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Are You Willing to Adopt a Vet?
Author: Pamela Harwood
Large animal veterinarians are scarce in the State of Maine, especially those who are willing to include camelids in their practices. As we entice more and more folks into becoming alpaca farmers, we need to make sure that appropriate veterinary care does not become a limiting factor in decisions to purchase alpacas. One way to remedy the situation is to introduce veterinary students to camelids early in their training through the Adopt-a-Vet program.
This spring we had the pleasure of hosting two first-year students from Tufts' Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, Caitlin and Becky, at the farm. They were participating in Tufts Adopt-a-Vet program, a mandatory program for first-year students. The idea is to introduce students to large animal medicine early enough in their careers that a few will opt to go into large animal practice. In days gone by, it was the smartest kids off the farm who went into veterinary medicine. With their strong agricultural background, there was no need to induce students into large animal medicine. These days, most of the students come from urban or suburban backgrounds. They have no familiarity with farm animals, so they stick with what they know (and love) and go into small animal medicine. With the shortage of large animal vets, especially those familiar with camelids, the Adopt-a-Vet program was conceived.
In the fall, all first year veterinary students are steered towards farms that participate in the Adopt-a-Vet program. These are primarily dairy, goat, alpaca, and horse farms. If students are familiar with horses, they are steered towards a different kind of livestock farm. The idea is to introduce them to something completely new and out of their comfort zone. The students agree to stay for a weekend, and the farmers are asked to put them to work to give the students a feel for what their future clients actually do to care for their livestock.
Although Caitlin and Becky stayed with us, we were able to go to three other alpaca farms as well. Shortly after their arrival on Saturday morning, we drove over to Royal River Alpaca Company to help with some ultrasounds. After about 20 ultrasounds at RRAC (with the students taking turns holding the alpacas and watching the screen), Caitlin and Becky were able to find the bladder as the start point and look for confirmations of follicular activity; no follicular activity; 30-day, 60-day, and 90-day pregnancies; we watched a couple of breedings (with an 18-month male observing excitedly from the next stall); the students wrapped the female's tails; and now they know the difference between spitting off vs. receptive females. They also used a feeding syringe with canula to feed "Rapid Rehab", a high calorie supplement that's good for winter crias, to a 1-month suri female and 1-week suri male.
Back at my farm we weighed every alpaca using Marty McGee Bennett's CAMELIDynamics system of catch pens and runways, fed the alpacas, scooped manure from stalls and paddocks, and checked the temperature of the compost pile (144 degrees F). That evening after dinner the students were able to peruse various camelid care books: Evans, Hoffman, Fowler, Watt, Bennett, etc.
Next morning, all before breakfast, the students fed the herd, drew up all the syringes of Ivermectin using the weights we got and Dr. Evans' dosing recommendation. They did all the SQ injections after I showed them how to make a tent, and cleaned out an abscess on our llama's jaw and a foot sore on the top of one alpaca's foot. They learned low-stress herding with herding tape, and used a catch-rope in the catch pen. After breakfast, we headed over to Copper Woods Suri alpaca Farm for more weights and injections by the students -- Ivermectin and A/D for the young ones. Also genitals on young males were checked for presence and uniformity of size. After lunch, we went on to Tripping Gnome Farm for more weights and injections -- Ivermectin and CD & T. Then it was time to trim some teeth using clippers, a dremmel, and OB wire, and to trim some toenails.
At each of the four farms, the students were able get their hands on the alpacas to body score everything from skinny minnies to widebodies. They learned about fiber -- density, micron counts, luster, fineness, suri locks vs. huacaya crimp, full body shearing vs. belly shearing, etc. We looked at good hay, OK hay and hay that the alpacas won't touch. The advantage of visiting four farms serviced by the same vets (Nicole Mailhot, DVM and Claire Tusch, DVM of Wells Vet Hospital) is the students can see that we all handle our alpacas a little differently; have slightly different feeding programs; big barns with no-climb fencing and smaller barns with electric wire or braid, and even Cover-it temporary shelters; different flooring and bedding: cement floors with rubber mats, stone dust with straw, and stone dust with shredded cardboard. Its important for them to see a variety of systems that all work.
Throughout the weekend the students were a pleasure, asking all sorts of questions about alpaca farming, and they were ready and able to do whatever needed doing, including driving a Gator for the first time. We have invited them back to see the shearing over Memorial Day weekend, and Caitlyn, the student most interested in large animal medicine, may come back this summer to work on some of our farms.
If you are interested in participating in the Adopt-a-Vet program next year, please contact John Pollock, DVM of the Tufts Ambulatory Clinic at firstname.lastname@example.org or call him on his cell (really!) at 860-881-9052 before the beginning of the next school year.
Longwoods Alpaca Farm
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