The number of alpaca farms is growing in Oklahoma, and the number of vets able to care for the South American animals is growing, too. Students studying at the Oklahoma State University Center for Veterinary Health Sciences are learning more about alpaca health, assistant professor Dr. Melanie Boileau said.
The goal is to strengthen the statewide network of vets willing to treat the growing alpaca population. "We always try to teach our students to be ready,” Boileau said. The effort is appreciated by alpaca farmers, said Janice Robinson of Alpacas of Oklahoma, an organization of breeders and farmers statewide. "With the increase in the number of animals in Oklahoma, we have an increased need of physicians who can be knowledgeable of them,” Robinson said. More than 80 alpaca farms operate in the state, Robinson said. About a dozen farms were in operation in 2002, when the organization was founded. Oklahoma farmers shave their alpacas’ each April and sell the fiber to be processed into yarn, clothing, fabric and other materials, Robinson said. Many new farmers are older professionals looking to switch gears, Robinson said. Alpacas are a popular choice because they’re hearty, gentle animals. Guidance is needed from experts like those at OSU. "OSU is very receptive in their veterinarian department to work with them (alpacas),” Robinson said.