C'mon, be honest, if I really titled this important article 'Parasites' as it should be, would you have clicked on it ... I didn't think so ... but if you have alpacas or are interested in getting alpacas, you really need to learn about different parasites and the things available to control them.
The first thing you need to come to terms with is that the world is full of internal and external parasites and so is your farm. It is impossible to totally eliminate parasites but what you must do is control the parasite population. Good parasite control will mean healthy, productive livestock.
Good parasite control means taking preventive steps to not get a parasitic infestation in the first place. It means putting your alpacas on a regular worming program; raking up the poop pile on a daily basis; keeping feed troughs, water buckets and stalls clean. And it may even take adding some additional animals to your farm to help control the parasite populations.
For example, I remember seeing my first barn mouse. He was kind of cute, I named him George. But as the weather turned colder, it seemed George had invited a few friends over to our place and pretty soon, the cute little rodent and his gang ... HAD TO GO. So, rather than deal with messy mouse traps, we added two barn cats. Problem solved. We keep the cats wormed on a monthly basis just like the alpacas. The cats and alpacas really seem to get along just fine. As a matter of fact, we enjoy each cria that much more because we know that our Tommy cat will play chase with them.
Another external parasite is the mosquito which can carry the debilitating and sometimes deadly West Nile Virus. Again, we've chosen an unorthodox method of parasite control ' we got guineas! Guinea fowl look like odd chickens and are native to the African continent. They are loud squawkers and are considered by some farmers to be good 'guard' animals as they will alert when something strange is occurring on the farm. But the best thing we like about guineas is that they eat pounds of mosquitoes and ticks (another annoying parasite).
Most alpaca articles regarding parasites focus on the meningeal worm which can be deadly to our wonderful, Camelid livestock. This is a parasite that can be controlled through the regular use of the wormer, Ivermectin. And while this is an extremely important parasite for any alpaca farmer to control, I would suggest you go to www.worms-r-us.com for a more detailed discussion while I focus this article on other parasites found down on the farm.
Let's talk tapeworms, shall we. Yes, alpacas can and do get tapeworms. Tapes are nasty little critters that live inside our animals draining the nutrients from just about everything they eat. How do you know if you've got tapeworms? A couple of signs to look for are a sudden stop or decrease in weight gain in a younger alpaca. If you do monthly weights this should be fairly simple to track. Another sure sign of tapeworm infestation is the appearance of 'shedding' in the poop pile - it looks like small grains of rice among the regular poop "beans." And still another sign of tapeworms can be some diarrhea in your alpaca. But a word of caution is necessary here, if you have diarrhea ý do an immediate fecal exam, or have one done by your veterinarian. The only way to treat an animal is to know exactly what is causing the sickness in the first place.
In addition to tapes, alpacas can get brown stomach worms, coccidia in various states including the dreaded EMac (a tough one to rid from the farm), whip worms, mites (internal and external) and nemotodirus ý to name a few. There are two good books showing nice photos of what to look for when doing your own fecal exams and which drugs to use in treating. They are Dr. Norm Evans Field Manual and the latest edition of the Guide to Veterinary Parasites.
Treating for parasites in alpacas should not be done ala the ýshoot first ask questions laterý method. Not all parasites are the same and they require different forms of treatment. In addition, you need to consider the health, age and condition of the alpaca BEFORE you begin parasite treatment.
For example, a pregnant dam thirty days from delivery should not be handled like a yearling male whoýs probably only a pet quality boy. Our personal farm philosophy is to NOT treat pregnant dams in very early or very late pregnancy unless there is an outrageous infestation happening, and even then it would be with great caution that weýd use deworming chemicals. We strive for our dams to be ýcleaný before the begin breeding so that their bodies can focus on producing healthy cria. We donýt want to create undue stress in early or late pregnancy.
At a Suri Farm, ltd. we do our own fecal flotation testing. Weýve got a fantastic microscope that we bought through an online auction (our vet liked it so much that she bought the exact same scope). We bought a used but in good condition centrifuge again through an online auction. And we learned how to make our own sugar solution for the flotation. Our slides, test tubes and cover slips were all purchased online at low cost.
When doing a fecal test you need to allow plenty of time. First, you pull the sample from the donor alpaca. We put on the rubber glove and reach in with a finger wave to collect the sample rather than pull it from the communal dung pile. The sample beans get mixed in a test tube with warm water and spun down for ten minutes. Then we pour off the water allowing the sample ýplugý to remain at the bottom of the test tube. That material gets mixed in the tube with our sugar solution (Iým happy to share that recipe, just call the farm) and spun down in the centrifuge. The next step is the longest part. We add drops of sugar solution to the spun down sample until we are able to put a cover slip on top of the tube to ýcollectý the eggs as they float to the top. Here is where our testing differs from several others ý we wait 24 HOURS from this point until we begin reading the samples. Some parasite eggs are heavy and take this long to float.
After the day long wait is over, you need to assess what it is that you are seeing in your microscope sample. Doing a fecal flotation is not difficult, but it IS time consuming and it takes regular practice to become fairly skilled at it. There are many good pictures in the two books I mentioned earlier in this article. And if youýre totally unsure, then you should consider taking a class or asking a ýmentorý to assist you for the first time you do the testing. You will want to count the number of eggs, if any, that you see. Then you can determine which product you will use to treat which alpaca. And PLEASE ý do not think that because one alpaca in a pasture has one type of parasite, then they ALL have that parasite. That just simply is not the case and that is why it is so important to test each alpaca individually.
If there is one lesson to be learned here, it is that parasite testing can be done by anyone interested in really knowing what theyýve got in their fields and alpacas. Itýs relatively simple to learn to do and when youýre armed with the knowledge of what parasites you may have at your farm, you will find you have time to enjoy those real...Paris Sights!