a bit of time and patience but is extremely rewarding and saves you catching and stressing them (and you).
This regime will also enable you to add the required supplements to their feed as and when you need to. It is a good idea to create a dedicated space for this feeding process in a catch area. This means that if and when you need to bring your alpacas in for treatment of any kind, they are used to the space and see it as a happy place. You could start by putting a small amount of their favourite hay in the space along with the meusli mix; maybe lucerne or clover rye. Always introduce new feeding regimes slowly. Ensure that they have access to the 'usual' food as well as the new food. Once they are used to coming to the unclosed space, progress to closing it off for short periods without doing anything else to them. You can extend period this over time, ensuring that they have adequate water and shelter. Eventually this will be where you are able to catch them. Ideally it will be sheltered from extreme weather so that you can protect them from the elements if they become ill. Shelter in this short term space is not absolutely necessary but is very useful. I keep drilled tyre feeders in my dedicated feeding area. The holes I drilled into the feeders mean I don't have to constantly empty rain water in wet weather. I have other treatment areas and lane ways to make them go in there but dual purpose feeding and treatment is all that you need for a few pet or guard animals. I use these tyre feeders from Matt's Tyre Feeders. You can find him on Facebook here https://www.facebook.com/Matts-tyre-feeders-1550551255014282/?tn-str=k*F I like them because they don't flip over in the wind and are strong and durable. I've seen them in stockfeed places too. Don't forget to drill holes in them.
The muesli mix is not sufficient for their full diet. They still need grass and or hay to eat all the time. Even when the grass is green in winter, it does not necessarily mean it is nutritious with shorter days reducing the nutrient quality. So ensure they have plenty of it available or add more nutritious hay in winter or drought.
WHAT AND WHEN TO ADD SUPPLEMENTS
(mixed into muesli mix)
Anitone 10 ml per animal 2-3 x per week
(Do NOT give both Anitone other additives such as alpaca pellets or you may overdose on some supplements) Anitone is perfectly good for pet or guard or non breeding alpacas and even breeding animals at the greater frequency.
Because I am a breeder and have pregnant and or lactating females, I prefer to use TNN Mighty-Min instead of Anitone as it has higher doses of some of the essential nutrients such as zinc and selenium, however selenium and some of the other supplements can be toxic if the dose is too high so this is not a case of the more the better. On the mighty Min dosage label, they advise 10 ml every 6 weeks for sheep. Very few products are labeled for alpacas so we generally use a very little more than sheep dosage.
AUTUMN (April), WINTER (June) and SPRING (August)
The vitamin D content of the general supplements listed above, is not sufficient to get your animals comfortably through a long winter as it does tend to have a shorter shelf life than other supplements. You will still need to give them extra vitamin D and Phosphorus. If you are supplementing regularly as above, you may only need one or two well spaced out extra doses of AD&E. If you have dark animals, I recommend at least 2. If you are NOT supplementing as above, then you will need to do 3 doses optimally.
Injected subcutaneously: between 1ml &1.5ml for adults (darker animals need the higher dose)
0.5ml for cria over 3 months. Younger animals should get sufficient dosage from maternal milk.
Phosphorous and B12
There are several different blends of Phosphorous and B12. It doesn't matter which you use.
As above, injected subcutaneously: between
2ml & 2.5ml for adults
1ml for cria over 3 months
Although the bottle says inject into deep muscle, the animal will get full use of the supplement if done subcutaneously and it is safer done this way. I have discussed this with my vet. It is slower but safer. This is what I do. You must make up your own mind how to do your animals. Always beware of the sciatic nerve near the hind muscles.
This screen clip showing where to do a Subcutaneous injection in an alpaca, comes from Dr Jane Vaughan's website CriaGenesis. She has a wonderful website with an amazing amount of free information in her blogs. She also has a fabulous book called
The Glovebox Guide to Alpacas. It's not cheap but if it saves you one vet bill, its paid for itself!!!
An alternative method is to give the top up to the animals orally, mixed into the muesli mix. If you do it this way, you do not need to catch and inject the animal but you must double the dose as orally, it will not all be absorbed. I do this for any animals that are difficult to handle on my own and there are one or two in that category.
The Muesli Mix
Chaff 50/50 dry oaten hay / lucerne hay blend - no molasses
(This is what goes into my muesli mix per animal)
I use a 2 litre ice cream container as a measure for chaff and a cup for the cracked lupins.
Take a cup of lupins per animal and cover with clean water. If it is a supplement day, add the anitone (or TNN Mighty Min) to the water to soak into the lupins. Soak for half and hour to an hour in the shade.
I use wheelbarrows to mix my muesli. Place the chaff and the soaked lupins into a mixing container and thoroughly mix it up then divide it up equally between your animals. If you want to be more accurate you can mix separately and feed separately. If adding AD&E and phosphorus for oral top up doses during winter, measure with a syringe and squirt it onto the muesli mix at the last minute then lightly mix it into the top so that they get it first.
There is quite a lot of information here and it can be a bit confusing depending on your circumstances. Please feel free to give me a call to bounce around some ideas if you are concerned about your animals. Meanwhile, stay safe everyone!