Friday, April 6, 2012

Barn Talk with Brent: Caring for the Geriatric Camelid

By Brent Walker, The Leading Edge, News and Trends from Woodsedge Wools Farm, LLC Spring 2007

I grew up eating, sleeping and breathing the family fiber-farm life. I attended my first llama show while young enough to be in pre-school. Mom will tell you I was six weeks old when I attended my first sheep show. I don't remember those early days, but what I do remember with great fondness are some of our first animals! With the longevity camelids are known for, some of those animals are still around! Take for instance, Seneca, one of our first alpaca herdsires who my Dad showed at one of the first AOBA Conference shows in the early 90s. Today, Seneca is alive and thriving at Woodsedge at 18 years of age, along with several geriatric llamas, most notably Chocolate Delight, grandmother to Rio Bravo's Biltmore, who is now 16 years old. These geriatric animals require special care over the years, so here are some techniques I use to keep our "seniors" healthy.
Alpacas, and llamas to a lesser degree, are herd animals, so the senior member of the herd will always try to stay with the herd. However, limited mobility from sore joints can cause them to be left behind. House your seniors with a group that is moving at the slowest speed, such as the maternity group, and it will be easier for them to remain a part of the herd.
I have had great luck with supplements from Dr. Rob Pollard, Chocolate Delight patiently waits at her designated feeding station each morning as her feed contains Rob's arthritis and tendon herbal supplements.
Older animals may not compete as well in a large group, so be sure they are getting their fair share of feed! It is easy to separate animals to an individual pen in the morning feeding routine--it just takes a few days to get them into the routine.
In my experience, older animals are more likely to have trouble with cold rather than heat. With their fiber production being dramatically reduced (both staple length & density), we often shear older animals every other year. Sometimes I will let fiber re-growth on the neck go for two years to help them keep warmer, as one of their "thermal windows" is the neck.
Consider hand shearing rather than electric shearing geriatric animals. More fiber is left on the hand-shorn animal, making him/her warmer in the winter. Benign tumors and sebaceous cysts can sometimes be seen on an older animal and hand shearing avoids cutting these.
Geriatric animals shorn in the current year may need to be coated for winter. We have used custom made coats, as well as pony coats_ Be sure your senior citizen is on warm bedding with access to hay while they are kushed, as they will kush to keep warm.
In all our breeding programs, my parents strived for bloodlines with excellent dentition, with few teeth needing regular trimming. However, when an animal becomes older, routine dental assessment is necessary to ensure the animal's continued well-being. Check a geriatric animal's teeth at least once every four months
Older animals will need their feet trimmed more often. Remember, pink nails as seen on some white alpacas always have to be trimmed more frequently than black nails. Joint issues, as experienced in all aging mammals, can be made worse by long toenails, so keep them trimmed. I hope this partial list of pointers helps your "seniors" enjoy the sunset days of their life. These older animals can still play an important role in your herd. Older females are great "babysitters" for animals confined to stall rest with a leg injury or other ailments, or put a "senior" male in with your weanling males to provide herd guidance. Next time you are at Woodsedge, be sure to ask to see Seneca and Chocolate Delight!

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