Alpaca Farming on Lifestyle Farms - Part Five: From unpacking to weaning

Birth
 

You may want to be around when the cria is born in case anything goes wrong, but alpacas are very good at ‘unpacking’ in the wee small hours of the morning.  That’s probably a good thing, because in many cases the less interference the better!

There are three birthing stages: 

  • The first stage is when contractions begin.  The female starts to look anxious and she goes off on her own.  She may urinate frequently and get up and down a lot.  This stage may take 2 to 6 hours.
  • In the second stage, contractions cause the cria to leave the womb and enter the birth canal.   The female may be lying or standing.  The cria should be in a ‘diving’ position with its front legs and head and neck extended, and the birth itself is then straight-forward.  The cria should be born within half and hour of entering the birth canal.  For first time mothers it may take up to an hour.
  • In the third stage of the process, the placenta is delivered, along with a large bag full of fluid.  The placenta should be passed within an hour of the birth.  When the cria is born it may have membrane over its head, but its struggles almost always free it quickly.  If not, you could help remove the membranes.

Fortunately birth problems (dystocia) are not common in alpacas.  Occasionally the cria’s head is bent to one side or it may be coming tail first or hind feet first.  The birth canal of alpacas is relatively narrow and easily damaged so don’t be tempted to struggle with any tricky problems yourself. 

Call your vet:

  • if there is any delay in any of the birthing stages
  • if the foetus in the birth canal seems to be in an abnormal position
  • if the placenta hasn’t been passed within 6 hours of the birth

Check that the placenta is complete by spreading it out (note that it doesn’t have cotyledons like sheep and cattle placentas).  If the placenta is retained, the female will need vet treatment.   

Agalactia (failure to produce milk) is relatively common in alpacas.  This is a frustrating problem for all concerned!  It takes patience to get things going and massaging the udder and milking by hand may help.  You vet can help too with oxytocin injections. 

Infertility is quite common in alpacas.  Compared with other species they have relatively more congenital faults like ovary and uterus abnormalities. 

Crias
 

Generally the newborn weighs between 4 and 12 kg.

Dysmature crias can occur.

  • They are born after an apparently normal gestation but for some reason they have not fully developed inside the uterus.  
  • They have low birth weights, un-erupted incisors, floppy ears and a silky coat.  They are often weak and find it difficult to stand and nurse.
  • They need hospitalisation with their mother, antibiotic cover, feeding by a stomach tube (colostrum is very important) and generally lots of tender loving care.

As with other young animals, it is very important that the cria gets plenty of colostrum within the first 24 hours and preferably within 12 hours of birth.  The colostrum contains antibodies to protect it from disease as well as other important nutrients for energy and growth.   

Mating after birthing
 

From 14 days after birth the female will be ready for re-mating.

When should a cria be weaned?
 

A cria is ready for weaning from its mother's milk to grass and hay by 6 months of age, by which time it should be suckling very little.  It will need other young or placid alpacas as companions. 

References
 

Alpacas: A Basic Veterinary Reference. Peter Aitken BVSc. VetLearn, Massey University 2006.
AANZ Alpaca Conference Proceedings: The Alpaca Enigma. Alpaca Association New Zealand and NZVA, July 2007

 

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