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Bird Migration to and from the ACT - Ian Fraser

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Care-taking the Northern Hairy - Nosed Wombat

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Feeding Regimes for Wombats

Feeding Regimes for Wombats

Presented and edited by Shirley Lack
Researched and written by Lesley Waterhouse
Presented at the 2011 National Wombat Conference
Lake Hume Resort Albury NSW

 

Introduction

 

The idea of this presentation came about from our frustration with the controversy/ debates concerning how often baby wombats need to be fed. There are a number of carers, including long term experienced carers, who advocate “less often is best” and that leaving long intervals between feeds allows the animal to sleep and grow. From our experience, the opposite occurs, with the wombat being more awake, agitated, harder to feed and slow to put on weight. We decided to put the idea out there in an email and get other carers’ opinions.

The second idea we wanted to explore was the need to provide baby wombats with at least 10% of their body weight in water each day. Some formulas, such as Biolac, do this by the amount of formula fed. Others, such as Wombaroo, do not, and need to be supplemented by giving extra water, a practice which is not always known or followed by carers.

This presentation was NOT meant to compare the value of different milk formulas and promote one above the other.

The responses to the email sent out were very interesting and informative.  Many, however, went beyond commenting on our original ideas and raised questions about feeding that we, originally, were not intending to deal with.  Mainly, these questions resulted from the fact that the table on feeding times sent in the email did not provide enough information and the “10% of body weight of water” was misinterpreted.  It was obvious that more information was needed.

As a result, we decided to expand this presentation and discuss the feeding of baby wombats and sub- adult wombats in general as well as our original ideas and to include such topics as transition times, diet and supplementary feeding.

 

 

 

Times for Feeding Baby Wombats

 

The following time schedule was put together by Shirley, Lesley and Anne Williams as a result of comparing experiences and coming to a consensus of opinion regarding feeding times.

 

While all animals are different, a rough guide to the frequency of feeds over a 24 hour period is as follows:-

Up to 250 grams- every 2 to 4 hours

250-800 grams- every 4 hours

800 grams to 1.5 kg- every 4 to 5 hours

1.5 kg to 4 kg- every 6 hours

4 kg to 7 kg- every 8 hours

7 kg until weaning- every 12 hours

This schedule applies to all brands of milk powder.

 

Prior to this survey we had some opposition to this time schedule from carers who believed that feeding baby wombats less often was the way to go.

They advocate time schedules such as-

        300 grams- 4 feeds per day

        1 kilogram- 2 feeds per day

From our experience we have found that small babies that are fed less often tend to be overly active and agitated, are harder to feed (sometimes even refusing the bottle), sleep less and put on weight slowly.  Small babies that are fed often tend to be the opposite- calm, less active, sleep most of the time, don’t really wake up for feeds but take the bottle easily without fuss.  Of course, this is a general observation as individual differences do occur.

We sent this schedule to carers and vets for comment.

Response to the Feeding Table

. Some examples of comments-

Dr. Howard Ralph- “I agree with what you have outlined with the proviso of adjusting the formula and rate for special circumstances”

A carer wrote- “I agree whole heartily with your observations and feel your feeding times are on the mark. It is extremely important to feed young animals often- more opportunities to feed the better”

Dr. Ann Fowler- “The chart with feeding frequencies appears to be very similar to what is recommended especially in the early ages”

Jackie French- “Your conclusions do correlate with what I have observed with wild wombat behaviour. Presumably the baby drinks frequently while in the pouch… but even in the case of negligent mothers the babies are still being fed as often as your schedule.  I suspect that as wombats would naturally be fed small amounts often, it makes sense they will only thrive when the natural regime is followed as closely as possible”. 

We contacted the makers of Wombaroo milk replacer and had a long conversation with Gordon Rich.  He supported the idea that small wombats should be fed small amounts often. In a later email he states- “In the wild, younger pouch bound young have access to the mother’s teat and tend to consume smaller quantities more frequently”.

He goes on to say- “Older joeys can readily be maintained on 2 feeds per day with Wombaroo > 0.6 formula”.

The problem arises from what is the definition of “older”.

Until a wombat is totally out of pouch and grazing and eating grass freely it requires more frequent milk feeds than Wombaroo suggests. In a care situation unrestricted access to grass is not always possible as a wombat would not be placed into a burrow/ enclosure until at least 6 kilograms.

The Wombaroo email states that “reduced feeding frequency has the advantage of minimising stress on the young and reducing unnecessary activity in the joey.”  Our research has found that reduced feeding causes more stress and more agitation and activity than frequent feeding. Feeding should not be a stressful situation but it will be if the wombat is hungry or has low blood sugar. It should be a relaxed, enjoyable experience.  Wombats that are not fed frequently enough have “unnecessary activity”.  Wombats that are fed adequate amounts frequently sleep most of the time.

Several people supported the idea of less frequently fed wombats being more “stressy” and more active.

One carer states- “Your observation of babies being agitated and more active when not fed so often is interesting… I took this joey as a companion to mine and she was just ‘crazy’ when she first came to me but settled down when moved to 4 feeds to fit in with mine”.

 

Reasons for This Behaviour

 

The medical/ scientific reason for this behaviour was provided by Dr Howard Ralph and supported by others.

Dr Ralph- “It is quite critical to provide enough glucose regularly for the very young for their liver stores of glycogen are not well established”

Dr Robyn Crisman- “I agree with more frequent feedings as I think (a wombat) is less likely to experience hypoglycaemia.  I think a joey is more likely to consume the proper volume in a 24 hour period when given smaller amounts more frequently and suffer fewer gut issues”

Dr Ralph goes on to state -“Agitation/ irritability etc can be clinical signs of Hypoglycaemia followed by lethargy, somnolence and convulsions”.

We have seen examples of wombats that experienced convulsions and fitting due to infrequent feeding.  For example, a  300 gram wombat fed on Wombaroo 4 times per day and not provided with heat failed to thrive and experienced several fits that were explained by the carer as neurological damage caused by the MVA.  At 1 kilogram, it went to a new carer and was put on Biolac at 10% of body weight and fed 5 times per day. It stopped fitting and never showed the symptoms again.

Other carers also commented on fitting-

“I have never had a wombat have a fit but I have heard of others having this problem and agree it is probably caused by letting them go too long between feeds”.

“The starved baby fitted as did 3 others of ours and glucose was the answer.  We use Biolac all the time but had one fit on Divetalac.  The reason for fitting would appear to have something to do with a deficiency in blood sugar”.
Need for Adequate fluid

The second idea put forward in the email was that of the importance of providing baby wombats with adequate fluid.  It is important to recognise that fluid is water, not formula/ food.  An animal requires a minimum of 10% of its body weight in water for its organs to function properly.

Dr Howard Ralph says that an animal that does not receive at least 10% risks becoming dehydrated. This can lead to damage to internal organs, for example, kidney stones, and changes to the blood.

The responses to this figure varied.  Some people thought we were saying that a wombat should only be fed 10% and disagreed with that figure.  This is only a minimum amount- 10 to 15% is acceptable.  Personally we have found that about 11% to 12% for smaller babies on Biolac 100 and 150 seems to be about right (taking into account individual difference and the need to adjust to the needs of the individual wombat). By the time they are on Biolac 200 and starting to supplementary feed with grass, which also supplies water, 10% is sufficient.  We have found that those fed closer to the 15% tend to be “bloaty”, become overly fat and often suffer from diarrhoea.

***It should be noted that the 10% rule does not apply throughout the time a wombat is in care but only up until about 3kg when the wombat is beginning to eat grass freely.

Dr Anne Fowler asks the question “Is there a risk with increased milk feeds beyond 3 kg that the wombat would be slower to adapt to the adult grass diet?” We would say ‘yes’.  This will be discussed in detail later.

Biolac instructions state that a baby wombat should have 10% to 15% of formula spread over a 24 hour period.  This automatically provides the minimum 10% of water necessary.

Wombaroo formulas <.4 and >.4 also provide the minimum of 10% of water if the Wombaroo feeding chart is followed.  However when the wombat is transitioned to >.6 the amount of formula, and hence water, drops substantially.

When speaking to Gordon Rich, he pointed out that Wombaroo is a food, not a drink and if using >.6 Wombaroo it was essential to provide extra water.  When we pointed out to him that the Wombaroo instructions to “give extra water on hot days and after emerging…” are misleading and suggest that on cold days, animals less than emergent weight (approximately 2.5-3kg)  do not need extra water, when in fact they do.  He agreed that these instructions could be misleading to inexperienced carers.

We also discussed the idea of adding extra water to each bottle (not when making up the formula) and he agreed that small amounts of extra water would not cause any harm but adding large amounts of water would interfere with the digestion and use of the milk as a food.   Therefore if using Wombaroo >.6  he states that water should be offered separately. - “if providing drinks of water, do not add extra water to the milk as this significantly dilutes the milk and can lead to malabsorption of nutrients.  Give drinking water separately”.

Dr. Ralph disputes this, arguing that extra water would not interfere with the amount of nutrition provided.

The email from Wombaroo states the “level of hydration” in the Wombaroo products is similar to that produced by the mother… “…in the wild joeys do not usually get additional water intake up until they start emerging from the burrow and foraging for solid foods…  Conditions in the pouch and burrow are high in humidity and within the thermo neutral zone of the animal such that water losses are minimised. The activity level of the young is low, resulting in low metabolic rates and low water turn over”.  We think that to duplicate these conditions of high humidity for wombats in care is very difficult. Most wombats in care would be kept in a far less humid environment, at a higher temperature and have greater activity and would therefore need extra water.  The makers of Wombaroo agree -“Husbandry conditions in captivity should mimic those in the wild in order to avoid dehydration.  However often animals are kept at higher temperatures, lower humidity and with much more activity than they would have in the wild.  This can lead to dehydration and the need to provide additional water.”

Growth Rate

 

Some people mentioned in their reply to the email that their wombats grow better on Wombaroo than on Biolac or grow better on Biolac than Wombaroo.  This seems to support the idea that wombats grow at different rates no matter what formula they are fed. We have had two wombats of similar size on the same formula and they have grown at different rates.  We have had one wombat on Biolac and one on Wombaroo and they have grown at different rates.  We don’t think that growth rate is an accurate criterion to judge whether one milk formula is “better” than another.  Growth rate seems to be very much determined by the individual animal as long as adequate nutrition is provided. Rapid growth rate is not necessarily a sign of good health or good nutrition.  For example, if you were to feed a wombat large amounts of formula or tropical muesli it would grow quickly but would be having a poor diet.

*Just a quick comment on the use of Divetelact to raise baby wombats.

Dr Anne Fowler states that “Divetelact (is) a very low energy milk- also high in sugar, so not permitting normal body regulation” She states she knows of cases where wombats on Divetelact have fitted.

Another carer states that she knows carers who use Divetelact and are “ending up with an obese and lazy wombat which does not want to eat grass… It is an all purpose milk designed for kittens and dogs which are only on milk for a few weeks.”

Yet another carer states that she has used Digestelact (the human equivalent of Divetelact) with great success- but with the addition of high protein baby cereal.  She only used this as the wombat was allergic to Biolac.

We do know of many instances where carers have used Divetelact for the first little while to get reluctant wombats to start feeding, because it is so sweet. Once feeding well the wombat would need to be transitioned onto other milk for the long term.

**We would not recommend the use of Divetelact to raise wombats over a longer term unless there was no other milk available or unless the wombat showed an allergic reaction to the other milks.

Transition Times

Changing from one milk to another should take many days.

Wombaroo instructions give a very structured timeframe for when to transition and the amounts to use-

See below

 

COMMON WOMBAT  -  GROWTH & FEED ESTIMATES

            Milk                 Age                 Body length                 Weight                         Feed  

                                    days                mm                             gm                               ml/day

 

                                    20                    65                               2                                  2

                                    40                    86                               12                                6

                                    60                    107                              45                                15

            <0.4                 80                    128                              103                              25

                                    90                    149                              151                              30

                                    100                  156                              213                              45

                                    110                  162                              291                              50

 

            Transition        111 to 113       40ml <0.4  +   2ml 0.4                                     50

            from                114 to 116       25ml <0.4  +   4ml 0.4                                     50

            <0.4 to 0.4       117 to 119       10ml <0.4  +   6ml 0.4                                     50

                                    120                  169                              387                              55

                                    130                  175                              502                              65

                                    140                  182                              640                              75

            0.4                   150                  188                              802                              90

                                    160                  195                              984                              100

                                    170                  201                              1191                            115

 

            Transition        171 to 173       60ml 0.4  +   20ml >0.6                                   80

            from                174 to 176       40ml 0.4  +   40ml >0.6                                   80

            0.4 to >0.6       177 to 179       20ml 0.4  +   60ml >0.6                                   80

                                    180                  208                              1426                            85

                                    190                  214                              1691                            100

                                    200                  221                              1936                            110

            >0.6                 210                  228                              2244                            120

                                    220                  234                  `           2584                            135

                                    230                  241                              2956                            150

Emerging from Pouch            240                  247                              3363                            160

                                    250                  254                              3783                            180

                                    260                  260                              4203                `           190

                                    270                  267                              4623                            205

                                    280                  270                              5043                            220

Fully out of Pouch       290                  280                              5463A                          230B

 

A.  Average growth rate from now is about 40g per day

B.  Milk volume now depends on other food consumed.  If uncertain about what to feed or when to commence weaning consult your Wombaroo supplier.

Provide fresh drinking water between feeds on hot days and once joey starts emerging from the pouch.

 

 

With Biolac we feel that a rough guide to transition times would be as follows-

0-800 grams- Biolac 100 GOS   NOTE: After 600 grams the baby should be checked to           

                                                                make sure that they are not becoming overheated.

800- 2 Kilo- Biolac 150

2kg to weaning- Biolac 200

 

This can vary a bit and is not as strict or rigid as with Wombaroo.  Amounts follow the 10- 15% of body weight rule.

 

NB When making up all Biolac milks, add 100ml of boiled water to the correct amount of milk powder as directed on the package.

***It is important, however, to note that the 10% to 15% only applies until the time a joey starts eating generous amounts of grass- at about 2.5 to 3kg, which would be about the weight it would emerge from the mother’s pouch.  From this point onwards, milk quantities of Biolac remain constant; approximately 300ml of 200 Biolac for a 3kg wombat spread over 3 feeds per day.  NEVER feed more than 100ml per feed as more than this is too much for a wombat’s stomach to hold comfortably (in the mother they drink small amounts often).

Also, by this weight, a wombat should be eating grass freely.  If it is full of milk it will not be hungry and will not eat enough grass.

Dr Ann Fowler states- “mother wombats do not continue to produce the same volume of milk throughout pouch life and we should look to imitate the natural situation wherever possible.  Of course as the volume of milk decreases, the amount of solid food is increasing, stimulating the change to the adult diet.”

She also states- “As the incisors have erupted by 180 d (1.4 kg) and molars are present within another 2 months, it is important to feed grasses from this age onwards”.

Feeding Older Wombats

How much grass to feed is determined by the wombat itself.

Some carers adhere to the idea that natural is best and only feed grass.  This is optimal if all the nutritional needs of the animal are met by the amount of grass it is eating- either through grazing or by being provided adequate quantities of handpicked grass.  This is our preferred option.

Other carers feel that it is important to supplementary feed foods other than grass.  ***Extreme care must be taken to only supplement with foods that are not harmful to the animal.

Some people feed carrots and sweet potato, although some wombats have had severe allergic reactions to both of these.

Other carers supplementary feed with concentrated products designed for horses. For example Economix, Cool and Calm, Extra Cool Pellets or meadow hay. These are all safe and suitable for wombats.  If you decide to use concentrated products other than these it is important that the product have very low protein content and a low Vitamin D content.

Some carers supplementary feed with rolled oats (porridge oats that humans eat, not rolled oats for horses).  Care needs to be taken not to feed too much as this is a concentrated food and can cause gas and bloating in some animals.

We have known some carers to feed such products as oaten or wheatmeal biscuits, muesli, tropical muesli, lettuce, apples, corn etc.  These foods are far too removed from a wombat’s natural diet and could cause digestive problems and so should be avoided. (Some are probably not even healthy for humans!)

A rough guide for feeding wombats is as follows,

From 0 to 800 grams- formula only- Biolac 100 GOS or Wombaroo <.4

From 800 to 2 kg- formula Biolac 150 or Wombaroo >.6 PLUS EXTRA WATER

At about 1.5 kg- introduce small amounts of grass with roots and dirt attached.

From 2 kg until Weaning- Biolac 200 or Wombaroo >.6 with extra water

From 3 kg- the wombat should be put out on grass for short periods (supervised at all times) to experiment with grazing and eating dirt.

*The maximum amount of formula for Biolac is 300 ml spread over 4 feeds at 3 kg- then 3 feeds of no more than 100 ml at 4 to 7 kg. For Wombaroo, follow the chart.  Wombats should, by this time, be eating grass freely, both grazing and handpicked.  A bowl of fresh water should be available to the animal at all times.  Grass also provides water.

From about 5 kg- a small amount of supplementary food could be offered such as oats, Economix ,meadow hay – although this is not necessary if grass supply is plentiful.

**Grass should always be the main food- approximately 80% of total diet.

NB These supplementary foods can be very helpful when grass is in short supply, such as in winter or in times of prolonged drought.  If supplementary food is used, care should be taken not to make the wombat dependent on it, especially pre release, as this food will not be available in the wild.

Other natural foods should be offered such as bark, logs, charcoal logs etc.

As the wombat eats more and more grass the amount of formula needed declines.  By about 7 kg a wombat should be eating copious amounts of grass so only 2 feeds of 100 ml each of Biolac (total daily amount 200 ml) should be offered.  Usually the wombat determines its own needs and will wean itself to one bottle and will eventually give it up altogether. 

Care should be taken with a “sooky” wombat who just loves the cuddles and the milk and wants to have a bottle forever- “tough love” may be necessary to wean him/her, just as mum would do.

Conclusion

As you can see this presentation has grown well beyond our original intention.  We would like to sincerely thank all those people, both carers and veterinarians, who took the time to respond and contribute their invaluable knowledge and experience.   It is so important for carers to be open and willing to communicate with each other, to ask questions and to share experiences.  This is the only way we can improve our caring regimes and our knowledge.  This presentation is not meant to be a “be all and end all” or a set of “must” or “must nots”.  It is meant to share our knowledge and experience and that of others to strive towards best practice.  No matter how long we have been caring or how many wombats we have raised; we can always learn more and improve.  We can learn from each other if we keep communicating. That is why events such as this forum are so vital and important. We can learn also from the wombats themselves and probably much more important lessons. They can teach us so much about themselves, about how to care for them, and even about values and ethics and what is important in life, if we have an open mind and take the time to learn.  But perhaps that is another presentation waiting to be written.

Mccutcheon and Clarke - Possum Relocation

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Please Check Pouches

Please Check Pouches!

On a recent early morning drive we came upon a female wombat who had been hit by a car. She was lying on her back.

As we approached we could see she had been dead for several days.  She was very bloated.  Her stomach had expanded with gas and inverted the pouch so it looked like a balloon.  We knew there was no baby but Bill got out, turned her over and marked her.

As he turned back to the car he saw the baby lying on the road edge a few metres away.  At first we thought he was still alive as he was warm, soft and floppy but it soon became obvious that he had just died, probably within the previous half hour.  He was a beautiful one kilo boy with no obvious injuries, except a missing claw, although he was thin and dehydrated.  He must have been in the dead mum’s pouch for days until forced to crawl out by the expanding gas.  He then died of the cold.

Several cars passed us while we were there so it was obvious that many, many cars must have passed in the previous few days.  Any of these people could have saved the baby if they had bothered to checked the pouch.  Nobody bothered.  He suffered for days and died a cruel, slow death.

A baby can survive in a dead mother for several days.  Please check pouches and encourage your friends and family to check.  Teach them how to do it.  You might just save a life!!

 

Les Waterhouse

Wombat Coordinator.Please Check Pouches

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