When the alpaca Token’s Creek Fantine struts into the show ring today, you would never know that her life was on the line in infancy.
Born three weeks premature, Fantine weighed 10 pounds at birth — well under the usual weight of 14-20 pounds. Baby alpacas typically stand within an hour following birth and nurse soon after, but Fantine couldn’t do either without assistance.
Elden Harms, co-owner of Token Creek Alpacas, knew Fantine needed help. “I tube-fed her through her first evening and decided to bring her and her dam (mother) to the hospital in the morning,” he recalls.
Once at UW Veterinary Care’s Morrie Waud Large Animal Hospital, blood tests showed Fantine lacked immunoglobulins — critical antibodies passed to a baby through mother’s milk. These particular proteins help build a baby’s immune system and protect against germs and disease.
Fantine’s bloodwork also showed signs of septicemia, a complication of infection that causes inflammation throughout the body.
Clinicians with the Large Animal Internal Medicine Service gave Fantine an intravenous transfusion of frozen llama blood plasma (llamas and alpacas are closely related). This transfusion delivered the immunoglobulins Fantine needed to boost her immunity. She also received antibiotics to fight sepsis and milk replacer every few hours to build her strength.
Fantine spent three days in the hospital. Throughout, her mom, Token’s Creek Tawny, was with her for support and bonding. As Fantine grew stronger, she began to nurse without assistance. She went from lethargic to active and perky.
Fantine has since thrived on the farm and in competition. In the show ring, alpacas are judged on conformation and fleece quality against others of the same age, color, and gender. Last March, at eight months old, Fantine placed first in her class (juvenile brown female) at the Alpaca Owners Association National Show and earned reserve champion among brown females of all ages.
The Harms are thrilled with Fantine’s health and success and pleased to continue their work with UW Veterinary Care and the School of Veterinary Medicine. At their 20-acre farm in Evansville, Wisconsin, Elden and his wife Ronelle breed, raise, and sell alpacas, with a current herd size of 17.
Since 2012, Token Creek has hosted veterinary medical students from the school’s Small Ruminant Club once or twice each year to gain hands-on experience during herd health days. Students assist with recording the alpacas’ weight and other health details, conduct physical exams and other procedures, and then enjoy lunch with the Harms. After a break from visits in 2020 due to COVID-19, they hope to resume hosting students this fall.
“Elden and I want students to feel relaxed and at home here,” says Ronelle. “When we stand on our back steps and wave as the students drive away, our hope is the day has been as much of a blessing to them as it’s been to us.”