A Useful Aid for Alpaca Farmers – the Code of Welfare for Camelids: Part Three

alpacasIn part three of our series on the Animal Welfare (Llamas and Alpacas) Code of Welfare 2013, we highlight the legal requirements in the Code and summarise some of the good advice it gives about housing, health and disease control, some elective husbandry procedures (particularly castration and blunting fighting teeth) and euthanasia.

Housing

Few camelids in this country are housed, and there are quite a few standards relating to housing in the Camelid Code of Welfare but they are similar to those for other species so they won't be included here.

Recommendations for housed camelids include the provision of plenty of soft bedding so that they can lie down, and they need plenty of floor space so that they can behave normally and the risk of bullying is minimised. They shouldn't be penned in isolation from paddock mates and outdoor runs should be provided.

Health and disease control

Camelids evolved to live at very high altitudes with plenty of sunshine, which is needed for the manufacture of vitamin D in the body. Even the bright New Zealand sunshine isn't enough for many camelids, They must be given supplementary vitamin D for at least the first two winters of their life otherwise they risk developing bone problems like rickets. Dark-coloured and heavily fleeced animals are particularly at risk.

Camelids particularly alpacas are particularly susceptible to ryegrass staggers and facial eczema. In areas where these diseases occur (ie everywhere except the south of the South Island) it is important to take steps to prevent these diseases.

Camelids must be given anthelmintics (worm treatments) at strategic intervals to prevent the build up of big worm burdens, particularly in newly weaned animals.

All farms should have a catch pen for examinations and treatments.

A veterinarian or camelid consultant should be consulted for advice on establishing a custom-made preventative health care programme covering disease, injury and parasite control.

Medication should only be used in accordance with registration conditions, manufacturer's instructions or professional advice, and good records should be kept detailing preventive and therapeutic treatments, eg anthelmintics, vaccinations, vitamin D supplementation.

Code standards:

  • Those responsible for the welfare of camelids must be competent at recognising the signs of ill-heath or injury and take remedial action as appropriate.
  • A recumbent camelid must receive immediate attention.
  • Toenails must be maintained so as not to cause lameness or other injury to the foot.
  • Camelids must receive sufficient vitamin D supplementation to ensure their health and welfare.

Elective husbandry procedures

Castration and dentistry are among the procedures that should be considered by camelid owners.

Castration of camelids is recommended to prevent unwanted breeding and to help control aggression and to make males more manageable generally. However there is an important difference between camelids and species like sheep and cattle. If camelids are castrated early as sheep and cattle are, their long bones may continue to grow so they become very long-legged. This can lead to dislocation of the kneecap and/or arthritis in the stifle joints of the hind legs.

Castration is recommended for non-breeding male camelids but it should be carried out only by a veterinarian after the animal has matured, ie after about 8 and preferably after 12 months of age for alpacas and after 18 months for guanacos and llamas.

Removal of the fighting teeth of males (a procedure sometimes carried out to prevent fighting injuries) should only be performed by a veterinarian using pain relief. Blunting should only be carried out by a veterinarian, and preferably with the use of a sedative if the animal is likely to become distressed during the procedure. Care should be taken to ensure that the blunting procedure doesn't damage the gums.

Code standards:

  • Elective husbandry procedures must only be carried out to prevent conditions that could result in animal suffering.
  • The musculoskeletal system of camelids must be sufficiently well-developed before castration to prevent bone development problems.
  • Castration must be carried out only by a veterinarian.

Euthanasia

If a camelid is to be shot, the optimum position for a firearm shot is on the forehead where imaginary lines drawn from the rear of each eye to the base of the opposite ear would cross. The shot should be aimed towards the back of the head to ensure it does not just pass through the nasal cavity. This is especially important if the animal is lying with its head flat on the ground in front of it. When the animal is standing, the shot can be delivered from behind the ear or through from the back of the skull aiming into the skull.

Code standards:

The euthanasia standards for camelids are as for sheep and goats.

  • Camelids to be killed must be handled, restrained and killed in a manner that minimises unnecessary pain and distress before death.
  • When killing camelids, they must rapidly be rendered unconscious and remain unconscious until they die.
  • The spinal cord must not be severed or broken until death has occurred.
  • Camelids rendered unconscious by a blow to the head or shot to the brain must be bled out immediately to ensure death occurs before recovery from stunning.

MPI website

Full details of the Code are available free of charge on the Ministry of Primary Industries website –
http://www.biosecurity.govt.nz/animal-welfare/codes/llamas-and-alpacas

....but wait, there's more!
You'll find plenty more interesting and practical information about farming alpacas elsewhere on the website. In particular there is a series of five articles about alpaca behaviour, their health and disease, management and breeding.

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