Five years ago Sue and I were fighting a long but ultimately successful battle to save a silly little brown male alpaca called Patou Tsar. After his stomach lining was decimated by an attack by Nematodirus at the age of four months the battle was on to keep him alive and give him a chance to recover.
We tried everything and at one point we abandoned the vets after they ran out of a willingness to embrace anything that was not scientifically proven. The one thing that kept us going, the one thing that made us believe that we would get there was the fact that Tsar never gave up. Even when he was as skinny a rake, squitty as a very squitty thing, weak and tottery with his fleece falling out in clumps he never stopped eating. He never gave up. Ultimately, together, we won the battle and four years on he is now a big strong healthy male alpaca.
This summer (2017) and we had another battle on our hands. This time Patou Delilah was struck down by Haemonchus Contortus, or Barbers Pole worm. This slippery little parasite infested Delilah shortly after she gave birth in July and reduced her to skeletal proportions within two weeks. I must admit we were right in the middle of birthing, the weekend Delilah gave birth we had five cria born in total. I was so concerned with making sure the cria were all healthy I neglected to keep tabs on the welfare of the dams. Lesson learned for the future.
As soon as I knew there was a problem I treated her for Haemonchus as it was the most likely culprit and we called the vet. A blood sample was taken and a fecal sample was sent to Claire Whitehead together with 9 other samples from the same field. The blood results revealed that Delilah was severely anaemic, her red cell count, or packed cell volume (PCV) was as low as 4.2%. Any other species and she would be dead. The normal PCV range for an alpaca should be between 25% and 45%!
It was obvious that Delilah needed a blood transfusion to give her a chance of survival and then recovery. Apparently there is very little known about camelid blood types so I looked for an alpaca with the best genetic match to Delilah. It obviously had to be a healthy animal in great condition and after giving it some thought the appropriate candidate emerged. He was a four year old brown male called Patou Tsar. With the same sire as Delilah and related on the dams side too he was the closest match. I was told by the vet that it didn’t really matter, that it would make no difference but it seemed important to me. It also seemed like it was meant to be.
So a few days later 500ml of Tsar’s blood was dripped into Delilah, she was also given everything else the vet and I could think of. We also took over for the most part the feeding of her cria, Aramis. We felt it was essential that he remained with her but needed to take the strain off her. We watched and we waited.
Two days after the blood transfusion and Delilah hit rock bottom. She was very weak, could barely stand and seemed to have stopped eating. Sue and I both thought that she was going to die and we talked to the vet about a second (and more risky) blood transfusion.
The day after Delilah hit rock bottom she started to slowly improve. She resumed eating as if on a mission. She started to look brighter. Three days later and she was standing without falling over.
Five days later and she was walking out of the shed to go to the toilet. Her cria started to refuse our attempts to bottle feed him. Delilah’s udder was refilling. Ten days on and Delilah is now back out with the herd. Her condition has improved dramatically, she is feeding Aramis from a full udder and I saw her run up a hill. It is quite remarkable how things have turned round, almost unbelievable.
A further blood test, two weeks after the transfusion revealed that Delilah’s PCV is now up to 11.9% and hopefully will continue to rise over the next couple of months back into the normal range.
Almost unbelievable until you factor in that these alpaca that we keep are really quite remarkable animals. Quite remarkable.