SALEM, Ohio – When Ohio State University veterinarian David Anderson got a call about a mysterious alpaca death in Findlay, Ohio, he didn’t know what he was up against.
Within 12 hours, Anderson heard about another outbreak, this one in Medina County. Twelve alpacas were dead. Again, there were no signs of outward trauma.
Anderson’s expertise and lab tests quickly uncovered the fatal culprit – Land O’Lakes Profile Dr. Evans Alpaca Supplement from a mill in Massillon, Ohio.
Approximately 90 alpacas have died in northern Ohio after eating the tainted feed, and Anderson said he anticipates this number will increase.
‘Massive destruction.’ The lethal additive in the feed is used to control parasites in poultry and pigs. Anderson said its presence in the alpaca supplement was accidental.
This poison, called salinomycin, causes “massive destruction” to the skeletal and heart muscles in alpacas, Anderson said, and often results in heart failure. Although salinomycin is also toxic to other animals, Anderson said alpacas are especially sensitive.
Land O’Lakes recalled the batch of contaminated feed from the Massillon mill, said spokesperson Lydia Botham.
Hardship. Although up to 10 farms in northern Ohio have been affected by the poisonous feed, no one has felt the brunt more than Jerry Forstner. Eighty-five of his alpacas have died in two weeks.
With more than 1,200 alpacas, Forstner’s Magical Farms is one of the largest alpaca farms in the country. But that doesn’t make the loss easier to stomach.
Forstner’s son and staff found the initial 12 dead alpacas at the farm in Litchfield, Ohio, in the early morning of March 18.
Within 13 days, 73 more had died. Forstner is thankful there have been no deaths in the more recent days.
‘Great unknown.’ But that doesn’t mean the nightmare is over. Deaths will probably continue for at least 10 weeks, Anderson said.
And, after that, who knows.
“The great unknown is what the future holds for the surviving animals,” Forstner worries.
Because an incident like this hasn’t happened with alpacas before, experts aren’t sure about the outlook for the animals that were exposed but didn’t die.
Possibilities of sterile animals, abortions and heart problems plague Forstner.
It’s just too early to know, Anderson said.
Anderson can’t say for sure, but he does know that in salinomycin poisoning of other animals, there continued to be deaths for months afterward due to heart damage. He anticipates that more than 1,000 alpacas ate the feed and wouldn’t be surprised if 15 percent to 20 percent of them died.
Several hundred alpacas in northern Ohio are sick, Anderson said, and exhibiting weakness, depression and labored breathing.
There’s no antidote for the suffering animals, he said. The best veterinarians can do is give supportive care.
Financial impact. In addition to the loss of life, the financial loss could be equally as devastating.
“It’s hard to put a dollar amount on loss because the market potential varies for each animal,” Anderson said. “It will take time to flush out the true loss and the genetic value of these animals.”
For some alpacas, the earning potential could be as high as $400,000, Anderson said. And many individual alpacas start selling at $10,000.
In addition, some of the alpacas that died were from a South American genetic line that is irreplaceable, he said.
Investigation. Lydia Botham said Land O’Lakes is investigating how salinomycin got into the alpaca supplement.
The feed bags in question had the code FEB28MAS sewn into the bag.