BIRTHS AND NEONATAL CARE

Births are normally straightforward. There are 3 stages of labour. The first begins with cervical relaxation and uterine contractions.

The second is the bearing down stage and the third the expulsion of the placenta.

The first stage can take some time, approximately 4 to 6 hours in maidens. The older females take less. There are exceptions as some females give very little warning before going into second stage labour. Signs to look for are agitation, vocalizing and constant trips to the dung pile.

Second stage should take no more than 20 minutes to half an hour particularly after the nose or legs are showing. If it takes longer you may need to assist or bring in a vet. When the cria is born it is a good idea to make sure it is breathing properly and the birth sack is not over its nose. Then let the female bond with the cria. The cria needs to get the first feed or colostrum in the first couple of hours. Sometimes if the cria is not suckling it is a good idea to give it 70 mls of Divetalact or some other artificial animal formula (glucose can be used if there is nothing else) to get it stimulated. Always remember if there is no sucking reflex do not force the fluid down the cria`s throat. You may have to warm it up to get the reflex going. Once the cria is suckling make sure it has urinated and defecated. If everything is ok monitor the cria in the coming days to make sure it is getting enough to drink and is gaining weight.

It is a good idea to carry colostrum in the freezer in case the female does not make milk. Do not defrost colostrum in the microwave. Put in a glass and put the glass in hot water. It is also a good idea to put tincture of iodine on the cria`s navel soon after birth. This may prevent the cria picking up an infection.

BOTTLE FEEDING

Cria can be successfully fed artificially if they become orphaned or their mother is providing insufficient quantities of milk to sustain the cria. Colostrum can be stored in the freezer for the initial feed followed by a low lactose animal formula i.e. Divetelact.

Directions for mixing will be on the product. This can be fed to the cria up to about 6 weeks and the cria can then be phased onto a good quality calf feed, as this is a cheaper alternative. The cria can then be fed on until 4 to 5 months and subsequently weaned.

HUMANISATION

Be careful when you are rearing your cria that you do not humanize it, as this can become dangerous later when they are fully-grown. This can be a problem with both male and female alpacas. It is however a greater problem with males. It is best to let the cria mix with it ' s own kind during the day and you feed it in the paddock. It is a temptation because they are cute to make a pet of them. Males can become quite aggressive to humans as they grow and females can become jealous to the point that they jump up on you and knock you down.

MATINGS

Females can be mated 14 to 21 days after giving birth. This seems to be the most appropriate time, as holding them off can sometimes make them more difficult to get pregnant. The female can also loose weight as she puts more into a growing cria. It is always easier to get a pregnancy on an upward plain of nutrition. Maidens can be mated from 12 months onwards provided they are large enough. Once again you do not want to stunt the growth of your female by getting pregnant too early. It is critical to make sure your females are being well fed at this time. They need to be at a fat score of two and a half or above if possible.

Make sure you have done your homework on which male you are going to mate your female to, well in advance of her giving birth. This is provided you do not have your own male.

SPIT OFFS

After the female has been mated it is a good idea to test her with a male every 12 days. This is the optimum time we have found to pick up any females that have not fallen pregnant. Females all react differently when tested with a male. Most spit and run, but others will stand and fight. A few when cornered will actually sit. It takes time to recognize all of these reactions, and it is a good idea to witness testing at another breeder ' s property. If you have an aggressive male it may pay you to have him on a lead, as you do not want him knocking the females about. We religiously test our females every 12 days for 2 months.

ULTRASOUNDING

This can best be done at about 60 days to make sure you have a pregnancy. A small number of females can have a retained corpus luteum (the mechanism set up to protect a pregnancy) and not be pregnant. Remember though, that because you have a pregnancy today does not guarantee that it will carry full time. However 60 days appears to be the critical time and not many abort after this time.  

RECORD KEEPING  

Always record the mating so you will have some idea when your female will cria. Most alpaca pregnancy charts show the gestation at 335 days. Very few females go this time; it is only a guide. Most females carry longer, but very few will take less. Thus it is a good idea to regularly monitor your females. An interesting thing about alpacas is that they seem to take an extra 2 weeks on average in the spring compared with the autumn. Record the birth of the cria and any other unusual occurrences during the birth. It may come in handy in the future. Also record anything you do to the alpacas (5in1,drenches, etc).  

WEANING AGES .

Cria should be weaned at approximately 5 months old. Females begin to push off their crias from 4 to 5 months but it can take till 7 or 8 months if the crias are not isolated from their mothers. Some females may never totally wean their crias without isolation. Provided the physical condition of the female is not poor this may not be a problem however you do not want a weanling pinching milk from its mother when she has a new cria.  

VACCINATIONS

A vaccine called 5in1 is used to vaccinate alpacas against the Clostridial diseases Pulpy Kidney (Enterotoxaemia), Tetanus, Black Disease, Malignant Oedema, and Black Leg. Alpacas are more susceptible to Pulpy Kidney than the other four diseases. They are treated every 6 months (preferably spring and autumn) with an injection subcutaneously (under the skin) into the bare skin under the tail.

Provided the dam has been vaccinated regularly the cria needs its first 5in1 8 to 12 weeks after birth, followed 4 to 6 weeks later by a second shot (booster). Then bring them in to line with the rest of the herd.

INJECTIONS

Intramuscular injections of antibiotics, vitamins A,D & E and B1, B12 and C are all injected into the muscle where the neck meets the shoulders. The needle should only just penetrate the muscle not go right through it.

When injecting with oil based substances like Vit A,D &E and antibiotics make sure you don ' t inject straight into a blood vessel. Pull the plunger back after the needle is inserted to see if there is any blood. If there is, pull the needle out and insert again. Injection of oil based substances into blood vessels can be fatal. However water based injections like Vit B1, B12 and C are not a problem.

DRENCHING

Monitoring the physical condition coupled with checking the colour of the membrane around the eye or the gums will assist in making the decision of when to drench your alpacas for worms. It is a good idea to drench crias shortly after weaning.

Two summer drenches are also required. One at the beginning of summer as the grass starts to dry off and the second about 8 weeks later. The idea is to reduce the worm burden when the ground is dry. Worms require moist ground to survive and enable them to reinfest livestock.

Drenching for fluke may be necessary in your area (check with the locals). It takes 8 weeks from ingestion for the fluke to complete its cycle inside the alpaca. Therefore 2 or 3 drenches over summer are necessary. Fluke is not a problem during winter, as it cannot survive the frosts.

Drenches used for worms are Valbazen and Ivomec. Those used for fluke are Fasinex and Flukecare.

HEAT STRESS

Alpacas require shade and water to keep cool in the summer and preferably they should be shorn. Always make sure that a newborn cria does not lie out in the sun particularly if it is hot. It can dehydrate. Adults are much better at adjusting their body temperature and will seek shade and water provided it is available.

HYPOTHERMIA

Alpacas just off shears in the cooler part of the year and sometimes during a cold snap in late spring or autumn can be susceptible to cold stress or hypothermia. Good physical condition, shedding and even using raised combs during shearing can guard against this. Cold or wind on its own is not necessarily a problem; it is wind and rain together that create the situation (wind chill factor). Young cria when first born and in the first week of life can also be susceptible. It is critical that cria born in cold conditions get to drink in the first hour or so of life to help it warm up. It may be necessary to coat the cria, and if it is too cold to drink, it can be warmed up by placing it in a bath of warm water (not hot you must be able to get your hands in the water) This will bring the cria`s body temperature up, and it will get it ' s sucking reflex.

STAGGERS

Commonly called rye grass staggers. This is a thiamine deficiency often brought on by endophytes (fungus) on rye grass. The alpaca initially has an almost imperceptible tremor of the head, which slowly gets worse and the animal if untreated will then start to stagger and even fall over. Taking the affected alpaca off green feed and feeding hay and water only easily treats this. Treat adults with 3 mls B1 for 3 days and 1 ml B12 on the first day. If symptoms persist repeat the treatment. It is advisable to keep the alpaca off green feed for at least a week. Cria in the above situation receive 2 mls B1 and 1 ml .B12.

This malady is seldom fatal unless the animal falls in a dam and drowns. Recovery is usually quite rapid. The condition may be hereditary and occurs mostly in younger animals. The older ones seem to grow out of it. It may also have something to do with the grazing patterns of an alpaca. It normally occurs in the autumn with the first flush of green feed.

VITAMIN D

This deficiency occurs through the inability to take in vitamin D from sunlight. It appears to have more to do with altitude than actual sunlight. Alpacas need vitamin D to enable them to absorb calcium and magnesium required for skeletal development. The denser fleeced an animal becomes the more it requires. If it is getting insufficient the animal will put the available vitamin D into its fleece and the skeleton suffers. This can cause quite bad deviations in the legs if left unchecked.

The animal needs to be treated with vitamin D usually in injectable form but can also be given orally. This is a problem that is improving, as alpacas become adapted to the Australian environment. Cattle and sheep have had 200 years to adapt. Alpacas will also, in time.

BODY SCORING

Alpacas need to be in good physical condition to breed and to produce quality fibre. Monitoring of body condition can easily be done by checking the fat cover on the short rib and giving a fat score of 1 to 5. 1 is emaciated, 5 is obese. A good rule of thumb for healthy animals is:

paddock fed alpacas- score 2.5 to 3.5

Show animals – score3 to 4.

REMEMBER-OBESE ANIMALS ARE AS MUCH AT RISK OF DEATH AS EMACIATED ONES.

SHEARING

Alpacas should be shorn every 12 months. If we do not do this we have no idea how commercial our animals are and what matings to make to improve the quality and quantity of the fleece. Over fleeced animals do not do as well as those that are shorn and growth in young animals can be stunted if they are not shorn for 2 years. Remember this is ultimately a commercial fleece industry not an animal industry. You will increase the value of your flock if you know how much fleece they cut and improve on it.

FOOT PARING

Some feet may need to be pared if they become long and turned over. It is not difficult as the alpaca has a nail similar to your own or a dog. All that is required is to pare the nail back to the level of the pad. The feet can be pared at shearing or they can be individually picked up and pared as you would for a horse.

TEETH

Teeth as a general rule do not need trimming. However some alpacas particularly older ones can have teeth that protrude past the pad of the mouth. If they become too long they may need to be trimmed. This is probably best done at shearing time. A piece of poly pipe or mouth guard is placed in the mouth and the teeth are trimmed preferably with a dremel tool (an engraving tool) individually. The teeth only have enamel on one side so they can also be trimmed with a very sharp pair of wire cutters. This is probably the best thing to use when removing the fighting teeth from the males.

EAR TAGGING

This is to identify each cria for record keeping. The tag must be placed towards the base of the ear between the two major blood vessels. Too far from the base and the tag drags the ear down. Too close to the edge of the ear and it can be pulled out.

CASTRATION CRITERIA

Male cria need to be weaned by 5 months and can be castrated anywhere from 6 to 12 months. Any males you may be considering keeping can be kept entire until 18 months to 2 years to enable you to assess their fleece and confirmation and then castrated if they do not make the grade. Entire males can be a nuisance (e.g.: unwanted pregnancies, aggression, hard to handle, fleece deteriorates). A couple of bad cases I know of that occurred when males were left uncastrated were the rape and subsequent deaths of a pregnant female and a young male by a group of males.

FITTING OF HALTERS  

Halters must fit comfortably and be neither too tight nor too loose. If the halter is too tight across the muzzle it can restrict an alpacas breathing causing stress. If it is too loose it can pull down over the muzzle or the eyes of the alpaca.

Back to Top