Sunshine, vitamin D and alpacas

By jilladmin • January 24th, 2016

Hi, everybody! It’s a beautiful January day here in Maine – the big blizzard missed us (for once), and it’s sunny, reasonably still and kinda warmish – we’re heading into the mid-20s today. So I did what every good alpaca owner would – I booted the kids out of the barn to make some vitamin D.

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Alpacas are a livestock animal that has been selected for centuries to live at high altitudes in the altiplano of South America. Living at such high altitude poses some challenges, and alpacas have developed some interesting ways to dealing with the conditions of their ancestral home. For one, they have elliptical, not round, red blood cells, to increase oxygen transport. They do not absorb many minerals well, particularly selenium, since they are in such abundance in the soils. And they also don’t make nearly as much vitamin D as animals that evolved closer to sea level – this prevents them from accumulating too much, given their increased exposure to UV light on the altiplano.

But my animals live in Central Maine, and if there’s one thing we don’t have enough of, it’s exposure to sunlight and opportunities for making vitamin D. While you might think this only holds true in the winter, most alpacas in most parts of the US don’t make enough vitamin D at any time of year. The consequences are easiest to see in cria, which may develop rickets with persistent deficiency, but even adult animals face lower fertility, decreased immune function and other side effects of too little vitamin D.

Many commercial alpaca feeds are fortified with vitamin D, but since young cria typically aren’t eating pellets yet, additional supplementation in for form of oral ADEB12 paste or injectable AD is highly recommended. We supplement our entire herd, year around, since they like hanging out inside so much. While it is difficult to give an alpaca too much vitamin D since they have such poor absorption, it can happen – so always follow recommended best practice for amount and frequency of dosing. Dr. Robert Van Saun has written an excellent article on vitamin D and camelids – check it out on pages 38-46 of the current issue of Suri Network’s PurelySuri magazine.

As for me, I’ll make my vitamin D trying to move some drifts with the tractor today.  Haran promises to keep a watchful eye on my progress…

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