Owners blame feed company for 100 alpaca deaths

SALEM, Ohio – A year after more than 100 alpacas in northern Ohio reportedly died from eating tainted feed, owners continue to file lawsuits against Land O’Lakes Farmland Feed of Minnesota.

Out of business. James Witkowski and Rebecca Meluch of Medina hadn’t even been raising alpacas for two years when their three breeding females and young herd sire reportedly ate feed that contained salinomycin.

The additive controls parasites in poultry and pigs, but is particularly dangerous to alpacas, said Ohio State University veterinarian David Anderson.

It destroys the skeletal and heart muscles in alpacas, leading to heart failure, he said.

Witkowski and Meluch’s alpacas survived eating the feed, however their heart damage is severe, Meluch said.

So severe, she said, it put her operation out of business.

Representatives from Land O’Lakes reportedly told Meluch the damaged alpacas can still reproduce and their offspring will be fine, she said.

“But how do I convince customers they’re OK, when I don’t believe it myself?” she asked.

Defendants. Witkowski and Meluch filed the lawsuit in January against both Land O’Lakes and Town and Country Co-op in Medina, where the feed was purchased.

Meluch said it was a “heartbreaker” to include a local business, but “they haven’t given restitution.”

“You expect a mom-and-pop co-op to take care of you,” she said.

The couple is asking for a minimum of $75,000, plus boarding fees for the past year.

Meluch said they asked Land O’Lakes to negotiate a settlement prior to filing a lawsuit, but the company refused to talk to her.

Land O’Lakes and Town and Country Co-op did not return calls for comment.

Big bucks. Alpacas have high-dollar genetics.

Some alpacas have an earning potential as high as $400,000 and the average sale price of breeding females in the United States is $20,000-$25,000, Anderson said.

In addition, some of the alpacas that died were from a South American genetic line that is irreplaceable, he said.

As many as 2,000 alpacas were exposed to the tainted feed, Anderson said.

Some of these alpacas were from operations that are considered elite U.S. farms, he said.

Alpaca, vicuna. At least two other lawsuits against Land O’Lakes are in the works.

Alpaca Jack’s Suri Farm in Findlay, Ohio, is suing the feed company for $85 million after at least a dozen alpacas died, said attorney Gregory Arnold.

One of the animals was a vicuna, which is similar to an alpaca. It was worth at least $500,000, Arnold said.

Vicunas are endangered animals and “truly irreplaceable,” Anderson said.

Hard hit. Magical Farms of Litchfield, Ohio, also took a hard hit. Within two weeks of eating the tainted feed, 85 of the farm’s alpacas died, owner Jerry Forstner told Farm and Dairy in a prior interview.

According to the farm’s Web site, that number is now at 96. The site also says Land O’Lakes has not offered any financial compensation for the death of the animals or for the veterinary bills of sick animals.

Forstner did not comment on his suit. Attorney Doug Bartman’s office said the case is in litigation but a trial date has not been set.

With more than 1,200 alpacas, the farm is one of the largest alpaca operations in the country.

(Reporter Kristy Hebert welcomes reader feedback by phone at 1-800-837-3419, ext. 23, or by e-mail at khebert@farmanddairy.com.)

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