a Suri Farm, ltd.

Fine Peruvian Alpacas in the Heart of Pennsylvania Dutch Country!

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May 04, 2017

Body Scoring

 

Date: 01/12/05
Alpaca owners have to do many things to improve or maintain the health of their herd. The basics include providing clean water, fresh hay and fertile pastures. In addition to that, many farmers provide an alpaca chow filled with vitamins and nutrients geared toward our South American Camelids. We also like to provide mineral mixes, top dressings on feed and lactation supplements. All of this is done with the best of intentions to improve the health and fleece quality of our alpacas. But you know what they say – the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

A crucial part of maintaining a healthy alpaca is performing a regular check on each animal called Body Scoring. This takes into account more than just simply weighing the animal. Body Scoring is done by running your hand down the spine of the animal. At an ideal score on the scale from 1 to 10, an animal would be at about 5 or 6. Translated into English, that means you can feel the spine without a huge layer of fat or a hump that would score higher. You also want to avoid a starving animal whose spine is readily apparent with a deep dip on each side down to the body, which would score much lower around 2 or 3.

We’ve got some girls in our herd that have a large frame and can easily carry 170 pounds without looking bloated and in very fit shape with a body score of 6. But we’ve also had to deal with our over-zealous feeding which resulted in us calling one of our beloved creatures – the little fat girl. Oh, I know it sounds insulting but the name fit. We couldn’t even feel her spine and her back was like a shelf.

This particular alpaca was shorter and smaller framed than most of our other girls. But we had her in a stall and pasture with the larger girls and never paid enough attention to how much she was eating. Our other pet name for her was bucket head because she never met a hay bucket she didn’t like. It wasn’t long before one day we looked out and realized we could’ve put this little girl on a string and entered her in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade as a blimp. I mean it, she was fat… no nice way to put it.

We knew we had to intervene to get the weight off of this girl before we had her bred. It would’ve been disastrous to have her fat and pregnant – too much stress on her and her cria. So, we did what we thought was right. We isolated her out in her pasture and didn’t let her in the barn when we stuffed the rest of the herd full of alpaca chow and hay and mineral mixes. We thought that would give her the opportunity to run around and burn off some of the extra calories. A month went by and there was no change except for the fact that the little fat girl was now laying down in the pasture to eat! Even less exercise for her oversized body.

Finally, we had the good sense to ask the professionals at Ohio State University how to handle the situation. They informed us that what we were doing was absolutely wrong, wrong, and wrong. You see, the pasture grass was actually bulking her up instead of trimming her down. The correct approach would’ve been to put her on a “dry lot.” That means in a pasture or area with no grass! We had to control what we were feeding her in order to control her weight. They also suggested giving her less rich hay not the wonderful mix of orchard grass and alfalfa that we were using for the rest of the herd. We needed to make sure she received additional exercise. That meant haltering her and walking her up and down the driveway every day until the weight came off – a long, slow process. The OSU folks cautioned us to do this slowly and carefully. No drastic reductions in hay, no twenty-six mile marathon walks.

Within a week, we began to see improvement. In a month, she was getting closer to her ideal weight and Body Score. The whole process took a few months until she was ready to rejoin the herd in a regular pasture. It was not easy. She was not pleased to be isolated from her barn mates and she certainly didn’t like being denied access to the luscious pastures.

The purpose of this story is two-fold: first, if you’ve got a fat alpaca, admit it and get help. Second, if you pay closer attention and provide regular, monthly Body Score checks, you should never need to “dry lot” an animal.