New research from the Royal Veterinary College (RVC), which investigated alpaca husbandry practices in the UK, has uncovered a variation in the management of alpacas. It demonstrates the need to establish ’gold standard’ practices across the industry to support alpaca welfare. This is the first research paper to review alpaca owner’s Vitamin D supplementation across the UK.
There are an estimated 60,000 alpacas across the UK; 45,000 are registered with the British Alpaca Society (BAS) and approximately 15,000 are unregistered. While these animals are becoming increasingly popular in the UK, there is currently limited research into husbandry practices.
The final year research project, led by newly graduated vet Abby Middleton, with support from the RVC team Beth Reilly, Teaching Fellow in Small Ruminant Health and Flock Management; Nicola Blackie, Senior Lecturer in Production Animal Science; and James (JP) Crilly, Lecturer in Small Ruminant Health and Flock Management, set out to investigate what husbandry procedures are currently undertaken on alpacas in the UK.
An online survey was distributed to UK alpaca owners through the BAS newsletter, social media and word of mouth. Alpaca owners were asked a series of questions about their husbandry and management procedures, such as shearing, foot trimming, vaccinating and Vitamin D supplementation. Vitamin D is needed in alpacas in the UK due to the lower levels of sunlight compared to the climate they would naturally live in, such as Altiplano in South America. Without supplementation in the UK, alpacas can be affected by vitamin D deficiency, which in growing animals can result in rickets and bone deformity.
The results showed there was a wider range of practices adopted across owners, with key findings including that:
- 95.7% of respondents did vaccinate for clostridial disease, to protect against sudden death caused by anaerobic clostridia bacteria
- In general, the axilla area is preferred by owners for subcutaneous injection, but large variations in injection locations still exist
- 77.8% of alpaca holdings use and dispose of their vaccine on the day of broaching
- 91.4% of respondents supplemented their alpacas for Vitamin D but the dose and frequency varied significantly
- Smaller holdings were more likely to use oral Vitamin D products than injectable Vitamin D products
- Of the 116 holdings that responded, 100 per cent sheared their alpacas and foot-trimmed
With such broad variations adopted by owners, the study highlights the absence of ’gold standard’ protocols for alpaca husbandry, which is available for other species. It also indicates a need for further research and discussion between veterinarians and owners to further support alpaca welfare and ensure the best possible outcomes for alpacas and owners.
Beth Reilly, Teaching Fellow in Small Ruminant Health and Flock Management at the RVC, said:
"Alpaca owners do vaccinate their alpacas against clostridial diseases; however it is clear further research is needed to establish an evidenced based gold standard vaccination protocol for this species.
"There is evidence that very varying degrees of Vitamin D supplementation is occurring on UK alpaca holdings, and we strongly encourage alpaca owners and vets to openly discuss Vitamin D supplementation in their animals."
Abby Middleton, newly graduated vet at the RVC, added:
"The survey itself highlights the advantages of vets and owners working together and it was great to see the willingness of alpaca owners to invest time into research surveys such as this."
Middleton A, Blackie N,Crilly JP, Reilly B. Survey of current UK alpaca husbandry practices: Vaccination, treatment and supplementation. Vet Rec. 2023; e3602. https://doi.org/10.1002/vetr.3602
The full paper can be accessed here: https://doi.org/10.1002/vetr.3602
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About the RVC
- The Royal Veterinary College (RVC) is the UK’s largest and longest established independent veterinary school and is a Member Institution of the University of London.
- It is one of the few veterinary schools in the world that hold accreditations from the RCVS in the UK (with reciprocal recognition from the AVBC for Australasia, the VCI for Ireland and the SAVC for South Africa), the EAEVE in the EU, and the AVMA in the USA and Canada.
- The RVC is ranked as the top veterinary school in the world in the QS World University Rankings by subject, 2023.
- The RVC offers undergraduate and postgraduate programmes in veterinary medicine, veterinary nursing and biological sciences.
- The RVC is a research-led institution, with 88% of its research rated as internationally excellent or world-class in the Research Excellence Framework 2021.
- The RVC provides animal owners and the veterinary profession with access to expert veterinary care and advice through its teaching hospitals and first opinion practices in London and Hertfordshire.