Wednesday, December 23, 2009

A Barn for Alpacas

Or, how to convert a dairy barn to an alpaca barn. When we inherited the farm, the barn was sadly neglected. No, more than neglected. It had been leased to a dairy farmer who kept his dry cows here until they gave birth. Rather than cleaning out the barn, he'd just bring in more sawdust a couple of times a year. By that time, the floor of the barn was about 5 feet higher than it should have been. It took us a good two years to clean everything out and pour a cement floor in the barn before we could move the alpacas in. We chose a cement floor because it could be washed down every day. We also have many livestock mats made out of recycled tires for the alpacas to sleep on in the cold, but they never seem to prefer the mats to the floor.
We have our fields and barn divided into three areas. The Girls, The Big Boys, and the Little Boys. The above picture shows our three yearling boys in their field. They have access to their own portion of the barn and lean to for shelter.

This is the Big Boys domain. This is the covered area behind their section in the barn.

You can tell I have finished washing down for the day.

Meanwhile, the boys are still in the barn, wanting to know what I'm up to. They are so afraid they might miss something.
The first thing Alan did with the barn was cut a hole in the hayloft and build a nice stairway up to it. We didn't want to use the horizontal ladder in the background. I hate ladders. The opening provides much more light in the barn, and it's fun to be able to see what's going on up in the loft. We often times have barn owls roosting there. And, you can see our hay supply. We start out with about 200 90 pound bales of Eastern Washington orchard grass hay. Since we are down to 31 alpacas, this should last us the winter.

Each section of the barn has a waterer like this, with a heater available for when it gets below 30 degrees. We had just come through a cold spell and hadn't removed the heaters yet.


Here is the DMZ, or no man's land.
It is to separate the boys from the girls. The boys have learned to operate all kinds of latches, have lifted the gates off the hinges, and have just broken through the gates, which are very sturdily built. So, we keep the latches on the side away from them, and have a double latch on the main gate. Darn boys. They have only one thing on their minds.
We also use this area to treat the males for vaccinations, worming, etc. If you put them all in a catch pen together, they hardly know what you are doing to them.

This is the Girl's catch pen. We also use it when we have a sick alpaca who we want to observe. Eve and her mom spent alot of time in this pen this Fall.

This was originally built as a maternity pen, but we like to see the alpacas deliver in the field where they are more comfortable. This pen is used when one of them has to be quarantined or is really sick. It has a radiant heater in there, too.

And here is more of the girls side. They have the most room because there are more females with crias than boys, thank goodness.

Here is the girls' entrance to the barn.

Another feeding area and where we shear. Also, it has a gate so we can use it for a catch pen or breeding pen.

And finally, my handy dandy fiber tumbler.
Our barn is well over 100 years old, having been buildt by the homesteader, Mary Harkness in the 1880s. When my Father in Law decided to do Dairy farming, he added on a good portion, so we have over 3000 sq.ft. of space.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Parasites and Stress in Alpacas

Though we have 7 wonderful vets at Kulshan Veterinary Clinic, Dr. Amber Itle is by far our favorite. She has never let us down. This past event with the ear infections that Eve suffered is an example. She is willing to go the extra mile and to try new procedures for us, always keeping in mind the expense.

When Eve was sick, she lost about 6 pounds in 15 days, which is extreme. So, we did a fecal exam and found she was loaded with parasites. Amber came by three days in a row to collect fecals and the difference is the count was amazing after treatment.

I had Amber write an article about this for the newsletter we put out for the North Sound Alpaca Association, and I copy it here:

According to the Journal of Animal Science, "stress" consists of external body forces that tend to displace homeostasis internally. There are environmental forces continuously acting upon animals that disrupt homeostasis, resulting in new adaptations which may be adequate for the animal to compensate, but may also cause disease. When we think of stress for an alpaca we may think of transport, exhibitions, being chased by dogs, shearing, or weaning. However, other stress may also appear as something less subtle such as poor nutrition, heavy parasitism, chronic lameness, or an infection. Over the last few months, we have been working with a 6 month old, bottle fed cria named, Eve. Eve presented two months ago with an ear droop, head shaking, and a low grade fever. She was treated for an ear infection with antibiotics and anti-inflammatories and seemed to make a full recovery, but then 8 weeks later, the symptoms were back. Although she was treated the same way, she was slow to respond and began to develop soft stool and lost weight. A fecal test revealed extremely high parasite counts when she was negative just 1 month before. It was a good reminder to all of us that even though we were focused on her infection, we didn't consider the impact the chronic "stress" the pain was having on her ability to deal with the parasites. Stress causes the animal to become immunocompromised and therefore more vulnerable to those "external forces", such as coccidia or stomach worms. After the treatment for the ear infection had a few days to work, Eve began to feel better and her parasite counts nearly returned to zero. The impact of stress is real, whether it's an infection or transport to breeding. Always remember to check for parasites during periods of stress as they are an opportunistic organism that will take advantage of any compromised alpaca and make their recovery more difficult.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Ear Infections in Alpacas

I've posted a couple of times about a chronic ear infection one of our crias was suffering from. Our vet clinic is awsome, and three of the vets worked as a team in treating her for this condition after she healed from the second bout.
Perry Stanfield was a large animal vet for years, and just a few years ago switched over to treating small animals. He has perfected a technique that he uses frequently in dogs, and the team decided it would be appropriate for this alpaca.
Problem No. 1. The animal has to be perfectly still, which means total anesthesia. Alpacas are usually operated on only using sedation and ether. In came Brooke Johnson who has worked with anesthetizing alpacas at a clinic in another county. Then our vet, who we call on the most, Amber Itle, was the team leader.

Here Eve is obviosly sedated as they insert a catheter for administering the drugs.
Here you see the canellas.

Two vet techs hold Eve's head up while Perry takes a look in the ear.

You can see the inside of her ear on the screen in the background. I don't know if this is the start of the procedure, or the end. What he did was totally irrigate the ear. The eardrum had healed after the last infection, but was very tough and had to be broken. Behind the eardrum was loads of putrid matter, just working it's way into another infection. It was all washed away and sterilized.

Here is Eve, coming around.

And the Tech, Emily, poses her for a picture. They all love her and say she was the model patient.
Eve has been doing great since the procedure. We have a concoction that Perry "brewed" up, and had to put it in the ear two times a day for two weeks. Now we are at once a day, and will soon be twice a week for a month. She hates it, it makes her cough, but it is because it drains through her sinuses, and as long as that happens, it means she is clear.