Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Rotavirus in Alpacas

After our debut at an alpaca show in Denver last week, we brought home not only a blue ribbon but Rotavirus.  It had spread throughout the show and many animals began to show symptoms on the last day.  While the event veterinarian confirmed several days after the show that is was Rotavirus, sickness had already begun to spread through our weanling herd.

Our young alpacas showed signs of fever (102 F to 106 F) with diarrhea and lethargy.  We isolated this group from other alpaca herds and gave them antibiotics, anti-inflammatories, Pedialite and Gatorade to help with dehydration.  

Many adults will be exposed to the sickness but already have the antibodies in their systems to fight any infections.  Alpacas under one year of age are at a higher risk without the previous exposure to build up immunities.   It is often not the virus that will kill an alpaca, but the secondary problems caused by the sickness.

With Rotavirus, there are two main concerns - 

1.  Respiratory infection can be lethal and those most vulnerable can die in 48 hours.  Most will receive high temps, snotty nose, diarrhea causing dehydration.  They can show one or all of these signs, or be so stoic they simply tip over and die. 

2.  The virus attaches to the inside layer of bowel wall, causing leakage of diarrhea resulting in bacterial infections and inhibits absorption of nutrients and liquids.  

According to the CDC website:

  • The incubation period for rotavirus disease is approximately 2 days.
  • The disease is characterized by watery diarrhea for 3 to 8 days, and occasionally fever and abdominal pain.
  •  Immunity after infection is incomplete, but repeat infections tend to be less severe than the original infection.
  • Younger animals seem to be more severely affected (because many older animals will have some immunity if previously exposed)
  • The virus is stable in the environment and resistant to various chemical disinfectants and bleach
  • Because the virus is stable in the environment, transmission can occur through ingestion of contaminated water or food and contact with contaminated surfaces or objects
  • Rotavirus gastroenteritis is a self-limited illness, lasting for only a few days. Treatment is nonspecific and consists of oral or IV rehydration therapy to prevent dehydration (especially in young animals) and supportive care such as anti-diarrheal medications and probiotics.
  • Rotaviruses are generally species-specific and the transmission from animals to humans is very rare
  • Even with good biosecurity measures on the farm it is difficult to prevent the infection of na├»ve animals due to the shear number of viral particles shed during clinical disease and the fact that the virus is stable in the environment. 
  • There is no rotavirus vaccine approved for use in camelids and the vaccine for cattle/neonatal calves is not recommended.
Although most animals recover without veterinary intervention some animals may need more aggressive supportive therapy.  Thus, be sure to monitor temperatures and ensure they are getting plenty of liquids.  You may need to give a water bath if their temperatures get too high.  Quarantine the sick animals and talk to your vet about  antibiotics and anti-inflammatories.

Friday, May 3, 2013

We Just Won First Place! Now What?

About an hour ago, I received a call from James saying that we had just won first place at the Great Western Alpaca Show.  Yippee!  I texted many friends and family members the good news.  Almost every one of them wrote, "Congratulations!  What does it mean for your farm?"  Good question.

How much stock should we put in alpaca shows and winning a ribbon?

The goal for us heading to the show was to see where we are at on a national level with the rest of the alpacas out there.  Our goal was never to be the best of the best.  That is a lofty goal that I cannot finance.  However, I want to be competitive in the fleece market.  I want to know that our work is heading in the right direction.  I want my job to last for years to come.  Thus, winning a ribbon helps add validity to our breeding program that we are in the running for fiber quality.

However, you need to see where the ribbons came from to see how strongly they may impact your fiber and marketing program.  We have one girl who took first place at the Sun City Sizzle...the what?  It is a lower level show - level 1 or 2.  The National Shows, such as the Futurity and the Great Western Alpaca Shows, are level five shows and some of the largest and best available.  There are more alpacas, great judges and excellent competitions.  Many of the biggest and best farms are there.  One competitor noted that it wasn't fair that the "big boys" were winning all of the ribbons and some of the smaller farms should get to win.   I believe in the opposite.  We want them there.  They do set the bar high.  True, I may get intimidated that with 19 animals one farm already had 8 blue ribbons on the first day.  But, they are a worthy "opponent" if one would call them that.  They increase the meaning of my ribbon - or even placing.  With hundreds of alpacas comes a lot of overhead so they need to win ribbons to sell and pay their bills, just like we do.  If I want to win all of the time, I need better animals.  With that, you either buy them or breed for it, just like I did.  As I stated above, we cannot finance that type of program, so we need to breed on our own farm for better progeny.

A great part of the show is learning about the animal you have brought.  Supposedly, the animals brought to the show are the pinnacle of what your breeding programs has worked toward. When Hooligan won the ribbon, the judge stated he had super soft fleece, fine crimp and overall the best fleece he had seen that day.  Now that says something about your farm.  Unfortunately, if you do not place, they rarely comment on the animal.

But, the best education is going around to other farms to see what is out there.  See who did and did not win a ribbon, check out their fleece and talk to the owners.  Have them tell you about their alpaca.  There is a wide range to see and experience.  If they do not win a ribbon, or receive 3rd or 4th, go and see who the competition was.  Talk to the judges if possible.  You paid for the event - an education - go get the most out of it.

Our farm often buys herdsires who has won ribbons.  A ribbon count isn't the determining factor, but it certainly helps in knowing for that day with that certain competition, that alpaca was decidedly better than the others around him.  That is who we need on our farm to move forward.

That is what it means for our farm.  Getting better fleece production with the right animals.  Packaging great color, conformation and fiber all together and hopefully passing it on to their offspring.  Yes, we will likely ask more for Hooligan's sale price.  But a ribbon helps represent that we are doing well with our goals of producing great cria.