Wethering your young males

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Castrated male alpacas are termed “wethers”, and the act of castration “wethering”. Wethering must be carried out by a qualified veterinary surgeon while the alpaca is under the influence of an anaesthetic.  This can be under a general anaesthetic but these days it is more usually done under local anaesthetic as this is safer for the alpaca, and costs less for the breeder.

It is generally accepted by most alpaca breeders that males who are not required for breeding are wethered. This results in a quieter, more handle-able animal who is not under the influence of sexual hormones. Wethers make great pets when sold to buyers who only want a small herd, and they are easier to manage on the stud farm, too. They don’t tend to fight, and can be kept with your breeding females without risk of an unwanted pregnancies, and some quiet machos also appreciate the company of a wether (don’t make assumptions on this – some working studs can’t stand wethers, and will attack your uncomprehending wether mercilessly. Be very sure that your macho is not aggressively inclined before leaving wethers and machos unsupervised). Wethers also make great companion animals for weanlings, sick animals, or any alpaca you need to separate from the main herd for any reason. Wethering make good practical sense both economically and for ease of management.

If you intend to run your wethers with female alpacas, be aware that it can take up to 6 weeks for sperm to die – so don’t put your newly wethered alpacas in with your female herd until at least 6 weeks after wethering. Some males may continue mating behaviours for some time after this, so be prepared for this. Usually the females are unconcerned by this behaviour, but it may make them ovulate and thus not be receptive to an entire male should you wish to breed them.

Llamas, wethering and a bit of historical information!:

Unlike Australia and New Zealand, where alpacas are easily the preferred pet or livestock option, in USA, llamas have been far more popular, and numerous, than alpacas. The popularity of llamas as pets and companions (their fleece is generally not suitable for manufacture or commercial purposes) accelerated some twenty five years ago. In New Zealand, the stock market crash of the 1980’s decimated our national alpaca herd, with almost all of our alpacas being exported to Australia, and it has only been in the last two decades that NZ alpaca numbers have begun to recover. As a result, NZ alpaca owners were sometimes dependent on the expertise of Australia and USA in addressing alpaca specific situations. In USA, it was found that the early wethering of llamas (prior to 2 or 3 years of age) led to excessive long bone growth, making the llamas concerned very “leggy” and lacking in bone density. As a result, it is recommended that llamas are not wethered before attaining physical maturity at 2 years or olders, withsome authorities recommending that animals not be castrated at all.

This recommendation subsequently filtered down to NZ and Australia, with the assumption that alpacas would be similarly affected, and it is common practice to delay wethering on non-breeding animals until after their 2nd birthday, or not at all.

Alpacas, wethering and more recent discoveries:

Now the trend in both NZ and Australia is towards wethering of younger alpacas than is common practice with llamas. It appears that the assumption early wethering of alpacas will result in the same disadvantages as for llamas is faulty. As a result, alpacas in Australia and NZ are now being wethered as young as 5 months (dependant on the testicles having dropped into the scrotum).

We feel that the experience of major Australian breeders that alpacas do not suffer any disadvantage from early wethering to be sufficient evidence that we are willing to wether our young males as soon as a decision is made not to retain them for breeding purposes. However, given that there is some controversy still over this issue, we suggest you, as a breeder, do your own studies and draw your own conclusions as to the age you choose to wether your surplus males.

How does this affect the pet buyer?

If you do not intend to become a breeder, wethered alpacas are the obvious choice. Females command very high prices, and it is pointless to pay this for an animal you intend to be a pet only. You could buy unwethered males, but then will need to decide whether to keep them entire or not. Two or three entire males that have never been used for breeding, may live quite peaceably together, but fights are more likely than between wethers.

The chances are, if you are considering alpacas as pets, that you do not have a lot of livestock handling experience, and wethers will be easier for you to handle. The Alpaca Place recommends the wethering of all non-breeding males.

Most young males from The Alpaca Place are one or two years old before being sold – and most lack the emotional maturity to leave home much before this age. If you are buying a younger animal, always ensure you buy an older (2 years plus) wether from the same farm to keep him company and lessen the stress of leaving home prematurely. We believe buying an animal that has already been wethered is the easiest option for most pet buyers, but if you are concerned about the possible effects of early wethering, buy mature animals (at least 3 years of age) where any physical disadvantages will have already manifested.