Like all farm animals, thinking about parasite control and treatment is a really important part of keeping a healthy herd of alpacas. high levels of parasites can permantly harm or kill your animals. There are plenty of publications and resources online to help you learn the basics, and if you are a bit ambitious, some of the more detailed ways to keep on top of parasites.
Most alpaca owners will manage several factors to keep their alpacas healthy and unharmed by, or even free of, worms and coccidea. However, it is extremely difficult to completely eradicate parasites, and your focus will generally be on keeping them well below harmful levels.
– the stocking density (the number of animals per acre of grazing land).
– the field grazing rotation.
– the cleanliness of the fields.
– the alpacas themselves.
Stocking density is important, because the more animals you have in a field, the higher that fields parasite burden is likely to be. Many of the worms that alpacas are affected by reproduce by passing their eggs out of an animal in the feces, where the larvae can gestate and then be eaten by a new host grazing the grass.
Epoch Alpacas is unusual in that it has a very low stocking density of about an acre and a half of grazing per animal. This allows us to limit the parasite burden on the fields, primarily through rotating our alpacas onto new grazing.
Field rotation can help reduce the number of parasite passed onto a field through feces as ungrazed pasture will have fewer, if any parasites.
– By rotating at certain times, you can help create a more hostile environment for parasites. For example after a hard frost or long spell of dry, sunny weather can help kill off parasites in a field. These can make a field that was grazed intensively in the past more viable again in terms of its parasite burden.
– If you give a worm treatment to your affected animals, then leaving them in the same field (or putting them in the barn or on hardstanding) for a couple of days, before moving them can reduce the number of worms that will be brought to the fresh field.
– Rotating your animals out of the field and then cutting it very short just before a very cold or very sunny spell can also help kill off a significant number of parasites.
– Rotating your alpacas into a field that has been grazed by other animals, particularly other people’s animals, can be very dangerous. If you are not aware of the parasite levels in the animals that used the field before, you should avoid it. This is most applicable when you are renting grazing, or if you have just moved in, or have had a neighbour keep the grass down with their animals.
Without the benefit of frost or very hot weather, a parasite burdened field can stay burdened for a very long time. Many parasites thrive in prolonged periods of warm, wet weather. So that should always provoke you into thinking about fecal testing and medicating against the parasites you detect.
Field cleanliness is most important when you have a higher stocking density, and are therefore unable to use field rotation so effectively to control parasite burden on pasture.
When you have only a few alpacas and a small amount of land, picking up poo will severely disrupt the reproductive cycle of worms.
Along with testing and worming, managing the amount of feces in a field is a very effective method of control. However, you may still need to cut the field to keep the grass short. As this will help you to monitor and collect the feces effectively.
There are paddock cleaners, towable by quad bike or by small tractor, which are available and that can make the job easier. But as ever, there is a balance. If it takes as much time to prepare a machine for use and then clean it afterwards it may be more cost-effective to pay a young helper to collect it by hand. We own a paddock cleaner, but in our opinion it only saves time if you have a higher stocking density with a larger number of animals.
Fecal checks on your animals is essential, to ensure you are providing the right treatment and to prevent creating parasite resistances, which leads us to the most important factor – your alpacas themselves.
Fecal checking for worms and coccidea
It is recommended that rather than worming all your animals regularly you do faecal checks prior to medicating.
– This means that you only treat animals that actually need it,
– Will mean that you treat each case with the right medication (for example, not all wormers treat all types of worm).
– And will help you avoid building parasite resistance to important medications in your animals.
We fecal check every 3 months and more often in animals of concern. Fecal checking is something you can learn to do yourself from alpaca breeders, but there are many services that allow you to send samples away for testing for a fee.
To fecal test, collect your sample in a small, clean plastic container. Then,
- Send samples to your local vet, who can then treat your animals.
- Or, send them a specialist such as Camelid Veterinary Services, who will give you high quality advice on how you can treat your alpaca.
- Or, if you have the knowledge, send them to a standard testing lab such as Westgate labs then decide on treatment and perform it yourself.
- Or, if you have been on a course and invested in the equipment, you can do the collection, testing and treatment yourself. This is what
- we did, because we felt over the years it would pay for itself, and we enjoyed the science.
Advice in the early stages of learning how to treat or learning how to do your own fecal tests, is extremely helpful. Tanya’s sister is a vet, and has helped us with both, but your vet, or your course leader will often be happy to advise in this capacity when you are getting started.
The hardest part is working out the treatments and doses required, (again advice when you’re beginning is very helpful). This is often the hardest part and essential to get right. Many medications are not licensed for alpacas and the doses required are often different from other livestock. We enjoy having the knowledge and equipment to test our animals as regularly as we want, and we enjoy it. But if you are interested in doing the same, it can be time-consuming and initial set up costs aren’t cheap (between £500 and £1,000). If I was very concerned about an animal I would also get the sample sent off to the Camelid Veterinary Services for verification or further advice.
General livestock fecal testing: https://www.westgatelabs.co.uk/
Specialist camelid fecal testing: https://www.ukalpacavet.com/
Coccidia is treated a little differently from other common worms, though can be spotted easily in a standard fecal test. It is treated with an oral medication such as Baycox, but it is not required that often. High numbers of coccidea eggs can often be found in young animals and cria, particularly when stressed, as can occur during weaning, so do thorough and regular checks around these times.
Liver fluke is a relatively common problem in many areas which are wetter or have any standing water. It should be taken very seriously as larvae can inflict serious internal damage and kill an untreated animal. Liver fluke passed on from pre-grazing by sheep can impact your animals extremely quickly, so a new alpaca owner grazing their animals on newly bought or rented land should be particularly wary.
Testing for Liver fluke should be done regularly if there is any history of it in your area. It is a different test to the normal worm fecal test, so when you send your fecal sample away you need to specifically ask for one.
Seek advice from your local large animal vet about treatment for Liver fluke. Your local vet will also know what resistance there is in your area to different medications and will be able to advise you on the best prevention and treatment. It is very important to follow proper resistance protocol with this. There is currently only one ‘active ingredient’ in available medications (triclabendazole) which treats all stages of fluke, and resistance to this is growing rapidly because farmers and keepers are blanket fluking their animals as much as twice a year.
Warning signs for Liver fluke include loss of weight, diarrhoea or paler than usual eye membranes. Immediately do a faecal test for all of the above and seek your vet’s advice.
Mites and other skin issues
Mites are not uncommon, particularly if you use straw or hay bedding. Mites cause hair loss and flaky skin. It can be difficult for keepers to diagnose mites as loss of hair, particularly on dark coloured animals, can alternatively be caused by a mineral deficiency or other skin conditions. In which case a drench like Osmonds Zinc, Cobalt, Selenium and Vitamin B12 supplement drench may help.
There are two common types of mite for alpacas, with very different treatments, so check with your vet which one you are dealing with. We use a skin scrape to find out, collecting surface and deep skin tissue cells (along with the mites which live in them). The most common type, chorioptic mites, live on the surface of the skin and their treatment is applied directly onto the skin. But sarcoptic mites burrow into the skin and are treated with injections, usually of ivomec or dectomax.
While treating sarcoptic mites with an injection is fairly straightforward, there is debate as to the best topical (on-the-surface) treatment for chorioptic mites. Some of the most common different chorioptic mite treatments are listed below. Note, you should not apply any oils toe animal if it is sunny, as it will burn their skin.
- Frontline spray or fipronil to affected areas and always between the toes
- An application well rubbed in of pig oil mixed with the correct proportion of topical ivomec
- A barrier and skin softener such as vaseline which smothers the mites
- A foot dipping protocol using lime sulphur dips to keep the environmental contamination under control and treats the feet which are commonly the most affected area
- Diateamous earth. The alpacas love this and it is supposed to help with preventing mites. We put handfuls out for them in a dry area at regular intervals and they love to roll in it.
With mites, it is suggested by some experts that control of carrier animals is critical, who recommend that animals need to be removed from affected pasture areas for at least 90 days, (how long the mites can survive on pasture in barns). It is recommended that shelters be completely disinfected or vacated for 90 days. Unfortunately, as with other smaller keepers, this protocol is very difficult for us due to the number of shelters available for our groups. Many keepers keep the problem under control using a mix of the other protocols listed above.
Mites and other skin issues
Flies do cause problems for Alpacas and can lead to flystrike and other issues which are very unpleasant. ‘Fly strike’ is a particularly nasty risk, made more dangerous by the difficulty in diagnosing it due to alpacas’ long fleeces. Keep a wary eye out for black or matted patches which smell rotten, to detect a fly bite turned bad.
Commonly used products to keep flies off your alpacas include:
- Deosect, you mix it up/dilute it yourself.
- Nettex fly strike repellant.
- Naff off, a horse fly repellant with citronella.
- Garlic in the alpaca feed
- Tea tree oil
Hung in the barns or on fences.
- Ultimate Fly trap
- Red Top fly trap