Sunday, May 26, 2013

Running Fecals

Well, the weather has been downright nasty this past week in upstate NY, so I don't have much progress to share on the barn/fencing front.  The week started off as super hot, followed by lots of rain, and ended with super cold and rainy...not fun!  But the weather is supposed to turn nice tomorrow, so hopefully we can get started finally!

Anyway...I decided instead to talk about something fun you can do indoors...running fecals!  When my family first got llamas, running fecals was never discussed.  We were told by our mentor farm that we should deworm the llamas 4 times a year, and use a different dewormer every time to reduce resistance. After a few years we decided to do our own research, and realized how bad this advice really was!  We started sending fecal samples to our vet every few months, rather than deworming everyone.  The vet also suggested NOT switching medications every time, but instead use the same medicine 3-4 times, and then switch to something else.  After a few more years of sending samples to the vet (at $20 a sample, it wasn't cheap!), and not really being satisfied with the results we were getting, I started doing even more research on the subject.  Once I found the wonderful resource that is Alpaca Nation, I learned that alpaca breeders around the country were starting to run their own fecals, and were getting better results than most vets.  I also learned about parasite resistance and how to choose which medication was best for which types of internal parasites.  So I decided that I was going to start running my own fecals, and see if I could save some money and get better results than the vet!

After more research on Alpaca Nation, I decided to buy a microscope and centrifuge, as well as the various supplies needed to run the fecals at home.  Some of the basic supplies are:

  • microscope (with a movable stage if possible)
  • centrifuge
  • test tubes that will fit the centrifuge (mine are 12 mL)
  • glass slides
  • glass cover slips
  • popsicle sticks
  • paper/plastic cups
  • tea strainer
  • gloves (latex, rubber, vinyl, etc.)
  • plastic baggies or small tupperware containers
  • float solution (saturated sugar solution in water)
My supplies all set out to use!  From L to R: tupperware containers with liquid fecal mixture, sugar float solution, strainer and paper cup, test tube rack with tubes, and centrifuge.

And if you haven't caught onto my pattern yet, I went BACK to Alpaca Nation to figure out the best method for actually running the fecals.  The methods I use are a compilation from a few different people, and have been changed a bit in the 4-5 years that I've been running fecals.  The methods that I'm currently using:
  1. A day or two in advance, make up the saturated sugar float solution.  You can also use a saturated Epsom salt solution, or even buy prepared solutions, but this seemed easy and cheap, and was widely used.  Heat 12 oz water, add 1 lb sugar, and stir til the sugar is dissolved.  Allow the solution to cool, then store in the fridge.  I like to allow the solution to warm to room temperature before using.
  2. Collect your samples.  I tend to go out in the evening after we feed (which only works in the winter, summer is harder since not everyone gets grain), or sometimes I catch everyone and take them to the pile one by one.  Ideally you should collect samples from everyone, but I realize that isn't always possible.  I've been lucky enough for the past few years to have exactly 6 animals, and my centrifuge holds 6 tubes!  If I had a large herd, I would take a representative sample, and probably take more samples from "at risk" groups, such as new moms, weaned babies, older animals, etc.  When I take samples from the pasture, I turn a plastic baggie inside out, and use it as a scoop to collect 5-6 beans from each animal.
  3. Next is the overnight soak.  The best new tip I have is the importance of weighing samples.  Beans can vary widely in weight, so the only way to be able to compare an animal's parasite load over time is to start with the same amount of material, and follow the same procedure.  I've started using 3 g of fecal material for testing.  I place this in a small tupperware container (or a new baggie works too), and then add 15 mL of water.  Mix up the beans as much as possible, and let sit overnight (preferably outside in the cold or in the fridge).
The LABELED tupperware containers filled with 3 g fecal matter and 15 mL water.
  1. After a soak of 8-16 hours, I start the bulk of the procedure.  The next step is the first spin.  I pour the liquidy sample through the strainer, into a paper cup.  The contents of the cup goes into a clean test tube, the solid stuff in the strainer gets discarded.  Sometimes not all of the liquid will fit, and sometimes I need to add more water to get the same amount of liquid in each tube.  It is very important that all the tubes have the same amount of liquid, otherwise the centrifuge may get off balance.  I spin the tubes for 15 minutes.
Straining the liquid solution into the cup.

Filling the test tubes with the liquid solution.
  1. After the first spin, I pour the liquid out of the tubes (and discard), and add the sugar float solution (again, the same amount of liquid in each tube).  I mix the solution with the remaining fecal pellet in the tube, and then centrifuge for another 15 minutes.  The parasite eggs have a higher specific gravity than water, so they sink in the first spin.  Thus, the water poured off shouldn't contain any eggs.  The sugar solution has a higher specific gravity than the eggs, so it makes the eggs float.  The liquid after the second spin should contain the parasite eggs.
  2. I have a fixed rotor centrifuge, so I don't feel comfortable filling the tubes all the way while they are in the centrifuge.  Thus, I have to add more sugar solution after the second spin, in order to get a meniscus (bubble of liquid) on top of the tubes.  After the second spin I add the sugar solution little by little until a little bubble appears on the top of the tube.  I place a glass cover slip on top of the tube, and it should come in contact with liquid on the top of the tube.  If liquid spills over, I dab at it with a paper towel so that it stops spilling.  There's a bit of discrepancy in how long to let the cover slip set on top of the tube...  Originally I did a 1 hour float, which seemed to work well, but a recent recommendation has me now running a 4 hour float.  In the future I want to do my own comparison and see how which is actually better.  You could even let the cover slip sit overnight, but the heavier eggs tend to sink faster, so you may not see as many of them.
Filled test tubes with glass cover slips.
  1. After the float time is up, I remove the cover slip and place it on a glass slide.  I label my tubes and slides with the numbers 1-6, and each number corresponds to a specific animal.
  2. Then the fun part...reading the slides!  Starting in one corner, I work back and forth across the slide, zig-zagging my way to the opposite corner.  You will want to move slowly so that you observe and count every egg visible on the slide, and don't miss anything.  I typically use the 10x magnification lens.  I make tally marks on paper to count the number of eggs I see for each type, and then add them up at the end.  If you weigh out your sample at the beginning, you can divide that number by the number of grams you started with to get a EPG value (eggs per gram).  (Sorry, these pictures aren't as zoomed as I had hoped...)
A view through the microscope.  The green/yellow stuff is digested vegetable matter (grass/hay), the big silver/black dot on the right is an air bubble, but the three small grey ovals are strongyle eggs.

More plant matter and a bubble, with a nematodirus egg in the middle.  These are quite a bit bigger than the strongyle eggs.
  1. The last step is the hardest...deciding who to treat and with what!  This is very subjective, and I definitely suggest you involve your vet!  For me, a lot depends on the physical health of the animal, and what their parasite load was in the past few months.  If I had a young animal who had a sudden increase in parasite eggs, I would probably treat at a lower level than if the animal was fully grown and had a fairly constant level of eggs.
    1. Some parasites are more dangerous than others.  Typically strongyles aren't considered as dangerous, but if you see a really high load, you should consider the possibility that the animal has Barber Pole worm (Haemonchus).  It is a very nasty strongyle that causes anemia and often leads to death.  Unfortunately, it is impossible for the naked eye to distinguish between barber pole and a less-dangerous strongyle, so samples must be sent to Oregon State or the University of Georgia for specific testing.  Barber pole is now fairly wide-spread, and very easy to pick up at shows...  E. mac is a more dangerous type of coccidia, which is also important to watch for.  Small coccidia are not quite as bothersome, unless a young animal has a very high load.  Nematodirus and trichuris are two more that are typically treated even if the load is light.  Tapeworms are one of the few internal parasites that are almost impossible to see in a fecal, but they are very obvious in the manure piles so they are easy to spot.  Most vets don't worry about treating for tapeworms, but I liked to get rid of them just for my peace of mind!
    2. What you decide to treat with can also be dependent on which animal you are treating, as well as what part of the country you are in.  In most areas, ivermectin is no longer effective against internal parasites due to being overused to prevent Meningeal worm.  Safeguard/Panacur is becoming less effective, unless given at very high doses.  Valbazen is still fairly effective (we have seen resistance in strongyles, but it works for nematodirus and trichuris), but should not be given to young animals or bred females.  I love using Equimax to treat tapeworms, but I haven't tried it for anything else.  Strongid may also work for strongyles, but I haven't used it in years.  One of the new "big guns" for strongyles (Barber pole in particular) is Quest.  It worked great for us in eliminating a load of strongyles.  For coccidia, different meds are required.  Corrid is the old standard, but you should supplement with vitamin B.  Albon is what we typically used, and it seemed to work well.
Now that I'm running fecals on my own, I like to do them as frequently as possible, and treat as infrequently as possible.  I typically try to run fecals a few weeks following the last show of the season, again in early spring, and in early summer.  If I had a large breeding herd, I would test new moms a few weeks after birth (there is a lot of evidence in other livestock that parasite loads increase after birth), and weanlings a few weeks after being separated (again, evidence that stress increases parasites).  I would also test my show string at the end of show season, and any breeding animals that left the farm.  As far as when to decide to treat, I try not to medicate my animals too often.  No animal should ever have a totally clean fecal (otherwise something was wrong in your procedures), and you need to figure out what each animal's "baseline" levels are.  Pay attention to external symptoms (weight loss, anemia, diarrhea, etc.), and combine those with your fecal EPG values to determine who needs to be treated.  If an animal has very high levels, I will typically treat no matter what.  But if the animal has borderline levels, I will usually wait a month or so and run another fecal...if the level is about the same (or hopefully lower), I wont' treat, but if the level has increased, I will treat at that time.

Hopefully this has helped convince you to try running fecals on your own!  The first time I ran them myself I was convinced...I split samples and sent half to the vet, and ran half on my own.  The vet told me that the samples were all clean, but I was finding several parasite eggs (of a few different types even!) in each sample.  After that I knew I would never send them to the vet again!

There are some great resources out there for fecal protocols and parasite identification.  Here are a few of my favorites:
I haven't really found a "one stop shop" for treatment options.  I prefer to search Alpaca Nation or the Facebook group Paca This and see what vets are recommending for other farms.  I don't always trust my vet to be completely up to date on what medications are working, but hopefully you are luckier than I am!

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Shearing Part 2!

Well, I managed to get a LOT of pictures of the process of shearing Kara, which I talked about in length in the last post.  Now you get to see the rest of the herd!

I'll warn you, I'm not the best shearer in the world.  Plus none of my animals are going to shows this year (boo!), so they don't have to look super-awesome!

First to set the scene...This was the view from our front yard back in Indiana, the first week of May.  It was gorgeous, but it did rain more than I'd like.  Hence I had to get 5 llamas shorn in 3 days!

Next, the "before" shots...

Kara was by far the dirtiest (maybe was close!).

Bluff has nice white fleece that somehow always stays clean.  She was easy!

This guy was a nightmare!  On top of everything I body sheared him, so I tried getting his neck and legs clean, which was a lost cause.

Good old Ralph and April...  Poor Ralphie hasn't been shorn yet.  I thought I had an alpaca breeder lined up to shear him, but it seems to have fallen through.  Now it looks like a llama breeder friend is going to shear him!  And you can't see April's barrel, but is is ALWAYS clean!  Normally it is wasted since I don't use her fiber, but not this year!  I actually groomed and washed her like the rest of the llamas (though I forgot to blow her out), and am going to have her fiber (along with part of Ralph's and Bluff's) made into felted insoles for shoes!  Such a cool idea!

And last but not least, Duque!  Like Bluff he stays pretty clean (the one upside of double-coated llamas!), and he is very easy to clean.

Duque's gorgeous fleece, after a bit of grooming.

Here's Bluff after grooming, waiting for her bath.

Now to the "after" shots!

Poor Duque got the worst haircut!  In a month you'll never know how terrible it looked at the beginning though!

April looks pretty good if I say so myself.  Even though she really didn't want to cooperate for some reason...

Beautiful "baby" Kara.  Her cut wasn't as good as I hoped, but it is nearly impossible to get a smooth cut with such a fine fleece!  She feels a lot better now though, and that's the most important part!

Bluff is the only one with a really nice cut.  There are a few rough spots, but again in a month she'll look awesome!  She will probably be shown by her new owner, so I wanted her to look good!  This is the first time in several years that I haven't body shorn Bluff...she's moving to New Hampshire in June, so she won't have the Indiana heat and humidity to deal with.

And last but certainly not least...Mr. T.  By most people's standards he probably got the worst haircut, but I think he looks awesome!  His neck and legs were incredibly matted, so I wanted to get that fiber off.  Now I can body shear him every year and use 100% of his gorgeous fiber!  The funny patch on his side is for walking fleece shows, even though he won't be going to any this year unfortunately.

Now I have lots of bags of beautiful llama fiber to play with!  I explained already what I'm going to do with April's fiber.  Duque and Bluff's fiber (from this year and last year) is going to get blended with a purchased alpaca fleece and a purchased Bluefaced Leicester (sheep) fleece, and get made into a grey roving.  Kara's will be spun into yarn that has been pre-purchased, and T's fleece was also pre-sold and has already been sent to the lucky recipient!  Ralph's fleece is pre-sold as well, and will go out this fall.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Shearing A Llama: Kara's 1st Haircut!

FINALLY I'm back in the land of camera-computer cords, and can update the blog!  I spent the past week back home in Indiana on the farm, and took lots of pictures as I was busy grooming, washing, and shearing llamas, but I somehow managed to forget the cord that connects the camera to the computer, and thus I couldn't share any of them!  But I'm back in New York now, and want to show off my naked llamas!

But first, the story of a baby llama's first haircut...

In case you don't remember her from previous posts, this is Kara (aka Autumn Hill's Karakoram).  She's the last baby llama we had born on the farm- she was born April 29, 2012.  She's been growing a beautiful fleece for the past year, which even won 2nd place at a llama show last fall (in walking fleece, which is judged on the llama).  It's been getting hot in the Midwest though, so Kara was more than ready to get rid of her heavy fleece.

This is baby Kara, the day she was born.

This is (a very wet-nosed) Kara, looking very grown up at just over a year old.

The first thing that had to be done was lots and LOTS of grooming!  Kara LOVES to get dirty, and her fleece really showed it.  Over the course of 2-3 days, I spent several hours brushing Kara.  Luckily she has her mom's sweet and manageable personality, so most of this was done with her loose in the training pen in our barn (as opposed to being tied in the chute so she doesn't move).  I brushed out the surface of her fleece, which had most of the dirt and grass, and then dug in deep and worked through every other inch of her barrel (belly) area!  I like to use a soft slicker brush when I groom, it gets a lot of debris out, and doesn't seem to pull the fiber.

Kara, BEFORE any grooming!

Grooming Kara out in the training pen.  She laid down about half-way through, but that's still not bad!
The second step was to blow the dirt and dust out of her fleece with a high power blower.  Kara had never had this done to her before, but luckily was very well behaved for it.  (A lot of babies freak out the first time they are blown out!)

Blowing Kara out.  It's not easy with such long fiber!

The AFTER grooming photo, BEFORE shearing.

The third step is another big one...washing!  Luckily Kara had a few other baths last fall for the two shows she went to, so this wasn't as scary for her.  When washing, I first soak the area I want to wash (when shearing I typically only wash the barrel (belly) area), then apply soap/shampoo with a handy contraption that hooks to the hose and dilutes the soap as it is sprayed, scrub just a little, and then rinse REALLY well with plain water.  I walk the llama around a bit to shake a good amount of water out, and then either stake them in the yard or put them in a pen to dry.  Kara isn't stake trained (yet!), so she and her mom Bluff went into a pen beside the barn to dry for a few hours.  I washed them around 10am, and Kara was still slightly damp when I sheared her about 8pm.

Kara getting washed.

Kara trying to escape from her pen beside the barn.

And last but not least, I do the actual shearing.  With Kara (and most baby llamas), I first removed the fiber with scissors, and then went back with electric horse clippers and smoothed out the cut.  She looked a bit ridiculous before I smoothed her out!  As I shear I'm very careful to place the fiber in a clean bucket or paper bag, and don't let it touch the ground.  This year I found a handy bucket that would hang on the doors of the chute, which made it easier to deposit the fiber.  And as I should have expected, Kara was an absolute angel when I sheared her!  She was rather worried while I sheared Bluff before it was her turn, but once she got in the chute she mellowed out very well.  Lots of grain helps too!

Shearing Kara, just starting on the second side.  You can see how rough her coat looks after the hand-shearing portion!

Now I have a beautiful shorn llama, and an even more beautiful bag of shorn fleece that I get to spin!  Kara's fleece was sold as handspun yarn as part of our new CSA program, so I get to process and spin all of her fiber, and then send it off to a very lucky person!

And the final AFTER shot!  I'm not the world's best shearer, so her cut is still a bit rough, but in a month you'll never be able to tell.  Kara is now much happier (and cooler!), and I can't wait to spin up her fiber!

I'll make another post soon with before and after pictures of the rest of the herd!