In winter alpacas can lose condition, because of mal nutrition, and this can be masked by the fiber covering on the animal. 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 below also refer to the feel of the ribs and brisket.
Score 1: Backbone very prominent. Ribs are clearly felt. Brisket shows no fat.
Severely undernourished, get on good pasture and supplemental feed rapidly. Do fecal egg count. If eggs, or if no improvement, get the vet.
Score 2: Can feel backbone, ribs are prominent, firm brisket. Thin animal. Check pastures, supplement feed, may consider fecal egg count dependent on age, pasture, and season.
Score 3: This animal is fine. Can feel the backbone, but does not stand out. Can just feel ribs. Brisket has some movement when handled.
Score 4: Described as “somewhat overweight”. Difficult feeling backbone, cannot feel ribs. Nothing to worry about, but cut out supplemental feed.
Score 5: Obese! Cannot feel backbone or ribs, brisket wobbles when touched. This animal is a problem and may have difficulty with reproduction.
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.
Ideal 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)
Non-pregnant mature female 2.5 – 3.5
Mature male (2.5 – 3.5)
Pregnant female (3 – 3.5)
Working stud male (2.5 – 3.5)
Growing alpaca <15 months ( 3 – 3.5)
Interpreting Body Score
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.
Whenever you handle your alpacas, endeavor 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 condition. An 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 getworms, 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 fecal 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.