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Ultrasound machines for camelids

ultrasounding alpacas
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Ultrasound machines for scanning alpacas and llamas

If you keep and breed your own llamas or alpacas, you may have thought about scanning them or having them scanned to check for pregnancy. If you haven’t before, you definitely should. Putting the female with the male and watching for her reaction (“spitting off”) is not a reliable method unless you have only a few animals who also happen to have a normally laid back personality. More feisty animals will be inclined to spit or run away from the male regardless of whether or not they are pregnant, and while they may accept him later on if not pregnant, you are not going to want to stress a potentially pregnant female by leaving her in with the stud for an extended period of time.

The only way to know for sure if your alpaca or llama is pregnant is from an ultrasound scan. The problem for a lot of camelid farms, however, is that mobile scanners can be reluctant to offer the service. This could be for several reasons:

  • If you do not live in an area popular for other types of farm animal abdominal pregnancy scanning, such as an area with a lot of sheep flocks, you may simply have nobody skilled or confident enough to do the job.
  • Even if you do live in an area serviced by a mobile scanner, they will often find it uneconomical to scan for you. Sheep scanners are used to scanning 100+ animals per session, which makes charging only a few pounds per animal worth their while. Canine pregnancy scanners tend to charge around £45 per scan, which likely makes them unaffordable for most farms. This puts llama and alpaca farms in a bit of a ‘no man’s land,’ and it’s not uncommon to hear of owners struggling to find a reliable local scanner, with stories of being frequently let down.
  • Scanning camelids is difficult! They do not lie on their backs and wag their tails like dogs, and they are not lined up neatly inside a crush like sheep. They have to be caught and they then struggle, spit, and often try to lay down to stop you from touching their abdomen. They usually carry in the right horn, but not always, so sometimes a more thorough check is required. Finding the cria is not always straightforward, either, and in earlier stages of pregnancy they are often close to the uterine wall, requiring a lot of probe manipulation to bring into view.


Should I buy my own ultrasound machine?

There is no getting around the fact that an ultrasound machine is a big investment. Yes, there are cheap options out there, but alpacas and llamas are not easy animals to scan. You need every advantage you can get, and clear imaging is something you can control from the outset. Saving money on a machine purchase will cost you money in the long run in ambiguous scans that you have to keep repeating, loss of confidence, and ultimately abandonment.

Consider what having an ultrasound machine always on hand would be worth to you. Think not only of the money you spend or would spend on scans, but other benefits which are less easily quantifiable. For example, do you have a strong social media following and rely on support from the general public or other enthusiasts? If so, what added excitement and engagement could sharing images of unborn crias add?


How much does an ultrasound machine cost?

You should budget for at least £3000 for a scanner which is capable of the image quality you will need to scan camelids. The ScanX or Apogee 1000 Lite are both ideal, tried-and-tested choices. Alternative machines are available but be very mindful of who you are purchasing from. You need a machine that has been field tested and proven to work with llamas and alpacas. Scanning camelids is challenging and highly specialised, so don’t buy from a company that is not able to provide you with evidence that they actually know what they are selling you and can support you in its use.


Ultrasound for alpaca pregnancy scanning

Above: The ScanX being field tested with alpacas in Kent.


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