Information and advice from the RVC Farm Animal Clinical Centre on Alpaca and cria care before and immediately after birthing.
Breeding alpacas can be a fun and exciting time but it is important to be prepared for what is to come well ahead of time and ensure a plan is in place for caring for both the dam and the cria and that you have the right equipment before the birth.
Pregnant females should be up to date with their vaccinations and on a proper de-worming programme.
Body condition score should be regularly assessed, minimally every two weeks to ensure they are not losing weight during their pregnancy. Ideally they should be a score of 3/5, certainly no less than 2.5/5.
If there are concerns regarding her weight then her nutrition and feeding should be looked at; she may need to be fed individually on an appropriate pelleted ration, in addition to her forage, or she may need more feed. Pregnancy is an energy demanding process for the growth of a healthy foetus and for her to be strong enough to give birth.
The pregnant female should be placed in the area where she will give birth, ideally at least one month before so she can get used to her surroundings and settle; usually this will be in an easily visualised pasture so she can be monitored every few hours when close to her due date.
If this is one of your first cria it may be a good idea to notify your veterinarian close to the anticipated due date so that they are also aware.
If the weather is cold or wet, it is also a good idea to have an indoor area that is dry, well lit and clean prepared to protect the cria and dam during and after birth.
Birthing supplies should also be assembled ahead of time in one easily accessed location, such as a large plastic box and should include the following items:
- Heavy duty thread to tie off umbilicus, or umbilical clamps, if needed
- Rectal thermometer
- Water based lubricant (obstetrical lubricant or KY Jelly, not a petroleum based product)
- Chlorhexidine and a small container like an old clean film canister for dipping the navel
- Cria blanket or coat
- Plastic feeding bottle and Pritchard teat ends
- Source of frozen stored colostrum or alpaca specific dried colostrum replacement
- Colostrum feeder syringe and latex tubing
- Weight scale accurate at small weights, under 10 kg
Signs of impending birth include humming, increased urination and defecation, restlessness, not eating, or lying down more.
If you notice any signs of discomfort beyond this, such as rolling or straining which is not progressing to active labour it is important to call your vet immediately.
Once active labour begins the female should deliver the cria within 30-45 minutes; you should time when she starts and if she does not progress within this timeframe, call your vet.
The placenta should be passed within 2-4 hours; do not attempt to pull on the placenta as tearing it can be dangerous, if it is not passed in 4 hours consult your vet.
Ideally the dam should be monitored from a distance with as little interference as possible, unless it is obvious she needs assistance.
Immediately after the birth, briefly check the cria’s breathing and if necessary clear any foetal membranes from around the nose and mouth. If the cria continues to struggle to breath, again this is a veterinary emergency.
After the birth
The newly born alpaca should stand within 30-60 minutes and will often nurse as well within that time, but you should make sure the cria nurses within 2-4 hours.
If the cria is strong and nursing it should be left to bond with the mother. If the cria is slow, or the weather particularly inclement, the cria should be dried and kept warm, and it’s temperature taken; if the temperature is less than 35.5°C the cria needs further warming, for example with a cria coat or under a heat lamp.
Rubbing the cria with towels will help dry it but will also help stimulate it.
The umbilicus (navel) must be dipped within the first 15 minutes. It has been shown that dipping or submerging it, is better than spraying, which can miss parts and chlorhexidine is better than iodine, which can be drying and cause more problems. Chlorhexidine should be diluted to a 0.5% solution; the author uses a 4% chlorhexidine solution and dilutes 6ml chlorhexidine in 44 ml tap water and places this in a small clean plastic container and submerges the navel fully several times.
The wash should be thrown away and made again after each succession of dips. This should be repeated twice daily for the first couple of days.
After bonding has occurred and the cria has nursed it should then be weighed; normal crias should weigh more than 5.5 kg at birth and should gain 0.25-0.5 kg /day thereafter.
The cria should nurse 1-4 times per hour and it is important to check the dam is producing milk and the cria is latching onto the teats properly, suckling and swallowing.
Colostrum is the first milk that the dam produces and is vital to the health and survival of the cria because, as well as providing energy, it contains proteins which the cria must drink and absorb for its immune system so that the cria is protected from infections in the first few months of life.
This colostrum must be taken in the first 8 hours of life for this to happen and a cria should drink 10-20% of body weight of colostrum in the first 24 hours. Any failure in this occurring, whether because the cria does not nurse or the dam does not provide, may result in fatal infections in the cria. Thus, a cria which does not nurse or a dam who has insufficient milk, is an emergency which needs dealing with swiftly, within these golden first 8 hours.
Colostrum (not milk) replacement or frozen colostrum can be used as a supplement; veterinary advice or advice from a knowledgeable breeder should be sought at this point, to ensure the cria has enough colostrum and if powdered replacement has had to be used to check the cria as this may not be enough.
If you are having to bottle feed the cria, advice should be taken, but in brief, you should aim to feed 10-20% of the body weight of the cria over 24 hours, divided into feedings every 2 hours.
A cria that will not suckle from the dam, or will not take a bottle or for any other reason you suspect has not received colostrum, is a veterinary emergency as they will not develop a good immune system and become dehydrated and develop low blood sugar very quickly and may need further intervention and support through this period.
If the cria does not nurse within 2-3 hours, assistance may be required with patience! You can try holding the dam and helping the cria attach to the nipple. If that does not work, try milking a small amount of colostrum into a small container and then placing it in a syringe and putting that in the cria’s mouth, preferably under the dam’s udder and then encourage it onto the udder.
This first colostrum milk is sticky and thick and not a drop should be wasted so do not overmilk the dam unless you have a plan for then getting the thick colostrum into the cria.
The next few days
Over the next few days it is important to make sure the cria is gaining weight, is bright and mobile and nursing well and enjoy watching them run about exploring their environment.
They should pass meconium (the first faeces) within 24-36 hours; if this has not happened, they may require an enema as a cria which is ‘blocked up’ will not nurse well.
If all is well, contact your vet in the following week to discuss starting vaccinations and parasite control, as cria and young alpacas a few months of age are particularly susceptible to parasites, such as coccidia.
Overall it should be a fun experience and is made much easier by being prepared beforehand.
Dr Alex McSloy wrote an article on this subject for Alpaca Magazine, which is produced by the British Alpaca Society. This Fact File includes the information submitted to the magazine.