Nutrition & Health
Basic nutritional requirements are a good mixed grass or grass/alfalfa hay that tests out at 14-18% protein values. A loose mineral supplement (not a block) that is widely used for all camelids is also essential. Minerals should be fed free choice, kept in a readily accessible dish that the animals can get to at any time. All camelids are referred to as “cafeteria style” eaters, meaning they will sample nearly every plant/tree/bush they come across. This mixed browsing habit makes them easy to pasture and feed, resulting in nicely manicured and trimmed trees if they are not fenced away from young trees and bushes. You will find a listing of toxic plants at your local county extension office. The key to preventing plant poisoning is to adequately feed your animals, a hungry animal is far more likely to eat a non-palatable poisonous plant than a well-fed animal. Keeping a fiber-producing animal thin or underweight can produce a finer fleece; but will also lead to a tender or poorly conditioned fleece, thereby destroying the value of the fiber. Having an animal with good body weight might increase fineness by a micron or two, but the fleece will be better conditioned, have better tensile integrity at lower microns than the fiber of an underfed animal.
Wild Vicuña on Chile’s Altiplano plateau
Source: FreeIMG.net Credit: pvdberg / pixabay.com
Fortunately for us as breeders, all camelids are induced ovulators. A major advantage to having camelids is the ability of the breeder to select the best time of year to be delivering crias, factoring in the general weather patterns. This means that females from the age of about 18 months on, will have a mature follicle, ready to release an egg about every 7-10 days. The act of breeding (which the female allows when she has a mature follicle) stimulates the proper hormones which leads to ovulation and hence fertilization about 16 to 24 hours post breeding. Due to this physiology, a female will be exposed to a herdsire, and when she sits or acts receptive, breeding will be allowed to happen. Post breeding, the female will be breed-checked, or exposed to the male again about 7 days after the initial breeding. If the first breeding was successful, resulting in implantation of a fertilized egg, she will refuse or “spit-off” the male. This behavioral testing can be used to check for pregnancy, or an ultrasound can be performed no earlier than 21 days post breeding, and easily up to 45-60 days post breeding. Or a blood progesterone level can be drawn. The average gestational length is 345-355 days after the breed date. Camelids can often extend their pregnancy to a full year without any negative outcome. Paco-Vicunas are extremely good mothers, very protective of their offspring. Many breeders will have a separate smaller pasture, that offers some shade and closeness to the barn for the late-term dams. It is best to allow the dam to deliver normally out in a smaller pasture, provided the weather isn’t too hot. Crias are very easily heat-stressed, which can occur within as little as 20 minutes of being out in full sun on a hot day. Newborns don’t regulate their own body heat well for the first 24 hours, so it is best to have a lightly shaded area for them to bond with their dams the first day. Nature and instinct in the newborn is to seek out a small dark area for milk, so outside in an open area is best, and make sure there aren’t any confusing dark corners or deep shadows. A dark stall is probably the worst environment for the bonding of a newborn and dam. All of this is dependent on the weather, which is your first determinant as to where to put the new cria and dam. Plan in advance so you can have a shaded yet open shelter, or an area out of the cold and wet, but still well-lighted. Again, any breeders best friend is a good veterinarian who can help advise on your current set-up for breeding. The person you purchase your livestock from should be able to provide advice, mentoring, and assistance for most of the potential situations you will experience as a livestock owner.
Location Specific Considerations
Paco-Vicuñas are tolerant of a wide range of temperatures. They are extremely cold tolerant due to the high density and the interlocking structure of their fleeces. PV fiber is moderately resistant to rain but as with all camelids, there is no lanolin in their fiber. Their fiber is not “water-proof”, so it is good to always have adequate shelters available to allow them to get in out of the rain and the wind. For the summer heat, the best protection is to have your animals shorn before it gets too hot or humid. High humidity is a risk for all livestock, and more so for fiber producing livestock. A general rule is 80/80 meaning when the temperature is 80 degrees with 80% humidity, or any other combination of heat/humidity which equals 160 when added together, we need to provide shade; ventilation and some protection from the heat. We can easily do this with shade trees (Good shade trees can provide an area that will be 10 degrees or more cooler than right out in the sun), shade structures designed to maximize airflow, using fans to move the air inside the barns, and occasionally shallow pools for them to cool their bellies in all work well. The most important factor is shade, air movement and don’t ever let them get their entire fleece wet. The fleece across their back, when saturated, will trap all the heat in and quickly lead to heat stroke in the animals. In the event of heatstroke, it is important to quickly cool the animal down, by moving them to shade, using a hose to irrigate their bellies, and perhaps small cool water enemas. Your veterinarian can be a great help in helping you to formulate a list of actions to take for the usual medical emergencies common to all livestock.
Diseases and Vaccination
Fortunately, camelids are relatively resistant to many diseases compared to cattle, sheep, and goats. Vaccination for Clostridium C, D, and tetani (CDT vaccine); rabies; and multivalent clostridial vaccines (7 and 8-way) are recommended. Leptospirosis has been reported in camelids and can cause abortion as well as liver and kidney failure. Vaccination in areas where leptospirosis is common should be considered. Other diseases which have been known to affect camelids include West Nile virus, eastern equine Encephalitis, equine rhinopneumonitis, bovine viral diarrhea, rotaviral, and coronaviral diarrhea. Monthly ivermectrin injections are necessary in areas in which meningeal worm is present, essentially everywhere east of the Mississippi. Because of their outbred status, North American Paco-Vicuña may be less susceptible than other camelids to some of these diseases.
Control of gastrointestinal parasites is best achieved with good management practices: clear dung piles at least every 3-4 days; (best practices is to clear manure piles daily, keeping the barn and corral areas clean) keep feeding areas away from dung by using raised feeders; and rotate pastures, if possible, to allow parasite larval stages to die out. Resistance to dewormers is a phenomenon that is increasingly common. For this reason, testing for parasites and deworming as needed is recommended. In many cases, ruminant and horse deworming doses are not appropriate for camelids. Refer to your veterinarian for proper dewormer selection and dosing. Any dewormer/topical treatment that is used in llamas and alpacas is safe for paco-vicunas) Lice and mites, if present, can cause itching in as well as fiber damage or loss. Again, refer to your veterinarian if you suspect or find these ectoparasites.
Paco-Vicuñas at Jefferson Farms
Photo: Thomas Victor
Blood Tests for North American Paco-Vicuña
Basic tests that would be routinely performed within a herd would be a BVD test, looking for exposure to Bovine Viral Diarrhea. This has been known to occur in camelids and causes abortions or may result in a persistently infected cria which may infect the rest of the herd. This is a very rare occurrence these days, but most shows and fairground events require evidence of a negative test. And only the one negative test, as a cria is needed. A newborn cria may be tested for its IgG level, which measures the level of antibodies it has ingest from its dam. One hundred percent of the crias’ immunity comes from this absorption of the colstrum or first milk from the dam. If the cria had a difficult start or wouldn’t nurse for the first 24-36 hours, the IgG can be measured, and if low, a plasma transfusion can be administered to the cria to provide the immunological protection needed for the first few months of life, before the crias’ own immune system begins to function. There aren’t any other routine blood tests done for paco-vicunas. Most of the veterinarian expenses would along the lines of occasional xrays of injured legs, eye injuries (scratches or lacerations) or other cuts. Maintaining a clean safe barn, pastures and corrals will provide the greatest protection.
Managing Lower-Value Animals
Finally, in a perfect world every North American Paco-Vicuña fleece would be low micron, low standard deviation, high curvature, have a long staple, and the animal would basically maintain those characteristics for its entire life. That’s the goal; however, it’s always a work in progress. It’s the rare fleece that doesn’t have some room for improvement. As such, it is more important than ever to use only males that represent the top 5-10% of the national herd, reflecting only the best in fiber characteristics and that have been analyzed and documented through participation in the North American Paco-Vicuña EPD program managed by Colorado State University. Breeding females are selected as well for their fiber characteristics, bloodlines and EPD documented improvement shown by their offspring. We use linebreeding strategies extremely rarely, and only to fix a truly exceptional trait. The challenge of shaping and improving the overall fiber characteristics of North American Paco-Vicuña is part of the adventure of breeding these animals and the primary goal of the North American Paco-Vicuña Association.