When it comes to health care don’t forget the kids… and the lambs, and the cria (baby llama or alpaca). Hummm along with us while we consider our friends in the ovine (sheep), caprine (goat) and camelid (alpaca, llama) families. Keeping small ruminants as pets and for production (meat, milk, wool, fleece etc.) may be more common than you think. They’ve been part of the human “extended family” pretty much since the beginning and the only thing that’s changed is perhaps there are a few more pets than production animals. As with all animals in our care, wellness is the cornerstone of good health. Annual comprehensive exams, routine vaccinations, fecal evaluation & treatment for parasites, dental exams, hoof care and illness diagnosis are just as important for these species as they are for our horses, dogs and cats. Dr. Weeks has been providing routine medical / surgical care and emergency care for small ruminants for over 25 years.
The basics of good animal husbandry start with an understanding of the species, its habits and personality as well as its general physiology. For most small ruminants, one is a lonely number. They are herd animals and will do better and be happier if they have at least one partner in crime to live with. These animals can be quite stoic and initial signs of disease may be subtle so it's important to observe and get to know them as individuals. Here are some basic physiology and husbandry notes to keep in mind. A normal rectal temperature for sheep or goats is 101.5 to 103.5 degrees, for alpaca or llama it is 100 to 102. Internal and external parasites are common in small ruminants. Gastrointestinal parasites may cause weight loss, diarrhea and anemia. Fecal evaluations should be performed twice a year in the spring and fall. Using the results, Dr. Weeks will tailor a plan to prevent or treat parasitism in your animals. Vaccinations are available against health threats like tetanus, rabies and clostridial diseases. Diet and nutritional management is important for healthy animals. Grain in the diet of small ruminants may predispose to urinary calculi, a painful and serious condition especially in (neutered) males. Grain overload, when the little buggers break into the feed room and consume more than a normal ration, can be a medical emergency. Some common plants, like rhododendrons, azalea, mountain laurel and choke cherry are toxic to small ruminants. Regular hoof trimming is necessary to keep these animals sound and happy. The gestation period for sheep and goats is around 5 months, but for llamas or alpacas it is around 11 months.
We hope this short primer is helpful, especially if you are a new small ruminant owner. Even if you have owned goats (llama or alpaca) forever we’d just like to remind you that routine veterinary care is beneficial for both the wellbeing of your pets and for efficiency, longevity and productivity of your production animals.