Fecal Testing Alpacas aka Fecal testing for Dummies

Although our female alpacas tend to mostly give us perfect beans, recently our boys have been pretty insistent on delivering their “presents” in a clumpier fashion.  While perfect beans do not indicate there are no parasite problems in the alpaca poop, clumpiness can often mean there is some sort of parasite problem going on.

We’ve found some parasite issues with the boys and are currently treating them, hoping to get everybody squared away over the next week or so.

Lately I’ve been thinking that I really want to check everyone – even if all appears fine on the surface – on at least a quarterly basis as well as random fecal tests here and there for good measure.  The veterinary practice we employ is quite reasonable with its fees; however, costs still add up quickly.

Since our alpaca friends Wayne and June just around the country road from us run their own fecals, I decided it was time that we learn how to do the same. I should mention here that we have no plans to completely cut the vet out of the process, as I think that would be foolish.  They went to veterinary school and are highly trained, whereas neither Steve’s nor my resumes’ include DVM in our credentials.  Therefore, the idea is to do a 24-hour sugar float on our fecals, and anything in question goes to the vet for further inspection and advice.

Having avoided anything but the most basic of science courses during both my high school and college careers, I feel totally out of my league with all of this.  However, I believe old dogs can learn new tricks, and perhaps with a bit of age and maturity under my belt, I can muddle through this “science” well enough to ensure all the right things are done for our alpacas.

Wayne was so kind as to carve out time for me last Tuesday and Wednesday mornings.  He showed me how to weigh everything, put the poop in the sugar solution, mash it up, and properly set up the test tubes in the test tube holder. Once we had 3 fecal samples from our farm all set up for their 24-hour sugar float, I spent some time looking at previously-made slides from Wayne’s herd, learning how to identify the different types of parasites – Coccidia, Strongyles, Nematodirus, E Mac, etc.

I returned to Wayne and June’s the next morning – 24 hours later – to look at the test results under the microscope.  Pretty cool stuff!   It’s amazing to look at the big world that lives on that tiny slide!  Identifying parasites can be a bit tricky, but I did OK with it.

The first two slides didn’t show much of anything of concern.  One was from our male Tough as Nails, and the other was unidentified poop from the girls’ side of the barn. It was unidentified because that morning I just couldn’t seem to get anyone to poop on command for me and finally resorted to simply picking up some fresh poop to use for learning purposes.  I wasn’t really expecting to find a lot of problems with any of the samples. This was simply an educational exercise.  Or at least that’s what I thought going into it.

The last sample I viewed was also an unidentified sample – this time from the boys’ side of the barn.  Again, I didn’t expect to find much of anything on it, but boy was I ever surprised!   Nematodirus is so distinctive, and I spotted it right away without any question what it was.  All parasites are not quite so easily identifiable and can be confused with plant matter.  But not Nematodirus.  There is just nothing else that resembles it.  Although I wasn’t happy about finding a problem, it was still kind of exciting.

At that point, I was totally sold on getting my own microscope and supplies.  This morning I spent a couple hours on the Internet searching for the right microscope at the right price as well as all the supplies I’ll need.  I’m hoping to get a good deal on the microscope and that I’m able to keep the total amount spent on everything below $200.  The equipment and supplies will paid for themselves fairly quickly.  Right now I’m waiting to hear back from Wayne whether the microscope I’ve found is sufficient.  Then to order it all and get started.