The Breeding Alpaca

The breeding physiology of alpacas (and other camelids) is unique. Unlike other livestock who breed standing up for only a few minutes, alpacas breed on the ground for 10 to 50 minutes. The female is in a “cushed” (sternal) position and the male is lying on top of her. alpacas are also different because they are induced ovulators. This means that the female will not ovulate until she is bred by the male. The act of breeding stimulates neural pathways in the female which then cause the release of hormones that cause the follicle to ovulate.

A receptive female and an interested male are placed together in some way depending on breeding management. Often at the first sight of the female, the male will begin to orgle in an attempt to court the female. Orgling will continue throughout the entire act of breeding. The male (especially if he is more experienced) will smell under the tail of the female to check and see if she is receptive before proceeding. He can tell this by both her behavior and the way she smells to him. He then approaches her from behind and mounts her to encourage her to lay down for breeding. It should only take 1 to 2 minutes for a female to “go down” for the male if she is receptive. Maiden females are the only exception. They may take slightly longer (2 to 3 minutes) because they are unsure of the situation. A female who does not “go down” for the male within these time frames is less likely to have a mature follicle and thus, is less likely to ovulate and become pregnant. Better to try again in a few days.

Typically, an experienced female will be receptive anywhere from 18-21 days after giving birth. Sometimes it may take a couple of meetings to ensure a successful breeding. Once a female is assumed pregnant an ultrasound after 60 days is more of a guarantee to determine pregnancy. We practice a spit test from the male. Putting a male and a pregnant female together, the female will not cush nor let him try to mount. Instead, she will be very aggressive toward him or run away spitting. To us, this is a good indication she is pregnant.

The Baby (Cria) Alpaca
What is a cria?
A cria is what an alpaca or llama baby is called.  Alpaca babies can be anywhere from 18 to 25 pounds at birth. Average gestation for an alpaca has a longer window than most other animals and can go anywhere from 330-370 days. Evaluation of the cria to see if it is premature or dysmature is more critical and necessary than the actual length of gestation. Keeping good breeding records is essential since a female will typically give birth in the same time frame year after year except during her maiden year.

Although 90% of birthing is straight forward and the mom takes care of everything with no need of your intervention you should be prepared to help if necessary. I strongly suggest you take any birthing clinic you can. If there are not any near by why not host one your selves or take an on-line course. Let other breeders know you are having one, it’s a good way to meet people and start net working with others in the industry.

Birthing Kit to have on hand and ready to grab. In it you should have

  •     vets phone number
  •     towels for drying cria
  •     blow dryer
  •     cria coat
  •     7%Iodine in 35 mm film canister
  •     sterol latex gloves
  •     vet wrap
  •     cria nipples & bottle to fit nipple
  •     red tube with catheter tip (60cc syringe) in case you need to tube the cria.
  •     lubricant
  •     digital thermometer.
  •     goat colostrum.
  •     pen and paper for taking notes

Sighs of pre-labor can be

  •     the Mammary glands enlarge (called bagging up
  •     the belly takes on a different shape seems to drop.
  •     Vagina may look larger, pink,elongated and open.
  •     their hip bones seem to stick out more.
  •     they seem irritable with lots of humming.
  •     they are lying down and appearing uncomfortable.
  •     the length of last pregnancy can be good indicator but not always.

A wise experienced farmer once told me that unless you see something coming out the back end of the mother there isn’t much you can do. One thing alpacas teach us is patience that is for sure. With gestation period of eleven and half months give or take a month it can be a long wait. The one thing you can do is make sure there is always some one around to keep an eye on them once they come into that time frame. I have heard the story to many times of surprise births and the cria might have made it if someone had been there to call for help or just help get a leg straighten out.

Active labor

One of the great things about alpacas is that they birth around lunch time give or take four hours. I think they developed this because they originate from the high Andes mountains, if a cria is born to early it will freeze and to late it will not be dry in time for night and would freeze. It is very uncommon for alpacas to birth in the evening or during the night but it does happen sometimes.

Stage one of labor are

  •     Amniotic fluid leaking from vulva
  •     noticeable bulging and softening of the perineum (genital area)
  •     interest of the rest of the herd in her hindquarters
  •     restlessness
  •     lack of appetite
  •     lack of cud chewing
  •     frequent trips to the dung pile, sometimes without peeing or pooping.
  •     frequent trips to water trough
  •     rolling
  •     getting up and lying down frequently
  •     increased humming
  •     lying down with hind legs kicked out to one side
  •     kicking at her belly with hind feet

The period of Stage one labor can last between 1 to 6 hours, but 2 is more average.

Stage two labor

Stage 2 labor is the actual birthing process which is pretty fast about 30 to 60 minutes.

You should see a bulge from the vagina which is the membranes or sack you may see feet pointed down and or a noise with lots of fluid around it. You can see the contractions and sometimes the mother may groan and be humming with them. If everything is progressing normally there is not much for you to do but wait. Once the hips are pasted the umbilical cord brakes and out should slid your brand new cria.

The mother may have the cria standing or cushed and perhaps she might get up and down while in the middle of delivering. She may stop and eat grass not to worry all is normal. If you see she is stressed by the interest of the rests of the herd you may want to separate her with a few of her friends to keep company in a smaller clean pen. Remember that alpacas are herd animals and get their sense of security from being part of the herd.

Stage three labor

After the baby is delivered, the placenta will be expelled. Normally this should happen within the first hour after delivery. The mom may appear uncomfortable and may not allow the baby to nurse until it is expelled. While the mom is having a well deserved rest we dry off the cria, dip the cord and make sure the cria is in the sun to dry off, if there is no sun and it is cold we will blow dry. We leave them for a bit to rest and get to know each other. Her friends are put out with the rest of the herd and mom and cria have the pen to them selves.

It is very important that the cria be up and nursing as soon as possible. The nursing will stimulate the passing of the placenta and the cria will get the antibodies from moms colostrum. Once the cria is trying to get up and nurse we come back and wash moms teats and make sure the wax is off the nipples, called clearing the dame. We get the cria sucking and give her a baby suppository to help it pass the black tarry substance which can be very hard to pass and then leave them alone for some bonding time. By this time the placenta is usually passed we examine it to make sure there are no missing sections which could still be inside the mom and cause problems later. We weight the cria daily for about a month and then once a week for the first three months and then monthly thereafter.