Thursday, June 14, 2012

ALPACA NUTRITION AND PREGNANCY

ALPACA NUTRITION AND PREGNANCY
The topic of alpaca nutrition is a long and involved one ranging from water intake, through requirements in crude protein, fiber, energy, trace minerals and vitamins.
And many of these vary with the location of the farm, the type of feed, the fertilizers used, and the state (age, working male, pregnancy etc) of the alpaca. 

At our farm, based on our location and weather, we concentrate on ensuring the alpaca requirements are met as much as possible from the soil and grasses of the farm. We give pellets at times (Country Buffet horse molasses pellets) orally as a treat, but not as a vitamin supplement. We try to avoid supplementation through injection or specific oral supplement.  We give our alpacas high quality alpaca specific free choice salt as well as second cut grass alfalfa hay year round, eaten as desired.

One particular aspect is the linkage between nutrition and the pregnant alpaca. 
Alpacas get pregnant easier on a rising plane of nutrition. For many alpacas, getting pregnant is also when they are feeding a young cria. Hence their nutritional requirements are crucial in this period. 

We monitor our pregnant dams but keep them with the herd to minimize any stress they may feel.  We ensure the areas have plenty of good quality grass as well as high quality hay.  The grass is so rich, sometimes they prefer the hay without such high protein content.
The nutritional aspect of the female alpaca during pregnancy is critical to the health and longer term production capability of the cria. 

Alpacas normally require an 8% crude protein diet, which they more than achieve from proper grasses without supplementation.  The situation changes when the dam gets to the latter stages of pregnancy, and also in the first weeks of lactation. At that time a crude protein intake of 12% - 15% is required. This requires the best pastures. Pellet supplementation can be given as treats, but because alpacas are so efficient at obtaining the nutrients needed from grasses, complex carbohydrates such as pellets go right through their digestive system.

From a management point of view, late gestation (when the cria is maximizing growth and developing its secondary fiber follicles) and the first 4 weeks of lactation (when the dam reaches peak lactation) are critical. 

Fed properly at this period you achieve:
·    A better secondary to primary follicle growth ratio – something that will effect the fiber production of the cria throughout its life.
·    A healthier birthed cria.
·    A cria that grows well in early weeks (which affects later growth, and potential mating ages).
·    A dam on a rising plane of nutrition for her next mating. 

The only downside may be a larger cria for smaller maiden alpacas – and some birthing assistance required, although we have found that alpaca dams tend to birth early if the cria is “ready” early.

Fat alpacas are usually more of a problem than thin ones.  If you regularly body score your alpacas (see body scoring article) you will identify those that are naturally thin, or obese.   Like humans the natural state can vary by alpaca.

When we recognize a thin alpaca – or one clearly losing weight – segregation in a smaller herd unit of similar alpacas, and high crude protein (lactating mix) supplementation soon reverses the decline.  If it does not, look for other medical reasons.
Fat alpacas are generally harder to get pregnant and suffer more birthing difficulties.  And getting an alpaca to lose weight is almost impossible!  It involves a prolonged regime of controlled feed intake, and increased exercise.

Alpacas, particularly around birthing time, are susceptible to fatty liver disease.  This is a mobilization of fatty reserves that then “clog” in the liver.  It is a killer within days.  Unfortunately symptoms can be confused with birthing signs or complications.  Watch for alpacas off their feed (even favourite treats), sitting a lot, and generally uncomfortable and shedding weight rapidly.  Then call your vet.

90% of the time alpacas will just graze in the paddock without supplementation, will birth healthy cria, and will get pregnant easily.  This is particularly so on a “healthy” farm.
We have found that concentrating on getting nutrition right at the right times has improved our birthing success rates, and lowered our vet bills.