Whether you are new to alpacas or an experienced breeder the birth of a cria is one of the most stressful and exciting experiences you will have .
In most cases the birth will go normally and mum and bub will go on to thrive, but in a small number of cases problems will arise.
The most difficult situations for any breeder is not knowing what is normal for a particular dam, ie first time mothers or animals that you have recently purchased. Although there are plenty of books out there explaining what should be expected each dam will be a little different, some will hum while in labour, others are silent and will give little warning of impending birth.
The length of gestation can vary significantly between dams and can be affected by environmental conditions and the general health of the dam. The waiting can be the most frustrating period of all.
Dystocia (malpresentation of the cria) is the most common problem associated with birthing. With experience most breeders can intervene and reposition the cria to allow for the delivery to proceed. In severe dystocia veterinary attention is required.
Once the cria has been delivered there are a number of precautions that should be taken to help esure that the new born remains healthy.
- Spray the cord with vetadine or similar solution to minimise the chance of infection being transmitted via the cord.
- Check that the dam has passed the full placenta withing 6 hrs of birth. Seek veterinary advice if you are not sure how to treat the dam.
- Check that the dam has dropped her milk
- Check to see if the cria has a strong sucking action, by trying to get the cria to suck on a finger.
- Ensure that the cria is strong enough to stand and get drinks from mum.
In most cases if you can tick all of these boxes the cria will thrive will little or no intervention. One of the biggest concerns for new breeders is that they may prevent the mother and baby from bonding if they intervene. In more than 20 years of breeding we have only experienced this on one occasion, and that was a maiden female, it only happened with the first cria, she has been a great mum ever since.
Some mothers are particularly protective of their young and you may end up smelly and green, but checking the cria to see that there no signs of weakness or trauma from birth is key to having healthy strong cria. The mothering instinct in alpacas is very strong, even if you are forced to remove the cria for attention, the dams rarely abandon them and willingly take them back when returned.
Cria hydration is critial in warm weather, try to keep new born cria in the shade as it won’t take long for the cria to dehydrate in the sun even on a relatively mild day. It’s normal for newborn cria to get short drinks regular and often. If you notice cria sitting for extended periods of time without getting a drink, you should check for dehydration, pinch the skin, hydrated skin springs back, but dehydrated skin takes longer to spring back. If you identify that the cria is dehydrated, check the temperature as it may also be hyperthermic. If hyperthermic, attempt to reduce the temperature before administering any other treatment. If the temperature remains to high for too long organs will begin shutting down. Unless you have experience in dealing with dehydrated hyperthermic cria you should seek veterinary advice.
This advice also applies to cria that are too cold (hypothermic). Always deal with getting body temp to normal before undertaking any other action.
It is not uncommon for maidens or dams that have had difficult births to take longer than normal to drop their milk. In these circumstances it is important to feed the cria an alternative source of colostrum. Seek veterinary advice on how to treat the dam. You can also manually stimulate milk production by attempting to milk the dam. You may need to undertake some supplementary feeding until a good consistent supply of milk is established.In instances where the dam cannot provide sufficient milk for the cria to thrive, it may be necessary to remove the cria and hand raise it. We have found that on occasions when we have attempted to keep mum and bub together, the cria rejects the bottle.
There is nothing more rewarding than seeing cria thrive, but even after taking all of these precautions things can go wrong. Like all newborns they are fragile and they can go down quickly, unfortunately some of these cria won’t survive, but if you have taken these simple steps you have given them the best chance.