Tuesday, October 20, 2020

The Value of Assessing Animal Feed and Nutrition Periodically


Walter, sheered and happy.



                 In 1999, after our young family moved to a rural area where we built a farm, we bought a starter herd of alpacas from the Pacific Northwest.  Our foundational herd had individuals who hailed from Bolivia and Chile. Since we were the first in our county to have alpacas, we had some challenges in terms of finding a farm vet who felt comfortable and qualified in their care.  Initially, we received some guidance from a farm vet who had a background in veterinary care at zoos.  Her initial recommendation for feed included using the Mazuri Zoo Line, which is formulated for many different types of animals. We purchased the Mazuri Zoo Feed formulated for alpacas and other camelids. We also supplemented zinc, particularly since ours were being bred.

               Twenty years have now passed. Alpacas in the wild may not live as long as fifteen years, but in captivity and with nutrition carefully considered, they may live longer. Many of ours lived to 24 or 25.  Most died of extreme old age. One died of astrocytoma. Over all, our animals had long and happy lives. A few still remain here, that are children of individuals of that original unrelated herd.  A couple of years ago, our animal feed purveyor went out of business, and we could no longer find anyone who would provide the few bags of alpaca Mazuri Zoo line that we used as a supplement to the grass they graze upon.  We still needed an alpaca specific pelleted supplement.  We found that another animal feed provider had an alpaca/llama supplement and that they were pleased to sell us as little as a bag a month. I noticed as I read the analysis, that some of the trace elements and some of the vitamin amounts per pound were less than the Mazuri product, but I also realized that since we were no longer breeding, that we likely didn't need amounts as high.

               Just recently, during the pandemic, we found we were unable to get quality hay for our horses, alpacas and sheep from our original supplier, and so we found another.  They mentioned that they also sold animal feed. When I asked about alpaca pelleted supplement, they were pleased to provide the small amount that we now use. She provided the Nutritional Analysis information so that I could compare her food with the feed we had been providing. This is also helpful so that I may decide how slowly to introduce the new feed to the old, and then gradually decrease the old feed in order to avoid gastrointestinal difficulties, which is a good idea when making changes the food of any animal.  I noticed immediately that there were significantly higher amounts of certain vitamins in the new food than the old. I also noticed that there were also some vitamins that weren't supplemented at all in our last feed.  Interestingly, in the past twenty years, a lot has been learned about alpacas, and one of the things that has changed are the recommendations for the amount of supplementation of certain vitamins and minerals. We actually had been very lucky to have our animals live so long without the up to date supplement.

               My point is that when you care for horses, sheep, goats, alpacas or anything else, once you find strategies that work well, you tend to stick with them. However, lots of veterinary research takes place all the time, and recommendation with regard to drugs, and also with regard to food does change. Each time you see a farm veterinarian, please tell them what variety of feed you are using, and show them the nutritional analysis.  Your providing this information could result in a change the vet makes, that they might  not have otherwise made had you not called the issue to their attention. Remember that a clean and loving environment, coupled with clean water and appropriate feed and forage is the most important thing you can do for your animals in terms of ensuring their optimal long term health.

              Weeks into the feed change, I cannot say that the alpacas look much different. I can say that they are calmer on the larger dose of Vitamin D3, Vitamin A, niacin and thiamine.

                Of course, the points I have raised here apply to all animals you might choose to raise.