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Thursday, July 11, 2013

polioencephalomalacia and the chicks

Now I look at the blog, I realize it 's been ages since I blogged and when I think about it, a lot has happened over the last few weeks.  Shearing thankfully passed without a hitch, as the weather kept fine and once again they  now all look clean and fresh wearing their corduroy coats.  There are always a few surprises when the fleece comes off, normally it's those pesky mite that have managed to find themselves a nice armpit or crease of skin  to breed in.  However, this year although the Ivomec  was on hand, they were not in evidence.  This year the big surprise, when turning over a young female was pink fibre !  yes Quelvehin are now breeding saris  pink.  On further investigation the colour didn't follow through to the skin (oh what a surprise!),  so we can assume at some time or other she must have sat in something . Pascal, our french shearer, just had to take a photo, and cut off a memento of the occasion, Doubt he will shear another pink for a while.

The herd has grown by two since last I blogged .  Little Kane our Popham Daniel, Bay black boy was born 3 weeks ago and is doing well.  His mother was our first  fawn Atlas girl out of a  solid white, so between him and Daniel we have managed to go from white to black in two générations.
Then our first suri of the year, Kushti, a lovely little fawn boy sired by Moonsbrook Cosmo.   Puppy found him all alone at the bottom of the field, here he is under the watchful  eye of his mother, she's second on the left over the other side of the field in the far distance !! 
Mum Emma needed a short,  sharp lesson in motherhood.  An hour later all was well and he is now doing fine.

Our chicken population has also risen slightly.  There are now about 40 chickens,  all at various stages of development and Steve has had to build another hen house.  They wander freely around the farm, in and out of the flower beds and over the fields - what a life !  if only they knew their fate.  Two have already been put aside for our  french friend Bernard, who , although now retired, once cooked for  the rich and famous in his restaurant on the Champs Elyées . He has invited us to dinner to sample one of his haut cuisine recipes - chicken of course !

All these new arrivals has meant we have spent an awful lot of time around the farm clearing up after one animal or another.  This time of year,  Steve and I , religiously pick up poo in the fields once or twice a day.  All this time in the field gives you plenty of time to watch the herd.  While  on one of his poo picking shifts, Steve noticed a young female acting a little strange.  It is normally me that notices these slight differences and then has to justify my concerns, so when he said something was definitely not right ,  I didn't doubt it and  we got her in for a good look straight away.  Further investigations did little to enlighten us , everything seemed fine other than the fact she stumbled around, bumping in to fences and other members of the herd and tripping over food troughs.  Over the next hour  her condition worsened , she had stopped ruminating and was having difficulty holding her head up. we felt it was time to call the vet.  After a thorough  examination,  the vet  concluded that she may have eaten something, perhaps the bracken fern  that grew around the edge of the field or foxglove, although with plenty of other more palatable options she wasn't totally convinced and neither were we.  By ten at night her condition was no better and Steve took to the internet to do some research.


Working his way through the American forums he came across Polioencephalomalacia  /Thiamine deficiency. Thiamine is a B vitamin (B1). It is water soluble and must be manufactured constantly in an alpacas second stomach as it has a very short life span of around 10 minutes.  Symptoms of low thiamine,  polioencephalomalacia (PEM), are largely neurological as the brain needs an adequate supply in order to function properly.  Alpacas can deplete their body's supply of thiamine much more rapidly than cattle, sheep or goats and PEM symptoms can bring about the death of an alpaca much more quickly than in other animals. Symptoms of low deficiency are said to be decreased appetite, failure to remain with the herd,  staggering or unsteady gait,  elevated head or stargazing, head or ear twitching, excessive salivation or drooling.  The acute stage of PEM is characterized by blindness, grinding of teeth, spasms and seizures, laying down  and failure to rise.  Untreated these symptoms lead to coma and death.

First thing the next morning a quick call to the vet told us that she as well had burnt the midnight  oil and come up with the same prognosis, she was on her way over with two bottles of Vitamin B compound. We started a course of 6 hourly injections of 5 mls Vit B1.  After the third injection we started to see a slight improvement in her condition and 48 hours later, she was back to normal.  We are thankful we acted  in good time and she was able  to make a full recovery.

Causes  that bring about Thiamine deficiency include sudden feed change , an imbalance in the gut flora, imbalances in the rumen caused by antibiotics and wormers,  too much grain or pellets.  Coccidiosis, as cocci rely on thiamine to reproduce.  Other causes include change in the weather, forage,  stress, drinking well or untreated water and eating bracken fern, which breaks down thiamine.

On closer inspection of the field , it was obvious they had all been eating the bracken fern which poked through the fence with the brambles that they loved.

So, on what was probably the hottest day yet this year, with temperatures reaching 30° at one point, we pulled up and cut back any bracken that dared to creep into the fields.  Although we can't say that the bracken was  the culprit, after all they had all eaten it, it may have been a contributory factor and  we were taking no chances.


This experience has taught us several things

1, always have a bottle of vit B1 in the cupboard, even if PEM is not present, it will do no harm giving it if suspected
2, Act quickly, time is of the essence.
3, Never under estimate the true benefits of picking up poo.
4,  What a wonderful thing the internet really is.  At this point I would like to thank Bag End Suri Alpacas of Maine, LLC for their wonderful blog  date September 2011,  



  1. Thiamine is something that many big US breeders use whenever an alpaca is sick;seems it gives a boost and can do no harm.I had wondered about keeping some in...will now look to get some! Glad all is well now and congrats on the new arrivals! you know, I have never underestimated the benefits of poo picking!!

  2. Having seen the Alpaca in question on the day the problem started I'm really pleased to read that the problem has resolved it self. Well done Jayne and Steve for your prompt and efficient action. Keep up with the poo picking!!

  3. Very interesting. We have a female who has been drooling intermittently for the last couple of months, otherwise she is well. We will look at supplementing her straight away.