By Nic Cooper, Southern
In winter alpacas can lose condition, because
of malnutrition, and this can be masked by the fibre covering on the
There are many causes of malnutrition in
camelids. But in each case the way to effect a remedy is to notice it early, and
react to the signs. The best way to check is to get your hands on the animal and
"body score" it.
Get your hands on
your alpaca over the backbone, near the last ribs. (This is approximately just
above and behind the front legs.)
Feel the backbone
between fingers and thumb. The diagrams relate to the backbone of the alpaca and
the feel of the ribs and chest.
The comments on the right also refer to the
feel of the ribs and brisket.
This wether boy is
a "3.5" which is about
right for a wether pet.
1: Backbone very prominent. Ribs are
clearly felt. Brisket shows no fat.
Severely undernourished, get on good pasture
and supplemental feed rapidly. Do faecal egg count. If eggs, or if no
improvement, get the vet.
Can feel backbone, ribs are prominent, firm brisket. Thin animal. Check
pastures, supplement feed, may consider faecal egg count dependent on age,
pasture, and season.
This animal is fine. Can feel the backbone, but
does not stand out. Can just feel ribs. Brisket has some movement when handled.
Described as "somewhat overweight". Difficult
feeling backbone, cannot feel ribs. Nothing to worry about, but cut out
Obese! Cannot feel backbone or ribs, brisket
wobbles when touched. This animal is a problem and may have difficulty with
Difficult to deal with – isolate (or rotate
companion), limited rations, lots of exercise. Try putting water at one end of a
very long fully grazed yard, and hay at the other.
Alpaca Body Condition Score
Alpacas vary in
their ideal body score depending upon their gender, age, and for females,
whether they are pregnant or not.
pet 2.5 - 3.5
mature female 2.5 - 3.5
2.5 - 3.5
female 3 - 3.5
male 2.5 - 3.5
(<15 months) 3 - 3.5
A body score of
4 or 5 means no extra feed, and probably a diet.
A body score of
2 will require some supplementary feed.
If you have an
alpaca with a body score of 1, it requires immediate attention and that may well
be the vet.
If a low body score is only
due to a shortage of feed (and is not due to ill health) alpacas with unlimited
access to good quality pasture can take 3-6 weeks to gain 1 score.
handle your alpacas, endeavour to get hands-on, especially when feed is scarce,
in winter, or indeed, in summer drought.
The more you
do body scores, the more likely you are to notice a change in alpaca body
alpaca which changes its body score is one to be watched, especially if it drops
down. There are many causes of malnutrition in alpacas. But in each case the way
to remedy it is to notice it early, and react to the signs.
Camelids can get worms, especially when
grazing in winter on short grass, and forced to eat near their dung piles, or
when grazing with other animals (e.g.sheep).
If you suspect worms, we recommend faecal egg
count tests to check. And test the most susceptible animals in the herd first –
those ages 3 months to 9 months old. If there is no problem here it is unlikely
in the rest of the herd.
And remember, a "score 1" means your animal is
dangerously sick. Don’t wait, take action now – and that probably means
calling your vet.