Breeding Alpacas

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Breeding alpacas can be very rewarding! Most of the early problems attached to breeding what is, for most, an exotic animal, have been overcome. With their increasing popularity,there is now a widening differential in prices between poorer quality stock and good quality breeding stock, making it easier for potential breeders to buy stock that fits their particular dream, whether they wish to breed pet quality alpacas with their lower purchase costs and lower returns, or aim for top quality show and export stock which may cost more, but have higher returns. At The Alpaca Place, we have personal experience of turning a small, lower value herd into a large, high value herd, and we can help you develop your dreams and goals in a similar manner. So regardless of the size of your budget, we can help you realise your dream with a variety of breeding alpacas. When you buy from us, regardless of the amount you spend, you have access to our uncompromising support – call us to arrange a farm visit

Alpacas are relatively slow breeders – they have one cria per year – for physiological reasons, twins are extremely rare, and when conceived are usually aborted, stillborn or die shortly after birth. .

Females have often been mated at 12 months (if they have reached a weight of 50kg) but often appear to have less problems if left till 15-18 months before a first mating.

Most males are not ready for mating until 2 ½ – 3 years of age however males of a younger age are sometimes fertile so should be separated from females at no more than a year of age.

Ovulation in a female usually occurs as a result of copulation (alpacas are “induced ovulators” rather than having oestrus cyles as is common with most mammals”) and a single mating is usually sufficient for ovulation to occur.  Females can ovulate as a result of the stimulation of being near to a mating pair – it is not uncommon for a receptive female to sit near a mating pair.

When the female is ready for mounting she will sit in a “cush” position. The male vocally woos the female with an “orgle” (a mating song) as he mounts her from behind.  Provided the female has a follicle which is mature enough to produce an egg this stimulation will usually cause ovulation 24-48 hours after mating .

When mating is to be pen supervised, it is essential to have a pen that is adequately sized and fenced – approximately 3m x 3m with a higher than standard fence.  The female needs room to avoid the male should she not be receptive and is “spitting off”.
This state is usually signalled by the female running from the male, with ears down, and spitting either at or away from the male.  The advantages of this method of mating is that more accurate records can be kept.

Paddock mating can often be more successful if either the stud or hembra are stressed by the pen situation and therefore reject each other.  We have found inexperienced studs are more comfortable with this environment.  Less accurate records can be kept when using this system, however usually there is a resultant cria, which is the purpose of the exercise!

 

 

 

Day 1 Mate females (once)
Day 7 Conduct spitoff to detect if ovulation has occurred (informational only)
Day 14 Conduct spitoff – if female sits and is receptive allow a remate; if female rejects the male (runs away, ears down, spits), allow female to escape
Day 28 Conduct spitoff – if female sits and is receptive allow a remate; if female rejects the male (runs away, ears down, spits) allow female to escape
Day 60+ Ultrasound (external)
Every 8-12 weeks Conduct spitoff – if female sits and is receptive allow a remate; if female rejects the male (runs away, ears down, spits) allow female to escape

PREGNANT?
Pregnancy can be indicated by the female’s rejection of the male, ie. She will not sit, and will avoid the male by female running from the male, with ears down, and spitting either at or away from the male.  It is suggested that a “spit off” be organised 2 weeks after mating – if the female has not ovulated she will sit again for remating but if ovulation has occurred she will reject the male’s approaches.  A second spit off should be conducted a further two weeks on.  If the female again rejects the male it is likely that she has conceived.

A blood test for progesterone levels can be an indicator of pregnancy but it is possible to receive a false “positive” result.

Ultrasounds are the most reliable form of pregnancy detection as they show the developing foetus.  After about 60 days an external ultrasound will show a developing foetus but earlier than that it is necessary to have an (internal) transrectal scan carried out by a vet.  Not all vets are experienced or confident with carrying out this procedure on alpacas and our experience is that not all clinics have the correctly sized probes – the commonly held probes for for cattle and sheep are apparently a different size and not suitable for alpacas.

It is not until well on into the pregnancy that the foetus can be felt by palpating the abdominal wall (after 10 months).

Spit-offs should be carried out every 8-12 weeks to confirm continuing pregnancy in case the foetus has aborted or  been reabsorbed (this would usually occur within 30-60 days gestation).

Gestation is usually around 11.5 months but can vary from 11 to 12 months and is often longer for spring deliveries.

BIRTHING

BE PREPARED!
A good birthing kit will include:
The vet’s Phone number
Bubble wrap – to wrap cold cria in
Electrolyte (Vytrate/Lectade) for treating dehydration and diarrhoea
Stomach tub (18 gauge)
Bottle and teats
Anlam milk substitute
Funnel
Bottle brush
Cria coat
Cria sling (for weighing)
Scales (hanging or bathroom)
Sterile solution (eg Vircon)
Hot water bottle (or plastic milk bottles)
Resuscitator (if you have one)
Stomach tube
Cord clips
Super market bags
KY Jelly or waterbased lubricant
Paper towels
Glucose
Disposable gloves
Lightweight rope
Disinfectant
Nail clippers
Scissors
Towels
In the freezer:  plasma and colostrum
If you think of it – bring your camera!

SIGNS OF IMMINENT DELIVERY
It is not easy to see changes occurring and to predict an imminent birth, however with careful observation you may notice the following:

  • Female moves away from the rest of the herd
  • Female develops hollow flanks as the cria repositions
  • Teat & udder may look full – no so evident in maidens
  • Vulva & anus may become puffy a few days before birthing
  • Vulva lips become enlarged and elongated – pink flesh becomes evident
  • A jelly-like cervix plug is expelled (birth is likely today or tomorrow)

Alpacas usually give birth standing up but some females deliver in a recumbent position.

Stage 1 – Contractions (1-6 hours)
This is often characterised by restlessness – the female will stand up and sit down repeatedly and make frequent trips to the dung pile.  During this stage the vulva will become enlarged and elongated.
Stage 2 – Birth. The cria enters the birth canal and the cria is pushed out.
This usually takes about 30 minutes after the appearance of the head and legs; maidens may be a little bit longer)
During this stage the female may rest for brief periods by sitting or lying down.  She may graze.
The cria usually emerges head and front feet first (The cria should look as if it is diving towards the ground) and may hang from the female for around 5 minutes as fluid and mucous drain from the mouth.
Note:

  • If the cria is looking skyward and its feet pads are facing upwards the cria is upside down – call the vet!
  • Occasionally crias present backwards.  If you are not confident – call the vet! Pulling may cause permanent internal damage.

Once the shoulders emerge the cria will drop to the ground and the placenta cord will break.

The cria is covered in a fine membrane which should disintegrate without assistance. The female will not lick it clean.
Stage 3 – Expulsion of the Placenta (1 hour after birth).
If this does not occur within 6 hours of birth call the vet; uterine contractions may need to be kick started by oxytocin injection. Do not pull on the placenta.

Check that the expelled placenta is complete with no pieces missing (retained in the uterus).  Both sides of the uterine horns should be evident.

Milk flow improves after expulsion of the placenta.

CRIA CHECK:

Normal progress:

  • Sitting in “cush” position within 10 minutes
  • Standing within three hours
  • Suckling within four hours

Possible Problems:
Check the breathing – laboured, gurgling breathing means there may be mucus that hasn’t drained completely.   Wipe away any exterior mucus from the nose and mouth. Use an aspirator if you have one, otherwise hold cria upside down and tap the chest with your hand to clear the mucus from the airways.

Mother may be slow in coming into milk or even lose milk supply.  The only way to know is to weigh the cria daily. Suckling is not necessarily an indicator that the cria is feeding – it may indicate that it is not getting sufficient, and is continually trying for food. Bottle feed with Anlam until no longer required.

The cria should be lively and active and gaining weight at least 150g per day.
(The cria may lose weight in the first day or two but this should then reverse).

Check bowels are moving by the second day.  If there are problems massage the anus with petroleum jelly or give 1ml of olive oil in milk.

Temperature control may be poor for the first few days.  Cover with a cria coat at night or if the daytime is wet and/or cold.  Normal temperature should be 36.8 to 38.6C.

The cria should be lively and active and gaining weight at least 150g per day.

 

MAXIMISE THE LIKELIHOOD OF SURVIVAL

If your cria is weak there are a number of things you can do to help it survive:

  • Keep it with its mother.  If possible put them in a shelter shed,  along with another adult alpaca to keep the mother company.
  • Keep the cria warm – put on a cria coat, wrap the cria in bubble wrap and place in a box or container with warm hot water bottles (or milk bottles filled with warm water which are more stable) covered with alpaca wool or hay.
  • Check for laboured breathing – make sure airways are clear of mucus (see above)
  • Get your vet to administer plasma.
  • Supplement feed with Anlam – offer 6 feeds a day,  four hourly, except at night.  On the first night only we would do a 2am feed as well. The cria should feed 10% of its body weight every day so with 6 feeds a day a 6kg cria should take 100mls at each feed.  Once feeding well off its mother a cria will reject Anlam.
  • If you don’t administer plasma (which apart from a protein and energy boost provides necessary antibodies), and the cria is largely drinking from a bottle, it must have colostrum within 24 hours of birth.  This can be an artificial substitute such as Colozen, or cow, goat or sheep colostrum.  Colostrum  is essential to give the cria antibodies with  which to fight infection.
  • On hot, sunny days, watch for symptoms of heat stress in newborn cria (cria lying collapsed in sun, limp, unresponsive, high temperature). Immediate action is required to save your cria.
  • Weigh the cria regularly (daily, at least) to monitor progress
  • If, in the end, you hand rear a cria remember that the cria will behave as an alpaca provided it is reared correctly:
  • Don’t pet them
  • Don’t isolate them from the herd

Hand reared males who are petted and not kept within the herd  may develop “novice handler syndrome” whereby they will act aggressively toward humans in the same way as they would towards other male alpacas.  Such alpacas become dangerous and almost always have to be destroyed. You are not doing your cria any favours by imposing human socialisation on them.

Your alpacas will be friendly (but respectful) if you in turn respect their space and do not grab at them unexpectedly or try to fondle them while you are in their territory out in the paddock.  They will learn to trust you not to touch them and will come right up to you even out in the paddock.

Interested in colour inheritance in alpacas? Alpacas.com provides an indepth article on breeding colours.

Interested in buying breeding alpacas? The Alpaca Place can supply your needs, from buget priced entry level females, to export quality and show winning breeding stock. Contact us to see how we can help you realise your dreams and requirements