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Friday, August 31, 2012

Fiber Skirting & Grading/ Classing

What is skirting?  When fleece is shorn off an alpaca, the blanket / primary fleece is brought to a table where the guard hair and vegetable matter is hand picked from the fiber. 

Why skirt a fleece?
Alpaca fiber that is properly skirted and graded (classed) produces vastly superior yarn with a more consistent end product.  Improperly prepared, the finer fibers of a fleece will spin to the inside of the yarn, leaving the courser fibers on the outside where it will be felt by the consumer.  With proper skirting and grading, courser fiber may feel better than a histogram would indicate.

What do I look for when skirting?
The key to a properly skirted fleece is consistency, consistency, consistency.  That is the consistency of length, micron and color.  Improperly skirted, the end result will be lower quality products returned from mills and co-ops after processing.

Can fleeces be combined? 
Fiber can be skirted and graded on an individual basis (Muffy's fleece), or it can be combined for processing based on color, length and micron (Muffy, Fluffy and Buffy).

Record Keeping
The annual statistics of your fleece will aid in your breeding and marketing programs.  Information such as grade (or micron) medullation, color, staple length, weight, notes about tenderness, vegetation, and more, can be vital to making decisions in a breeding program, farm environment or nutrition that may not otherwise have emerged.

Testing Methods
There are different methods for fiber analysis. 
  • OFDA 2000 that is an excellent herd management tool.  It measures a staple length of fiber and can tell what effect things such as environment, nutrition and stress have had on that fiber at a given point in the year of its growth.
  • OFDA 100 Yokom McColl is the current standard in the alpaca industry.  They use a butt test whereby the sample is cut near the base and tested at the cut point.
  • OFDA 100 Olds College is the testing method I recommend.  It takes the fiber sample and does a minicore, cutting the sample into 4,000 pieces and measuring each piece for a more accurate assessment of the entire fleece.  A butt test tells what the fiber characteristics were at a particular point in time, versus the minicore, which gives the fiber characteristics, as an average, for the entire fleece.
How do I train myself to recognize micron?

Take two portions of fiber, sending one out for testing and retaining one as your visual sample.  Once the test results are received, write on the outside of your visual sample what the micron is on a contrasting piece of paper to make the sample easier to see.  Try and get a sample that will fit into each grade of fiber.  Before beginning your fiber assessment, recalibrate your eyes and hands, using these samples, so you can easily recognize what you are looking at as you skirt your fiber.

Fiber Classification: 

Royal Alpaca - finer than 18 microns 

Super Fine / Baby Alpaca - finer than 20 microns
- finer than 25 micron
- under 30 micron
Strong - 30 microns and greater

Mixed Pieces - short fibers, coarser than 32 microns - used for felting 

The Blanket, or where the saddle would go on a horse and part of the rump, are shorn

The neck, legs and belly are used as "Seconds" which are not quite as soft and vary in length. It is used for socks, dryer balls and felted soles.  We also sell alpaca fleece directly in a variety of colors.

We are an alpaca farm with 150 quirky alpacas, 10 enthusiastic employees and thousands of amazing alpaca products. After 15 years of experience, we offer hand crafted alpaca products from local knitters, crocheters and weavers - including hats, scarves, blankets as well as high-tech alpaca socks and fabrics. We also sell composted alpaca manure as a rich fertilizer. Alpacas of Montana is a fully vertically integrated alpaca farm and we love designing high quality alpaca products.


Thursday, August 30, 2012

Hay Forage Analysis

What is Hay Forage Analysis?

Forage analysis of hay provides the nutrient content of the hay that you are feeding to your animals.  Forage nutrient content varies between seasons, locations, cuttings, and storage conditions.  By knowing the nutrient content of the hay, you can better manage the nutrition of your animals for better health and productivity.

Why Should I Perform a Hay Forage Analysis? Nutrient requirements of livestock vary with age, use, season and production status.  Forages generally make up the primary feed of most livestock. Knowing the energy and protein content of forages is important to provide optimum nutrition for your animals.  Forage analysis can also determine mineral levels in the forages.  Different areas of the country have different availability of minerals in the soil and thus result in forages that may or may not meet the requirements of the animal for specific minerals.  Knowing the nutrient content of your forages allows you to better tailor additional supplements to meet the needs of your animals.

How Do I Collect Hay Samples for Forage Analysis?  The most important aspect of collecting a hay sample for forage analysis is obtaining a representative sample of the entire lot of hay.  This means randomly sampling several bales and obtaining a representative sample from several bales.  This often results in a composite sample that is not representative of the hay because of the over representing stems versus leaves.  This is particularly true with alfalfa or alfalfa-mix hays.

Core Samples are the preferred method of sampling hay for forage nutrient analysis.  Quality hay core probes are made of a sturdy metal tube with a sharpened or serrated end to cut through the hay when obtaining the core.  The length of the probe should be at least 14 inches and 18 to 24 inches is preferred.  The probe diameter should be between 3/8 and 3/4 inches.  This will provide about 1/2 pound of hay from 20 samples.  The purpose is to collect a representative sample of stems and leaves.

Obtaining a Quality Sample of Hay for Forage Analysis
  • Sample each "lot" or cutting of hay separately.
  • Obtain core samples from at least 20 bales selected at random throughout the entire lot.  If there are less than 20 bales, take multiple cores from all of the bales until you have 20 core samples
  • Collect core samples from the side of the bale that is most resistant to puncture.  For square bales, sample from the small ends.  For round bales, sample from the side.
  • Drive the entire probe into each bale.
  • Empty the core chamber into the collection canister (multi-bore probes) or into your collection bag (single-bore probes) between each bale.
  • Collect the sample into a 1 quart Ziploc bag.  Squeeze out the air and seal the bag.  Label accordingly.
  • Send the sample to the lab the same day or as soon as possible.
Finding a Sample Probe -

Where Do I Send a Forage Nutrient Analysis?  There are many laboratories across the country that perform forage nutrient analysis.  We use the Montana State University lab.  The best way to ensure a quality analysis is to utilize a laboratory that is certified by the National Forage Testing Association .  Certification means that this laboratory meets specific quality testing standards for specific areas.

What is the difference between Wet Chemistry and NIR? There are two general methods typically used for forage nutrient analysis, Near Infrared Reflectance Spectoscopy (NIR or NIRS) and Wet Chemistry.  While NIR analysis is less expensive, this method is not considered as accurate as wet chemistry.  NIR may be suitable for determining basic nutrient analysis including DM, CP, ADF and NDF, it is often not suitable for accurate determination of minerals.

What do the forage results mean? The most basic forage nutrient analysis evaluation factors help estimate intake, digestibility, available energy and available protein in the forage.  This is critical for proper feeding to support maintenance needs, growth, and production in the animal.  The results are generally reported on a dry matter basis so that forages can be appropriately compared independent of their moisture content.  Additional tests can also be performed to determine mineral content and sometimes vitamin content of the forage.
  • Moisture:  The percent of the forage that is water.  For hay, this generally runs between 5-15%.  Moisture dilutes out the nutrient value of the forage on an as fed basis.
  • Dry Matter (DM): The percent of the forage that is not water.  For hay, this is typically around 87-95%.  Feeds with lower DM require higher as fed intake to deliver the same amount of nutrients.
  • Crude Protein (CP): An estimate of the protein content based on the total nitrogen of the feed and reported as a percentage.  A normal range in hay is 6-20% on a DM.  For alpacas, the goal would be to have around 12% CP.
  • Neutral Detergent Fiber (NDF):  Measure of the fiber in the feed consisting of hemicelluloses, cellulose and lignin.  These are the carbohydrates that make up the cell wall and structure of the plant material.  NDF predicts voluntary intake.  As NDF increases, there is more fiber to the forage which takes longer to digest and thus decreases voluntary intake.  A normal range in hay is 30 to 60% on a DM basis.  This number for alpaca feed should be less than 50%.
  • Acid Detergent Fiber (ADF): A measure of the cellulose and lignin and leaves out the more digestible hemicelluloses.  ADF is a predictor of digestibility of the hay. As ADF increases, digestibility decreases.  A normal range in hay is 25 to 45% on a DM basis.  Ideally for alpacas, this number has a value less than 30%.
  • Total Digestible Nutrients (TDN): TDN provides an overall estimate of the available energy density of the feed.  It is the sum of the digestible protein, digestible NSC, digestible NDF, and 2.25 times the digestible fat.
  • Relative Feed Value (RFV): A calculated ranking of the feed based on the digestibility (ADF) and the intake (NDF).  The higher the RFV, the better the forage.  RFV is primarily used for evaluating alfalfa hay for dairy cattle.  It will routinely give a low value for grass hays and does not accurately reflect their feed value.  This is because grass hays tend to have a higher NDF (limits total feed intake) than alfalfa but at the same time, they have a lower lignin concentration and thus their fiber is more digestible.  What this does in the RFV calculation is under estimate feed intake and energy value of grass hay, thus under estimating the RFV relative to alfalfa.
  • Minerals: Minerals are critical for the structure and function of tissues in the body. Too little (deficiency) or too much (toxicity) of these mineral can result in poor growth, production and/ or clinical disease.  Mineral content of feed can vary greatly with geographic area.  It is good to evaluate some of the important minerals in the feed sample to help select an appropriate supplementation to match with the hay that you are feeding.  We feed Stillwater Minerals, a supplement specific for alpacas and llamas.  Expensive, but worth the cost to keep our herd healthy. Minerals are typically reported as parts per million (ppm, mg/kg).  Typical mineral analysis might include any combination of the following:
    • Macrominerals
      • Calcium (Ca)
      • Phosphorus (P)
      • Sodium (Na)
      • Chloride (Cl)
      • Magnesium (Mg)
      • Potassium (K)
      • Sulfur (S)
    • Microminerals
      • Colbalt (Co)
      • Copper (Cu)
      • Fluoride (F)
      • Iodine (I)
      • Iron (Fe)
      • Manganese (Mn)
      • Molybdenum (Mo)
      • Selenium (Se)
      • Zinc (Zn)
Using this information.  The most important part of forage nutrient analysis in the energy and protein content of the hay.  This can be used to help determine what production groups of animals will benefit most from this hay and what production groups will need additional energy or protein supplementation.  A general summary of energy (TDN) and protein needs for different production groups of camelids is listed in the table below.

If your hay has a protein or TDN value below the recommendation for the production group, then you will want to either use different hay for that group of animals or consider supplementing those animals with another high TDN or protein supplement, or both.  Feeding the proper hay to specific production groups to meet their dietary needs will help prevent both low and high body condition.  It can also save you in feed costs so that you know what animals specifically need additional supplementation rather than always feeding these supplements to all animals.

Also remember that energy needs increase during times of higher physical activity or cold temperatures (winter).  So, hay that may be doing just fine during the summer months may not provide sufficient nutrition for an animal in the winter.

Camelid TDN and Protein requirements for different sates of production based on 1.5-2.0% BW dry matter intake per day. 

We are an alpaca farm with 150 quirky alpacas, 10 enthusiastic employees and thousands of amazing alpaca products. After 15 years of experience, we offer hand crafted alpaca products from local knitters, crocheters and weavers - including hats, scarves, blankets as well as high-tech alpaca socks and fabrics. We also sell composted alpaca manure as a rich fertilizer. Alpacas of Montana is a fully vertically integrated alpaca farm and we love designing high quality alpaca products.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Trimming Alpaca Teeth

Trimming Alpaca Teeth

We have all seen the funny photos of the alpacas and llamas with a gigantic spoon coming out of the camelid’s mouth.  Hopefully, the owners realized that this could and should be remedied for the health of the animal.  The bottom front teeth need to line up with the pallet on top without teeth.  This allows them to pick grass to chew with their molars in the back of the mouth. Alpaca teeth continue to grow and the problem will only worsen.  Without the proper alignment, the animal cannot collect food, can become emaciated and die.

Fortunately, trimming teeth is painless, quick and easy with a little practice. The first teeth to address are the lower incisor teeth.  We use the Tooth-o-matic, which is a glorified dremel tool with a jig made to fit the alpaca teeth. 

* It is important to note that alpacas nerves are in the base of their teeth, not like our teeth that have nerve endings throughout.  So, while the alpacas do not like it, the removal is much like us trimming a finger nail.

To determine if the alpaca needs their teeth trimmed, hold the alpaca around the head and place your finger inside the lips of the alpaca where the teeth meet the gums.  If you can feel the edge of the teeth, they need to be trimmed or they will continue to grow.

The Holder
  1. Stand on the opposite side of the alpaca from where the tooth or teeth will be cut if you are the person who will hold the animal during the procedure.
  2. Expose the animal's teeth by reaching over and under its head and holding its lips up and away from the gums and teeth. A cylindrical shaped section of one-half-inch PVC pipe, one-inch thick section of rope, or even a section of wooden broom handle can be slid to the back of the mouth and gently, but firmly held in place. This forces the mouth open for the duration of the procedure. Alpaca cannot open their mouths very wide, so do not force the mouth any wider than the blade.
  3. Remove the halther, restrain the animal, ensuring its head remains still while the work is carried out.  With my other hand, I hold the back of the head or topknot to keep the jaw in place.

The Trimmer
  1. Stand in front of the alpaca facing the holder.  Decide where to make the cut is most accurately assessed when the mouth is shut with the lips lifted to view how far the teeth protrude past the palate.  
  2. Open the alpaca’s mouth and quickly place the jig of the Tooth-O-Matic in the mouth. 
  3. Turn the dremel tool on and go side to side, trimming off the teeth to an even finish.  The entire process should take 3-10 seconds.
If the animal is bleeding, you went too close to the gum line. 

Fighting Teeth

Most males and some females have fighting teeth, three razor sharp teeth used in an occasional alpaca battle.  These should be removed at least every year for the health and safety of all alpacas in the pen. 

There are several aspects of cutting canines that deserve mention. First, canines are  further back in the mouth than the incisors and more difficult to reach. Second, cutting them with OB wire is relatively easy once the wire is looped around the back of the tooth. Third, the teeth may be sharp but they are thin. Because they are so thin it usually takes only a few strokes back and forth using an OB wire to cut the tooth. Fourth, for the  person new to cutting canines, it is very important that the cut is made parallel to the gum line so the cut does not involve touching the gums. Plus, the lips need to be held open and away from the cutting surface. Lastly, canines may need to be cut more than once. Often they are cut when they first emerge and the owner is surprised when the animal injures another animal a year or so later. This is because the canines were not fully erupted when they were first cut. They kept growing and became dangerous.

  1. To remove fighting teeth, form a loop with obstetrical wire if you are the person who will cut the tooth. About 1 foot of wire is a comfortable length of wire with which to work. Place the wire loop around the tooth you want to cut.  Make sure soft tissue (tongue, gums, lip) is not in jeopardy and work the wire back and forth until the teeth are cut.
  2. Keep the wire taut, and pull it sharply several times parallel to the gum line to create a groove for sawing.
  3. Saw off the remaining tooth by following the groove as you move the wire back and forth.  Finesse is required as pulling too hard may dislodge a tooth.  A fresh section of wire will cut rapidly with only mild pressure, providing the cutting stroke is consistent.
  4. File sharp edges from the stub of the tooth with a hand file.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

What the Hay!

Figuring Out Your Alpaca Hay
As Summer is rapidly turning into Autumn, our conversations with our hay farmer are increasing.  We purchase approximately 52 tons of hay each year between our alpacas and hay burning horses. To feed alpacas properly, you need to get them the right kind of hay with the right amount of protein.  Invest in good hay and you will save on medical bills, health issues for moms and babies and have comfortable alpacas throughout the winter.

So what is good hay?

A rule of thumb is to look for hay that is 10-30-50.  This refers to hay that has approximately 10% CP (Crude Protein), an ADF (Acid Detergent Fiber) value less than 30% and NDF (Neutral Detergent Fiber) value that is less than 50%.

We purchase second cutting grass alfalfa with 10-14% protein with as few stems as possible.  Camelids can be finicky eaters.  They walk great distances in their native South American Altiplano and select the lush, succulent parts of the plants to consume.  Camelids preferentially select the most readily digestible part of the hay, often eating the leaves, flowers and seeds but leaving the stems.  Much like celery for us, it takes more energy to digest stems than nutrients they offer, so there is negative nutritional value for this part of the plant. The first year in owning alpacas, we wasted 4 tons of stems, not knowing alpacas would not eat tough stems. "If they get hungry enough, they'll eat it" does not work with alpacas.

You Get What You Pay For

Another factor to consider is cost.  If you are paying premium prices for hay, you should demand premium hay.  Previously, we had a shipment of hay that had just arrived and was lush, green, fragrant and had a nice stem length.  As part of the farm's normal quality control, a core sample was done.  The hay had only 5% crude protein and 48% TDN.  Hay should have a minimum CP (Crude Protein) of 8% and TDN of 50% or more.  Just because it looks good does not mean it has the nutritional content the alpacas need.

Many people offer pellets as a supplement to their alpaca's nutritional needs.  When we were having difficulty keeping on weight with our alpacas years ago, we took several animals to the Colorado University
Veterinary program.  They found that the alpacas absorbed only 2-3% of the nutrients in the pellets we gave them. Because they are a new world camelid, they are not used to processed grains and could not absorb them.   The right grass / alfalfa hay mix is essential in putting

and keeping weight on an alpaca. We now give our alpacas pellets as treats when people come over, but not as a dietary supplement.

One argument I have heard is that alfalfa will blow out alpacas fleece.  This is only true if the alpaca gets fat. And that goes for any type of feed.  If the alpaca is overweight, you will likely have coarse fleece, no matter what the alpaca is eating.  Make sure you check your alpacas body scores regularly.

Recommended by: Dr. Norm Evans, D.V.M.
Report - Dry Matter Basis

Less than 15

Crude Protein
10 - 14

TDN (Total Digestible Nutrients)
57 - 60

Alpaca Research Articles Recommendations
Report - Dry Matter Basis


Crude Protein
Less than 30%

Less than 50%

Colorado State University Recommendations

Feeding Plan
Physiological State
Crude Protein
Sub Maintenance
Obese Animals
Males + 1 yr
Breeding Females
Pregnant Females 1-8 mo.
Pregnant Female 9-11 months
Weanlings up to 1.5 years
Lactation up to 4 mo.

Ultimate Goal - 12% protein with a TDN between 57-62

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Anatomy of Alpaca Teeth

The Anatomy of Alpaca Teeth

Both llamas and alpacas have inherited their dentition from their wild ancestors. The dental layout and specialization of teeth found in llamas and alpacas is evident in 25 million year old ancestral camelids.Llamas and alpacas have the same number and kinds of teeth (same dental formula): molars, incisors and canines. The significant difference between the two species is that in llamas the incisors (front teeth) are encased in enamel and are not prone to continue growing throughout the animal’s lifetime. However, many llamas are still in need of tooth trimming. Alpacas teeth have characteristics of both llamas and vicunas; they usually have no or little enamel on the tongue side of their teeth and experience continual tooth growth well into adulthood.

The incisors are designed to procure food. The llama or alpaca grabs a tuft of grass growing from the ground and shuts its mouth on it, pressing the grass against the dental pad (front of top jaw) with its incisors (teeth at the front of the lower jaw). With the grass held firmly, the animal tears it away and eats. In a normal animal there are six incisors at the front of the lower jaw (mandible) and no front teeth at front of the upper jaw maxilla). The incisors are deciduous, meaning they will be shed and replaced by permanent teeth at fairly predictable intervals as the animal ages. Incisor alignment is important. Incisors should close squarely into the bottom of the dental pad at the front of the upper jaw. The relationship to the incisors and how they meet the palate defines how efficiently the animal will be able to procure food in environments.

A llama or alpaca with correct dental alignment of the incisor teeth (with the dental pad of the maxilla) will gradually wear them down with normal chewing motion as the teeth come in contact with the dental pad. If the alignment is not good, which typically means the incisors miss the dental pad by protruding past it, the teeth can be expected to grow. Teeth that protrude excessively past the dental pad, sometimes missing it by a centimeter or more, do not allow efficient eating. A long lower jaw is a common defect in both alpacas and llamas and the incisors protruding from it will need to be trimmed periodically.

Molars: There are six molars on each jaw (3 per side) plus premolars. These large grinding teeth are essential to the digestion of food and are found at the back of the mouth. Molars function to pulverize food before it is swallowed and are vigorously used when the animal chews its cud of material brought up from its stomach. In younger animals molars are rarely a cause for concern. However, in older animals periodontal disease, tooth abscesses and uneven wearing can severely impact an animal’s ability to eat properly. Failing molars affect survivability. More attention is being paid to molars as the population of geriatric animals grows in North America. Molars are difficult to work on, even for the seasoned veterinarian, because they are at the back of a camelid’s mouth and the mouth does not open wide. If a problem related to the molars is suspected, a radiograph is usually the best way to evaluate it. In some instances wear and tear on molars results in molars with jagged tops and poor grinding motion. In other cases uneven surfaces are ground (or flattened, or floated) to bring greater compatibility to how molars fit together when they grind food. Molar abscesses are also challenging and the chances of success are directly related to early detection.

Canine Teeth: The canine teeth, also known as fighting teeth, are present on all adult male alpacas and llamas. They are found in the jaw between the incisors and the molars. While not present at birth they usually begin emerging around 24 months, but may not fully emerge until seven years in some animals. Adult females also have canine teeth which are not usually prominent, but still razor sharp. They are seldom cause for concern due to the temperament of females, and the fact that their canines often barely protrude above the surface.

There are two canine teeth on each side of the maxilla (upper jaw), and one canine on each side of the mandible (lower jaw), making a total of three per side. Fully erupted, these teeth curve backward, are razor sharp, and are designed to lacerate an opponent during a fight. In males, canines can measure an inch (2.54 cm) in length. Serious and permanent injuries can be expected if canines are not removed. The teeth are larger on males than females, larger yet on male llamas (and like railroad spikes in Dromedary camels). Because males bite when they fight common injuries are torn or severed ears, permanently damaged tails, lacerated testicles and permanent leg lameness due to severed tendons and ligaments.

Cutting Incisors: Cutting incisors involves more factors than one might imagine. With incisors, the cut should be where the teeth would touch the dental pad if they were the correct length and alignment. Incisors neglected for a long period of time can be quite long and protrude from the animal’s face. Such teeth are unsightly, and less efficient for collecting food than correctly aligned teeth. They are also more prone to breaking off, due to the increased leverage at the end of the tooth as it lengthens. Even teeth that aren’t neglected can become quite thick and difficult to cut, especially in older animals.