Breeding, Delivery, and Cria Care
The best place to begin is to define goals to produce top quality breeding stock. Primary goals should be excellent conformation, good bone density, overall health, and high fertility rates. Secondary goals should relate to the characteristics you wish to produce: size, color, disposition, or fiber features, such as low micron, density, and volume.
Selecting the male(s) to reach your goals is most important. The real test of any herd sire is in his offspring. A pre-potent male is one who duplicates himself in the offspring of any female to which he is bred. It is essential to keep breeding records of which physical type of female is the best cross for your male. A male may cross well with a specific bloodline but not with others. An outstanding male can produce offspring that are not as good as his phenotype, and a lesser male may produce outstanding cria that is far superior to their sire! By breeding a single sire to an entire herd of females, you will get an excellent idea of how he is producing. However, you also risk breeding an undesirable trait into your herd.
Pedigree alone is not an accurate way to determine genetic superiority. Having a genetically superior and renowned grandparent may be of no value if other ancestors in the line were substandard. Highly promoted and costly alpacas do not necessarily produce the most desired offspring. Please don’t assume that the high price of an alpaca automatically means he will provide quality offspring.
Few females are being culled from the breeding population. Many owners breed any female, regardless of her quality. Because males are bred to multiple females in a given year, and a female produces only one offspring per year, it takes a longer period of time to measure the genetic capacity of the female. Her importance should not be underrated, as she is contributing 50% to the genetic makeup of her offspring. By breeding your females to complimentary studs, you can create a crossed offspring with superior qualities. A female may produce good offspring with one male, but not with another. Accurate breeding records will help you keep track of the crosses that work best with your females. Make a list of your female’s good and not so good qualities. Breed her to a sire that will improve her poor attributes. For example, a light-boned female should be bred to a heavy-boned sire known for passing along his bone density.
Certain bloodlines seem to produce males that possess superior stamina. Strong, aggressive breeding males are highly desirable, especially for hard to breed females. A difficult female who refuses to lie down for a male cannot be convinced by a shy, weak suitor.
In females, breeding stamina can be defined as having easy births, the ability to settle quickly, good milk production, and excellent mothering skills. Females are able to produce one offspring per year, with no lapses. Any female that has not had a cria for more than two years needs a thorough reproductive exam by a qualified camelid veterinarian.
In nature, a dominant male establishes his territory and guards his herd of females. He drives away all intruders as well as any young males when they reach maturity. Young, mature females are claimed by dominant males in other herds (which reduces line breeding). Young males herd together with other young, non-dominant males.
Pasture breeding has been derived from wild habits. Domestically, the breeder decides which male will be the dominant male. With enough separate pastures, several herds are formed, and thus several studs can be utilized at the same time. This form of group breeding allows the herd’s natural social structure to develop. A dominant female will usually keep the male in his place but will allow him to protect the herd and breed other open females.
The advantages to group pasture breeding are that the male is left alone to keep the open females bred and will breed any new female entering the herd. This is a great way to reduce stress for breeding females. You lose no time while dealing with unbred females. The disadvantages are that some males lose interest when they are housed with familiar females and may not breed open females as readily. When breeding many females, the male’s sperm count may drop, taking several days to recover to normal. Additionally, the breeder may only have an estimated date of breeding.
Hand breeding provides more control, and the breeder will know exact breeding dates. Males are territorial—they are most dominant in their pasture or paddock. An inexperienced male will benefit from staying in his area and having the female brought to him. Hand breeding entails haltering and leading the female to the male’s paddock. When the male settles into breeding position, it’s a good time for a coffee break as the typical breeding lasts twenty to forty-five minutes.
When the breeding is complete, remove the female. Reintroduce her FOUR days later to check behavior. If she is very receptive and cushes again, she has not ovulated and should breed again. Fifty percent of the time, your female will conceive on this second breeding. Reintroduce her again in TWELVE days post-breeding. Most alpaca ovulations last seven to fourteen days. If the female still refuses, reintroduce her again on day FOURTEEN. You hope she will refuse again. If not, she still isn’t cycling. If she is still refusing after three weeks, ask your vet to take blood for progesterone or to perform an ultrasound to determine pregnancy.
The advantages to hand breeding are that it may enable a female to conceive in just one attempt and also lessens the chance of injury or infection to the female. You can inspect for infections prior to breeding and take care of any problems. As the breeder, you choose the site of mating. You can monitor the male while he is breeding to ensure proper positioning and entry. You can schedule births to occur within a certain period. Specific due dates keep your “cria watch” days to a minimum.
The disadvantages are that human intervention may cause stress to the female. Removal from her regular companions and excessive handling all promote stress. Farms usually hand breed when outside females are brought in to be bred with a specific male. Females held open for more than sixty days to accommodate specific males may be harder to breed back.
Finally, some farms use a combination of hand breeding and pasture breeding practices. Hand breed for the initial introduction to ensure that breeding has taken place. This is particularly useful with a maiden female or a female who is overly protective of her cria. After hand breeding, leave the male and female alone in the pasture for FOURTEEN days. If the female did not ovulate after the first breeding, the male will rebreed her.
You can use progesterone testing to determine if your female has ovulated. If not, retest her every seven to ten days while she still lives with the male. When ovulation has occurred, return her to her female herd. Retest her again at twenty-one to twenty-eight days for progesterone levels to determine pregnancy. Many farms don’t believe progesterone testing is accurate and rely only on behavior testing and ultrasound conducted at sixty days post-breeding.
When considering the best breeding method for your farm, consider each alpaca’s personality, the vigor of the male’s libido, your facilities, and the number of females to be bred. Many breeders use a combination of methods to reduce herd stress and keep birthing schedules on time.
In Florida, most alpaca breeders do not breed year-round, instead, they wait until the colder months of December through May. The idea is for the pregnant female not to have her final trimester of pregnancy during the hottest months of the year. Heat stress can cause miscarriages, premature births, and low birth weights.
The causes for infertility in females can be mental, physical, breeding schedule, or a combination of these. While most open females will flop down reasonably quickly for a male, a few want or need a certain amount of foreplay or chase. When placed into a small area with a male, they show a big refusal almost like they were pregnant. When the same female is put in a large pasture, if the male keeps up with her for three or four laps, she will allow normal breeding. This “test of stamina” goes back 6,000 years to times before domestication when sires were picked by the female instead of humans. Another mental challenge is when certain females don’t like certain males. Typically, an older female that is refusing the selected stud in a big way may cush readily for a different stud. When this occurs, try the game of “bait and switch” where the stud she likes is brought in to get her into position and then pulled off, and the chosen stud enters the pen. This needs to happen rather quickly because, with all the activity, some females won’t stay in the cushed position for long.
The physical challenges for female fertility have to do with age, development, nutrition, stress, infections, and hormone deficiency, and in some cases, several of these seem to be interrelated. If you are having challenges, again, we recommend a complete reproductive workup by a qualified camelid veterinarian.
Alpacas have a gestation length of 335 to 365 days, with 350 days as a mean average. As the time of birth approaches, you may notice some, all or none of the following signs:
enlargement of teats,
relaxation and puffiness around the vulva
will separate herself from the herd
lots of moaning
showing more signs of discomfort, getting up and lying down frequently
will go to the poop pile a lot, and strain
not coming to the feed
feet or nose sticking out (sure sign)
Most births occur during daylight hours. If birthing at night, there could be a higher incidence of dystocia ( any difficult birth is called dystocia) - but not always. Often the alpaca will show labor-like symptoms two weeks before the baby is due. She may lay down with her hind legs kicked out to the side and appear uncomfortable. The vulva will stretch, and you may see its pink lining. It does not necessarily mean that delivery is imminent, but if she seems to be straining, she may be in labor. Watch her closely. Most likely, she will begin to act normal again in a short while but is she continues to strain or see amniotic fluid leaking from the vulva, be prepared for delivery.
If you have a male living with your female, be sure to remove him from her pasture before she is due. He could try to breed her while she is giving birth, which could be a bad situation for mother and baby. When the female starts having a contraction, within a short time, you should see the water sac bulging from the vulva, followed by the nose and front feet (hopefully). At this stage, things usually move quickly, and the baby should be out within 30 minutes or less.
*If it takes longer, be prepared to help.
*If you have not been able to resolve the problem within 15 minutes, call the vet.
*If you see the tail or back feet come out first, do not wait, call the vet immediately.
*If you don't have any experience with birthing, as soon as the alpaca goes into labor, call the vet to see if he will be available come should you need him. He could be out of town or whatever, and you need time to locate an alternate vet.
One of the most difficult decision is deciding if your alpaca is having a difficult birth and needs help. It is sometimes hard to figure out if the alpaca is really in labor, let alone figuring out is she is having dystocia. After the mother has given birth, make sure she passes her placenta. She will usually do so within the hour. If she has not passed it within about 6 hours, you need to call the vet. Never pull on any membranes that are hanging out, you could cause some damage.
What to have on hand
The following is a list of first aid supplies to have on hand for both regular and problem deliveries:
TOOLBOX (or anything else to keep all supplies in one place)
gauze pads or paper towels
disposable plastic gloves (long and short)
Vetrap for tail wraps
film canister for treating navel
navel clamp or dental floss
baby bottle and nipples
l6" puppy feeding tube and Lady Clairol bottle
SMALL WATER PAIL
COLOSTRUM in freezer
VET'S PHONE NUMBER
DR.BRAD SMITH'S BOOK "LLAMA AND ALPACA NEONATAL CARE"
Care of The Newborn
The baby is on the ground, what to do next:
Make sure it is breathing normally - no fetal membranes covering the nose. If not breathing right, pick it up by the feet and shake to get all the fluid out of the lungs.
Dip navel with 7% iodine - repeat 2 more times during the first 24 hours or until umbilicus is dried. Rub cria with a towel to dry, then step back and let the mother take over.
The baby should be up within 30 Mn (longer when it is hot) and should attempt to nurse within an hour and be nursing within no longer than 3- 4 hours. Make sure the baby is not cold or laying in the hot sun.
When the baby is dry, weigh it to get initial weight, then weigh daily for at least a week to make sure he is gaining to 1 lb per day. Many babies lose or remain the same for the first day or two, but then should gain weight. Observe and make sure it is nursing and that the mother has milk.
Make sure the baby has passed the meconium, if not give an enema. Use a human Fleet enema, or 4-8 ounces of warm water with a few drops of ivory soap is fine too.
If the cria seems lethargic and does not make much effort to nurse or seems weak, check his temperature - should be around 100 - 102F. If it is lower, warm the baby, use a hairdryer or an electric blanket, and rub him briskly with a towel. Once the temperature has become normal, start feeding the baby, either mother's milk or goat colostrum. It is best if he will drink from a bottle, if not tube feed. The main thing is to get some colostrum into the baby as soon as possible.
In most instances, unless something is wrong, after feeding or two, he will be strong enough to start nursing the mother. I usually feed the newborn 6 to 8 oz of goat colostrum at birth, it seems to give them such a jump start, and it gives me peace of mind knowing they have gotten colostrum. Within the first 24 hours of birth, the cria needs to receive a minimum of 10-15% of body weight in colostrum. So, if he is not nursing the mother, a 20 lb cria would need 32 to 48oz of colostrum. Unless it is very weak or premature, you can feed it 8oz at a time, if not feed smaller amounts more often. The main thing is to keep the baby warm and well-fed, so he can get some energy. Keep monitoring his temperature, sometimes weak babies have a hard time thermoregulating, and can easily chill. And no matter how weak the baby may be, NEVER GIVE UP, miracles happen every day.
Finally, the most important thing to remember when your llama begins to give birth is DON'T PANIC! Most of the time, there will be no problem. If you suspect a problem and delivery seems prolonged, call your vet immediately and have your llama put up in the barn or haltered, so as not to lose precious time.
Tube Feeding a Baby Alpaca
There are times when the alpaca breeder will have reason to tube feed a baby alpaca. A reluctant mother, lack of initial milk production, a weak or orphaned baby are all reasons why you should have at least some familiarity with this procedure. The newborn must have nourishment within a short time after birth and needs to receive the all-important colostrum during the first few hours of life. Here is a step-by-step method of safely intubating the young alpaca.
The required materials :
tube, syringe, or equivalent container and the fluids to be given.
Adequate tubing: There is no specific tube required, but the size should be relative to the size of the baby. The smallest tube would be of 4.0mm or approximately 3/16" in diameter. The largest
would be 8.7mm or about 1/4" in diameter (pencil size).
Rubber tubing is more flexible and more comfortable to insert than plastic and easier to pass.
A 18 inch french red rubber feeding tube which is 16" long works well in crias.
If only a longer tube is available, measure it against the neck, from the tip of the
nose to the last rib and mark the tube with a felt point pen at the lip line at the front
of the mouth.
Syringes: To administer the fluids, a squeeze type of container or a 60cc syringe will work.
Fluids: This may be colostrum, milk, or other liquids. The amount to administer will vary.
The warmth of the fluid should be at least room temperature and preferably warm the liquids to
One hundred degrees before administration. It is important not to administer it to a weak newborn at a cold temperature.
Method: Restraint is most easily accomplished by having the baby kush and the person doing the tubing kneeling astraddle of the baby's back, with little or no pressure on the baby. Keep the baby's head level, not up.
Getting the tube into the wrong place is somewhat difficult. With a bit of patience, the baby will help get the tube in the right place by swallowing the tube. It is helpful to lubricate the tube
slightly with either a small amount of honey, syrup or a little KY jelly, applied to the first four inches of the tube.
Bend over and hold the baby's head in your left hand. Squeeze the sides of the lips from side to side about halfway back on the mouth; this causes the mouth to open slightly; be gentle. Insert the tube (unattached) into the mouth, over the top of the tongue, and slowly feed the tube in, allowing the baby to swallow the tube as you feed it in.
After you have fed in about 10 to 12 inches of tubing, you should be able to feel and probably see the tube passing down the throat. Firmly apply "four finger" pressure on the throat to the left of center, on the front of the neck, just to the left of the hard-tube-like structure of the trachea or windpipe.
If you can feel the rubber tubing sliding down (move it up and down to be sure), you are in the correct location. If you are not sure of the placement, do not hesitate to withdraw the tube and begin again. If a cough is stimulated, it possibly means you are in the trachea; remove and start again.
After the tube has been inserted in the right place, then attach the bottle or syringe. If you are using a shorter length of tubing, you should administer the fluids more slowly, allowing them to flow down the remainder of the esophagus into the stomach. If you are using a previously marked stomach length tube, feed the length into the lip mark. With a tube into the stomach, the fluids can be administered rather rapidly.
The removal of the tube is an important step. Kink the end of the tube or, if a larger-bore tube, hold your finger or thumb over the end during removal to prevent leakage of milk or other fluids as the tube is removed. This "leakage" could get into the trachea. Keep the tube "plugged" this way until it is completely out of the mouth. All of the items used in tubing do not need to be sterile but should be cleaned thoroughly with soap and water and rinsed well before and after each use.
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