Sue Loach – 15 June 2021

15 June 2021     British Alpaca Society     BAS Board

Crikey I can’t believe how quickly this year is passing, Summer seemed so far away last time I wrote my blog.  Most of us are in the midst of the busiest time of year, birthing and doing matings for next year’s cria and I’m sure we have had our fair share of ups and downs.  I’ve waited 375 days for my most recent arrival, yet had another arrive after 320 days both fit and well, just different sizes!!

Yet it is the arrival of Patience, born at textbook 340 days, in the middle of the day, to an experienced mother that has caused me the most issues.  She was called Patience because she certainly tried my patience for the first few days of her life.  She had no idea how to feed from her mum, kept getting stuck behind the hedges, and found the wall more appealing to feed from than her mum who tried everything to persuade her to feed.  She was given over a litre of Bovine colostrum, then powdered Colostrum replacer which she took readily from the bottle, yet bang on 24 hours after she was born, she crashed, flat out and unresponsive.  I strongly suspected she had sepsis, her membranes were turning purple and her temperature was low.

Off we trotted (well actually raced!!) to the vets clutching Patience and a freezer bag of Plasma. Her IgG levels were very low and her bloods indicated an infection, so plasma was administered. Halfway through her transfusion Patience decided she felt better and tried to run out of the surgery and, with the help of antibiotics and plenty of TLC she is now a normal 3-week-old cria who feeds off her mum (and poaches off anyone who will let her).

Plasma saved her life. When a cria is born it only has a few hours to absorb the antibodies from its mothers milk which is what helps the cria to develop an immune system, protecting it from infection.  When that doesn’t happen, as with Patience, we can boost the immune system by giving plasma and in many cases it saves the cria’s life.

It is important that breeders know that powdered colostrum supplements do not contain antibodies, they are designed to give the cria energy to feed, colostrum replacers do contain antibodies and can certainly improve a cria’s chances.  Fresh goat colostrum is also helpful as long as you know where it has come from but in an emergency life threatening situation, a bag of Plasma can, and does, save lives.

Most experienced breeders keep a supply of plasma for these circumstances, in my opinion it should be part of every breeder’s birthing kit.  Once collected it keeps for up to 5 years in the freezer.  My own vets, and several other practices, have offered plasma drives so that breeders can collect plasma from their own herd at a discounted rate for the impending breeding season, yet most have been cancelled because of low uptakes. How can we tell more breeders what a potential life saver Plasma can be?

Breeders spend large sums of money on stud fees and spend almost a year waiting for their cria to arrive only to lose them because they have failed to get sufficient antibodies from their mothers. Time after time we see people on social media asking for plasma for a vulnerable cria.  The irony of Patience is that I had no plasma in my freezer, my vets Plasma Drive having had to be cancelled because of low numbers and having last year given away my last 2 bags to owners whose animals needed it.  It was only the kindness of a friend who had given up breeding and given me her supply that saved Patience’s life. That kindness has also saved the life of a friends cria.

Legally you cannot offer for sale, or purchase plasma, as it is a blood product.  We need to collect plasma from our own herd and we can’t depend on others to give it to us and risk losing one of their animals because they have run out.  For me, plasma should be collected in the same way we harvest hay, we would never go into winter without having arranged food for our animals, why do we go into the breeding season without Plasma??

Here’s hoping for a successful breeding season for us all and lots of cute cria pics for Alpaca magazine’s photo competition.”