To Europe with Love - Part 2

above some pictures taken around the farm.
N 42 43.311'
E 011 11.742'
CEP 42 feet

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To Europe With Love – Part 2

By Gabriella Bozzini

 November 1999

 

As most alpaca breeders everywhere, I have dedicated almost all of my work to the breeding and marketing aspect of this business. I never thought that one day I would become involved in the import-export of alpacas. I believed, as perhaps most of us do, that to actually undertake such a project one must have the backing of large financial resources and extensive experience in the international sphere of the business. These assumptions are actually correct, but certainly did not apply to me.

I managed to export alpacas from Chile to Italy and, oo not have been accomplished without the expertise and financial cooperation of Maria Bravo of Quintessence Alpacas International and Ignacio Garaycochea of the Mallkini group of Michell & Co. Without their assistance and guidance from Chile, I would never have been able to bring as many and as such high quality animals as I did into this new and exciting market.

The European response to the arrival of our small group was almost immediate as numerous established breeders as well as interested investors, have come to see for themselves one of the largest herds of colored Suris in the Continent as well as our ARI registered males and American born herdsire ABQ Quicksilver. Although priced higher than the European average of $6,000 per pregnant females, our initial sales have reassured us that our efforts have been worth it. The European market is becoming more aware of quality differences within the alpaca population and higher prices are gradually becoming more acceptable as breeders wish to improve their own stock with new and better genetics..

Although the Chilean government has just recently tightened regulations that will make future exports even harder, I still expect to organize, with the assistance of my partners, future shipments into Italy of the highest possible quality of animals. Maria Bravo, who manages one of only three government sanctioned quarantine centers in Chile, has personally supervised numerous exports to the US as well as managed quarantines of animals destined for England and Australia. She has experienced first-hand the frustrations and anxieties of these shipments and yet wouldn’t trade for anything the satisfaction of seeing new genetics and beautiful animals arriving at their new homes.

The Chilean veterinary and government agencies are highly experienced in dealing with these shipment whereas their Italian counterparts were as inexperienced as I was in dealing with the protocol for alpacas. As the importer, I applied for the import permit with the Italian authorities that must now process all such paperwork through the European Union’s Central Commission. In this case, my permit was reviewed by the European Trade Commission and Veterinary Health Department that accepted it. France had done a first small shipment from Chile the year before thereby establishing a precedent that is now fully formalized for all European Nations.

The importation of any new livestock into different ecosystems and economies always presents risks for the new hosting countries. Fear that alpacas might bring with them diseases such as Foot and Mouth, Vescicular Stomatitis and Blue Tongue have made European governments erect prophylactic measures to protects their own sanitary environments. Fear of transmission of other unknown diseases have prompted even further protective measures. The consequences for this export have been that the Italian authorities, through Bruxelles’ recommendations, have imposed stringent and repetitive tests to be performed during the Chilean and Italian quarantines. This led to a sixty day quarantine in a closed barn in Chile with double-testing for all diseases. Obviously these requirements produced great stress to the alpacas that were kept in tight quarters for a long period, as well as having a heavy impact on the pocketbooks of all those involved.

Unable to see the sky, graze and exercise as they normally would, the alpacas inevitably suffered from stress and lost an average of seven pounds each. In order to compensate for such losses, Maria has designed a careful diet for quarantine conditions whereby the protein intake is increased to 18%. This nutritional change is meant to assist the animals sustain their weight and strengthen their stamina for the trip ahead.

Having terminated the quarantine in Chile, the next hurdle to overcome was the actual shipment to Italy. No direct cargo flights exist between Chile and Italy and we therefore had to place the animals on a long trip that brought them from Santiago to Buenos Aires and Amsterdam where they stopped for an overnight lay-over in one of Europe’s best animal airport facilities, known as the "Animal Hotel." Throughout the trip, the alpacas were accompanied by a Chilean handler who was familiar with the animals individually and would be able to spot any ailing alpaca. The morning following their arrival in Amsterdam, the animals were loaded onto another cargo flight that brought them to Milan, Italy.

Upon arrival on Italian soil, the animals were inspected by the airport veterinary staff, documents were checked and stamped and they were finally loaded onto the trucks that would make their final six hours journey to Grosseto, their new home in Italy. The alpacas arrived at Europaca’s farm at two in the morning after nearly thirty-six hours after leaving Chile. But their ordeal was still not over as the Grosseto veterinary services had to treat each alpaca for ectoparasites before allowing them entrance into the stalls. By the time we were done, it was four in the morning and everybody, especially the vets and alpacas, were exhausted.

The following morning, to everyone’s relief, we realized that the alpacas were settling in very well, all were eating with appetite and finally enjoying the opportunity to stretch their legs after more than sixty days of imprisonment. It was a beautiful and reassuring sight to see the alpacas running in sheer joy of their newly found freedom. No external injuries were sustained during their cramped traveling conditions and we could only hope that no internal ones had been suffered either. Alpacas are, for economic reasons, commonly shipped fifteen per pallet. Each pallet measures ten feet by ten and, in these fairly crowded conditions, it is not uncommon to experience some injuries, usually minor, during transportation. All appearances however seemed to indicate that all our animals were well.

Maria, with her exporting experience, reminded me over and over, that the real risk to the animals was really during this new adaptation stage rather than transportation itself. She has known and experienced the loss of animals in post-import conditions due to lipidosis. This is a metabolic condition resulting from animals not ingesting sufficient nutritients in their new diet. Such problems commonly occur with the change of diet and pastures that the animals experience in their new environments. Without sufficient or proper nutrition, the body goes after the fat reserves very rapidly and the liver cannot process it quickly enough. The accumulation of fat in the liver leads to the condition known as lipidosis that can have fatal consequences. In order to avoid this, post-import diet must retain the same high 18% protein as during quarantine. Only once the Italian quarantine period and testing would be over, could I even consider gradually lowering the protein intake to a more acceptable range of 12-14%.

I thus found myself in the situation of feeding large amounts of alfalfa to animals that I have always known to thrive on more spartan diets of timothy or oat hay. Too much alfalfa and they get fat and have reproductive problems! Too much protein and the micron count goes ballistic! All true statements for stable herds, but this was not a standard herd in a standard environment. Moreover, Maria informed me that her experience has shown her that higher protein intakes do not harm the digestive system nor the micron counts as long as the fiber intake hovers in the 30% range. So I followed the recommendations of my mentors and was recompensed with the benefit of having a herd that suffered no medical problems whatsoever.

However, once terminated the Italian quarantine and all the aggressive testings were over, I had to start readjusting the animals’ diet to their more standard nutritional requirements. Finding good quality oat or orchard grass hay in Maremma, the region of Tuscany where Europaca is located, was a nightmare. Local hay production is almost exclusively aimed for dairy cattle and is too rich in protein as well as being too coarse for alpacas. After a long search I finally found a solution that has actually turned out to be a near-perfect feed.

Ostrich farms are very popular in Italy and due to their large numbers, they have established mills that manufacture feeds specifically for these exotic animals. The mills produce large square bales weighing about 300 pounds each: They mix different hays in pre-specified quantities, chop them in various lengths and compress them. For adult Ostriches, they chop the hay in lengths of about three inches whereas for Ostrich chicks they chop them so fine that the feed resembles a powder. With a whole range of hay coarseness in between these extremes, one can find ideal feeds also for alpacas while cutting wastage to nearly zero. With this feed, alpacas don’t have the opportunity to eat only leaves and leave the stems as in traditionally baled hays, for all is equally palatable and thoroughly mixed.

The most appealing characteristic of this ‘designer’ feed is that the mills establish the percentages of ingredients before-hand so that fiber, protein and minerals are all listed and the breeder can keep exact record of the nutritional status of the entire herd. Any known deficiencies can be immediately corrected or supplemented. Although more expensive than most traditional feeds, I am sure that this approach is more economical in the long run. No need for pre-purchase hay analysis, consistent quality throughout the years and, since the complete nutritional value of the feed is known, there should be no long-term risks of either malnutrition or obesity in the animal population. The final test however, has been the animals themselves who love the stuff, eat every bit of it and do not litter the barn or their companion’s backs with the unwanted stems of tougher hays.

We have barely started our new European journey and yet so much has already been learned from my partners and new environment. We have literally ‘tasted’ our new life and we like the looks of it.

 

 

Europaca
Alpaca Breeding Centre of Italy
Azienda Agricola Podere Val di Toro
Poggio La Mozza - 58100 Grosseto Italy
+39 0564 406022 +39 0564 406022