Tuesday, 13 July 2010

The Mating/Buying Game – Playing it Safe

Dianne Summers who runs the Camelid TB Support Group together with British Veterinary Camelid Society vet Dr Gina Bromage give some practical advice on how to mate and buy safely. .

We all know we have to change the way we do things. At the end of May 2010 DEFRA confirm there are currently 30 camelid herds under restriction to TB and DEFRA also confirm that from the 8 new breakdowns in the first 5 months of 2010 3 of the 8 was from purchase or movement. A further 14 herds in contact with the TB Support Group have come out of restriction so we know a minimum of 44 herds have been affected. Remember not all herds with TB are in touch with the TB Support group.

The skin test fails to detect the vast majority of TB infected camelids - so it goes without saying the risk of TB is very much on all of our minds but it isn’t only TB we need to consider- its any disease that can be contracted by coming into contact with other alpacas/llamas e.g. Bvd, mange, mites, gastro intestinal parasites in particular E-Mac – diseases that can kill - so we need to change the way we do things – sharpish and one of those is mating – the other is buying. . But how do we go about mating safely? And which method is the lowest risk and which poses the highest risk? The same advice can be applied to buying.

1. The lowest risk is obviously owning your own stud male but not everyone has their own stud male/s nor wants to...

2. The next level of risk is mobile or drive-by mating. Why? – simply because the contact is one on one and minimal. Besides, you do have the added benefit of knowing your female has been mated to the stud you have paid for and YOU can control the bio security measures - so in my opinion this is a much lesser risk than the third option. To reduce the risk even further select a breeder who doesn’t offer on farm agistment mating.

3. Agisted mating. This has to be the highest risk and it has been documented by the VLA that alpacas have contracted TB whilst away on agisted mating. In my opinion it isn’t worth the risk

To send your females away for months on end where they are often placed in a field with dozens of other females from all over the country must stop. We have all done this in the past – I have only ever sent one female away for mating and when I went to visit her she was in a field with dozens of other females many of them had obvious signs of mites/mange. I decided then never to send my females away again and that was before I knew about TB/BVD/EMac etc etc. You have no idea what diseases the other females carry and you have no idea if these fellow females are TB/Disease free. Let’s not forget the stress this also causes to your females and we all know the effects of stress on the immune system. The risk works both ways.

Having a vet health check or fecal sample is strongly recommended but these do not cover TB. However faecal samples are very important for many other diseases and must be carried out both before and after movements.

Unless the breeder can provide your females with their own clean bio secure paddock for the entire stay with no nose to nose contact with any other alpacas or neighbouring livestock and they abide by the BAS Code of conduct (If BAS members) and maintain high bio security standards then I strongly suggest you do not send your females away on agistment.. DEFRA has lots of excellent advice and leaflets on its website for farm bio security.

Many reputable breeders with quality stud services available who used to show have now stopped attending shows and unnecessary movements until a reliable ante mortem test is available. Check out breeder’s websites – if it says alpacas rarely get ill and they don’t get many diseases – then I suggest you don’t do business with them because they are knowingly giving incorrect advice. Alpacas get diseases similar to all other livestock. Any honest breeder would state that. Ask them what bio security measures they have in place – ask them about TB and other diseases. If they say TB isn’t a problem – I suggest you run for the hills and find a breeder who says it is. What you want to hear is a breeder say Yes TB is a problem and here are the measures I have taken to reduce the risk to my herd. If they proudly show off ribbons they have won this year then they are not taking the TB issue seriously enough. Very little point in having state of the art bio security then trundling off at every opportunity to enter shows /fetes and fun days – where they have the potential to come in direct contact with an alpaca who may have TB or come in contact with a herd at a show who has just come out of restriction having only used the skin test. Not all herds that come out of restriction are following our advice to not sell show or offer mating services for at least a year after coming out of restriction.

Breeders asking for the females to have a skin test before arriving or declaring all their stud males have had a skin test does not mean the alpaca or llama is Tb free.. Anyone who declares a camelid is TB free because it has had a skin test is giving false information. . There is NO current private test available that can declare an alpaca or llama is TB Free. This is why we need a reliable ante mortem test so we can all trade with confidence.
Blood tests are currently only available to herds under restriction and are optional. The breeder can refuse to blood test!!!!!! I suggest you view the silent killer post on the www.bovinetb.blogspot.com
Lastly whatever option you chose remember to get the stud provider/breeder to give you their completed self declaration form – a sample of which can be downloaded from the BAS website under Welfare/Health and Diseases (you don’t have to be a BAS member) and also on the www.tbinalpacas.blogspot.com - both parties must complete it when attending shows – agistment or mating. Ask to see their herd/health movement book - better still consider getting a legal contract drawn up, so that all documents and statements are part of your agreement to pay..

Play it safe – do your homework – ask the right questions - don’t put your animals at unnecessary risk, an outbreak of any disease, let alone TB, will give you plenty of time to wish you had...

I want you to remain in my TB Update Group (those that want to learn about TB) I don’t want you to ever be in the TB Support group (Those in a Tb Breakdown and under restriction)

Dianne Summers
Camelid TB Support Group
12th July 2010


  1. It would be nice to see compulsory blood testing for all alpacas, even if we had to pay. I feel that would be more cost effective in the long run.
    As they were going to vaccinate Badgers why can't we buy a vaccine for Alpacas?

  2. No blood tests are currently available to you unless you are already under restrictions.

    Currently if you vaccinated (assuming the badger vaccine worked on alpacas)a vaccinated alpaca would show up as a positive reactor if tested, and would therefor be culled. Like most things bTB, nothing is straightforward or simple.

  3. Do disenfectant mats and foot dipping actually make a difference? I know that as owners we feel we are actually doing something but are we doing it just for the sake of it.

  4. Dear Anon.

    I would be strongly against compulsary blood testing (I take it you mean pre-movement testing)until we have a reliable ante mortem test. Otherwise we will be losing healthy alpacas from healthy herds for no good reason if the 'false positive' results are too high.

    Now vaccination on the other hand, that's a different matter all together. I can see the value in looking at that as an option.

    Just my view.