Working males (Macho) are selected on a variety of virtues: Fibre, conformation, testicular size, and often temperament. They usually start working at about 2-2 ½ years of age. Males that don’t qualify as macho are castrated and become wethers. This small operation is usually done when about 18 months old but can be done at a later age as well. In some cases, breeders wait and see how a certain male develops and may not make the decision on this until after the second fleece has been shorn. Entire males that are not castrated will develop macho behaviour and can be a problem.
Female alpaca tend to mature earlier than male alpaca. When the bodyweight is 40 to 50kg, and she is around a year old, she is ready for mating. Often a young female will show some “broodiness” when a mating is taking place, telling you that she is ready. This can also happen in younger females that have grown well, but they really need to be at least one year old to have physically matured in all ways. Some females don’t mature until 1 ½ year old, which is not considered abnormal.
From the Breed Development Subcommittee
The main reason for careful sire selection is to make the best breeding decision possible to meet your breeding goals. Every breeder is different and has different goals. Each breeder will therefore use different males to emphasise the traits that they want to reinforce. The key is identifying those traits in an animal phenotypically as well as having the scientific data to help reach that target.
There are several important things to consider when you are making mating decisions. First, you need to ensure that the male you select is certified at the time of the mating. Certification is done by a vet and includes DNA testing so that progeny can be tested to confirm parentage if necessary. Certification also ensures that the male is sound with regard to conformation which should reduce the possibility of passing on undesirable traits. Certification does not include any judgment on fleece characteristics. You need to look to other sources for fleece information. Only offspring from males certified at the time of the mating can be registered on the registry.
Your next decision may be the colour of the male you wish to use. Try to select a solid, even-coloured male, if that is your breeding goal (unless you are breeding for multi or pet alpacas).
Once you have decided on one or two possible sires, it is ideal to look at some of his progeny if possible. From them, you can judge if he is throwing "typey" offspring. Are they consistent in colour, conformation, and fleece characteristics or do they vary in the characteristics you are looking for? Is the sire leaving strong healthy cria that other breeders are retaining in their breeding herd or has he only sired a couple of wethers in someone's back paddock?
Ask other breeders what they think of available males. You will get many different opinions but it can lead to interesting conversations and it will help your selection and learning.
It is commonly suggested that the appropriate time to buy your own herd sire is when you have 10 – 14 females to be mated. You can purchase a male outright or in partnership with another breeder, lease a male or arrange to swap matings with someone else. When the time comes for sire selection, take your time, do your research and keep your own breeding goals in mind. Try not to be influenced by slick advertising but check breeding information on the Alpaca Association website, check individual breeder's websites. Many breeders have very informative websites. Visit other breeders, look at the males you are considering using and compare them with other males available. Look at the progeny and don't be afraid to ask a lot of questions. Know what you require. There is little point buying expensive matings for a multi coloured female that has a strong fleece and lacks density. On the other hand you are not making the most of a good quality female if you mate her year after year to your neighbour's coarse spotty male that narrowly missed being neutered. One of the main reasons for careful sire selection in this industry, as in others, is to improve the overall quality of your herd.
In conclusion, enjoy breeding alpacas and try to select a stud male that will produce the best possible results from your female and for your breeding goals.
Alpaca carry for 11½ months, up to 12 months, and in some cases even 12½ months! They can also be about 14 days early from the predicted mating date if the cria is mature enough to be born, but in most cases those cria are a little bit dysmature. (see Birth Paddock Card link below)
A pregnant female does not look very pregnant until she is half-way through her pregnancy. The foetus develops rather quickly but is still very small up until 5 months. At 4 months the foetus is the size of a small bird, the sex is well defined, with the little ears folded over its head. At 6 months the size of a standard foetus is about 600gr or even less. At 9 months the foetus’ weight is around 2kg and has no hair growth. In the last three months the hair follicles develop in the skin. At birth the cria has a full coat of hair, teeth through the gum and a live weight of 6-10kg. The female is under a lot of pressure in the last three months of her pregnancy to produce a well grown, well fleeced cria.
The first indication that the female may be pregnant will be her refusal to sit for a male. If a pregnant female is introduced to a male, she will normally rebuff him by spitting, sometimes by screaming or by continuing to run from him. Maiden females, pregnant for the first time, will often run from the male rather than spit. The test, the ‘spit off test’ should be carried out 14 days after mating. Testing earlier will only reveal that the female has ovulated, not that she is pregnant. Confirmation of pregnancy can be carried out about 40 days after mating, by ultrasonic scanning. Several other methods are often used but don’t necessarily give an accurate diagnosis: Blood tests will diagnose raised levels of progesterone which are present in pregnant females. However, there are instances where a female can have a raised progesterone level (causing her to spit) and not be pregnant. Handheld ultrasonic probes which give an audible signal can be used, however this device simply detects fluid, so experience is needed to ensure the device is detecting fluid in the uterus rather than the bladder. Alpacas tend to lose or absorb embryos, particularly in the first months of pregnancy. Therefore, repeat testing through the pregnancy can save you being disappointed later.