Relax, birthing is a natural process and alpaca are generally capable of producing their cria with no assistance.
Usually alpaca “unpack” (give birth) during daylight hours, before 2pm. Another plus is that they are less likely to unpack when the weather is bad; they can postpone birth for days if they feel there is worse weather to come.
Although we count 335 days from the last mating date as the due date, this is only an indicator and some females can carry on up to 12 months, or even a bit more.
Be prepared. Make up a cria care birthing kit. As a minimum, include a bottle of water-based lubrication, disposable gloves, iodine of at least 2.5% solution and old towels or paper towels. Also, handy to have is disinfectant, scissors, a thermometer, and a mobile phone with your vet’s phone number programmed in.
It is advisable to keep an eye on females around their due date. If excessive behaviour such as rolling and frequently going to the dung pile persists without labour starting, there may be trouble. It could be that the cria is in a complicated position that is stopping the birth proceeding as normal. This may result in a dead cria if you don’t intervene.
Below you will see the link for the Paddock Card called Birthing - it will help you recognize signs of unpacking.
A healthy cria, even after a complicated birth, is usually up on its wobbly legs within an hour. If this is not the case, it could be too weak to stand and may be premature or dysmature (see Paddock Card Birth), and will require assistance.
There are three stages to the birthing process – preparation, birthing, placenta passing.
Stage 1 preparation is when contractions start. Usually, the female is restless and will move away from the herd. Not all alpaca show that they are preparing to birth.
Stage 2 birthing. You may see the water bag appear or fluid or dampness on the dam once the bag has ruptured. Both front legs and the head of the cria appear in a normal delivery. Once the head and legs appear, birthing should occur within 30 minutes. If it goes any longer without progression, you or your vet may need to intervene.
Stage 3 placenta passing should happen within 2 hours of birth. Let the placenta drop out naturally – do not pull it. If the placenta does not come within 6-8 hours (or overnight for a late in day birth), call your vet.
Neo Natal Check
Check out the cria from nose to tail.
Clear the airway of any mucus.
See if the teeth are thru the gum. See if the mouth and palate is ok.
See if the cria is breathing normally thru its nose.
See if the eyes look the same, or whether there is a difference. Cria can be born with two different coloured eyes, but what you look for is an opaque eye that would indicate blindness or infection.
See if the ears are up or floppy.
See if the toenails are soft and heavily covered with membrane, or whether they look normal and are just waiting to dry and harden.
Take off any membrane (looking like a cling wrap), especially around the neck and face. When the membrane dries and is not broken apart it can form a tight noose around the neck or nose or leg of the cria.
Check the naval on the belly and apply iodine to the naval. Check the genitals.
Then leave the cria and dam to bond.
Later, weigh the cria. And check that the cria has exactly 4 teats on the belly (for both males and females).
If you have a premature cria (born much earlier than due date) or a dysmature cria (full term but not fully developed), it will need extra attention.
Signs of a dysmature or premature cria are:
Sunken eyes. Floppy ears.
Teeth not erupted through the gum.
Toenails not fully developed and/or a lot of heavy membrane around the toes.
Floppy joints and/or can’t straighten legs. Unable to hold up its neck/head.
Cria is not up within an hour
Premature and dysmature cria need extra and special attention, especially if they are not strong enough to get up or hold their head up to nurse. They need overnight shelter for the first week and to be kept out of the rain. In some cases, the cria may be too weak to drink. Consult your vet on tube feeding.
Premature cria or cria with a birth weight under 5kgs will need a lot of support, a dose of multivitamin B and heaps of TLC.
As soon as possible after birth, cover the end of the umbilical cord with iodine to prevent infection. The umbilical cord passes blood (nutrition) from mother to cria from the pancreas and to the liver. After filtering in the liver, the blood goes on its way to the rest of the body. Bacteria can crawl into the umbilical cord and follow the same route, but the liver is not able to filter out bacteria. This causes septicemia, a widespread destruction of tissues due to absorption of harmful bacteria in the bloodstream. The cria becomes very sick and requires vet treatment and antibiotics.
With a difficult birth (dystocia) it is wise to have the dam and cria under closer observation than usual. If a lot of intervention has been going on to extract the cria, a course of antibiotics is always a good idea to prevent infection. When you realize that birth is not progressing normally, CALL YOUR VET! If there is only the slightest hint (the so called “gut feeling”) that something is not right, call the clinic and ask who would be available to assist. If your vet is not available to help and there is a problem that requires intervention and you feel you are capable of helping, do so, as once the birthing process has started, you don’t have much time left to get a live cria. Caesarean sections are performed when there is no way that the cria can be delivered through the birth canal. This can be the case in a very large cria, a very small female, or a severe dystocia, such as a breach position that can not be corrected.
It is important to check the dam after birth. Check that the entire placenta has been expelled and that there is no fresh or heavy bleeding from the dam. Check the rear of the dam for cuts, splits and tears. Antibiotic cover is recommended if there is any tear or there has been an assisted birth. If there is a lot of blood on the dam you may wish to wash this off or cut off bloody fleece to reduce the attraction to flies.
Look under the dam’s tail daily for the first few days after birth and watch for discharges and infections.
It is important to know if the dam is lactating or not once the cria is born. If you are at the birth observe the cria as it begins to search out the udder and check to see if its tail raises up. This happens as it is looking for milk, and then drops down as it finds the milk and starts drinking. A healthy, strong cria is capable of finding the udder and commencing drinking within a few hours of the birth with no assistance.
If the cria is making no progress or seems to be having trouble getting a drink, get the dam and cria in the yards and check the teats. You can gently remove wax to start the flow by pulling down with your thumb and finger on either side of each teat. A sponge or facecloth with warm water can be used to massage the udder and this will make it easier to get the wax out of the teats.
If the cria is born when you are away and later you see it happily drinking, just observe the pair to see if the cria is getting its fill of milk. Do watch to make sure that the cria gets enough to drink. Cria are snackers, feeding little and often.
A healthy udder is slightly rounded (fits in the palm of your hand), feels soft to the touch and has a normal body temperature of about 38 degrees C, so slightly warmer than you hand.
Mastitis (infection of the udder) can develop even before unpacking, although the udder is not usually checked before the birth, unless you want to feel if it is enlarging, indicating an imminent birth. Many females don’t produce much of an udder until the cria has been born and then only several hours later. Others are really big (for an alpaca that is) and can be clearly seen when standing behind the hind legs when the dam is urinating.
With mastitis the udder feels hot, hard and it is extremely painful when touched. The female will squirm away. The female will need antibiotics straight away, and the cria will have to be hand fed colostrum. In most cases the udder will react well to this treatment and because the cria will keep trying to drink from its mum, milk production will come on when the udder is restored to its healthy state in about 6 days.
Everybody looks forwards to the arrival of a new cria. Will it be male or female? Black, brown, white or some colour in between? Then we get to the chilling question; will it be alright?
Deformities at birth are classified as being either ‘inherited’ or ‘congenital’. Congenital defect means that something during the pregnancy has caused the deformity. Congenital defects may be due to an infection or an environmental factor affecting the dam during development of the foetus. They are not passed on to subsequent offspring. Inherited defect means that one or both parents may carry the gene of this deformity, without having the condition themselves, but are able to pass it on to the progeny.
Once the cria has been safely delivered it is important to give it a thorough check over. As in other species, camelids can be born with deformities of a varying range of seriousness. Some of these deformities may have consequences for the cria’s immediate health, some have little effect upon its future health, but ALL deformities have an impact upon the animal’s breeding potential. A series of checks should be carried out from nose to tail by the breeder or by a vet. Thoroughness is essential, but the check should not take so long as to affect the bonding between mother and cria.
Typically, ears should be checked to insure they are not fused. This does not imply that two ears are joined together, but that a single ear does not have a deep cup shape that is essential for capturing sound waves. Eyes should be prominent and bright, not sunken, or cloudy implying blindness or a cataract. Any signs of difficulty with breathing (and drinking at the same time) should be investigated by a vet. The vet would be looking for malformation of the bones at the back of the nose/pharynx called choanal atresia.
In the mouth, the palate should be intact (check for split palate) The teeth should line up with the end of the bony plate on the upper jaw. If they are too far out, so they don’t cut onto the upper jaw, the jaw is overshot. If the teeth rub on the upper jaw just behind the end of the bony plate, the jaw is undershot. Make sure that the face looks symmetrical and is not skewed to one side or another. Such a condition is called wry face.
Along the back of the cria the spine should be straight and not twisted or lumpy. The spine should continue in an uninterrupted fashion into the tail. The tail should not be twisted or kinked and should be able to become straightened by your fingers. Moving downwards along the legs, the knee-caps (or patella) may be in the wrong place making it difficult to walk and there should only be two toes on each foot. If there are more toes, this condition is called polydactylism.
Upwards once more and to the business end under the tail, it is important to see if the cria has an anus. It goes without saying “what goes in must come out” and anal atresia has been reported a few times in alpaca cria. Count the number of teats, they should number 4, and check to see if there is an umbilical hernia. Finally inspect the genitals. Females should have an obvious vulva and males, a penis.
If you have any doubts whatsoever about any single aspect of this inspection, get a second opinion from your vet. It will be important to find out if the deformity will prevent the animal from leading a healthy life, or if it necessitates removing the animal from your breeding plan. The inspection might take you a while to carry out if you are inexperienced at breeding alpaca, but after a couple of births your routine will become quicker. However, even the most experienced breeder carrying out a rapid inspection is offering the newborn an essential Warrant Of Fitness.
Below is a checklist to be carried out from head to tail at birth. The relevance of the deformity to the animal’s health is described in column 4.
DEFORMITIES & PROBLEMS
Breeding & Health
Quality of life??
Choanal Atresia, total/partial
Cleft or absence of Palate
Health & Breeding
Over/under shot (severe)
Health & Breeding
Yes if severe when older
Health & Breeding
Possible if severe
Kinked or twisted, unable to be
Luxation of patella
Health & Breeding
Polydactyly & Syndactyly
Health & Breeding
More than 4
Some deformities are found together in the worst cases (Choanal Atresia + Polydactylae).
This is only a very short and incomplete list. More information can be found in “Medicine and Surgery of South American Camelids”, by Murray E. Fowler. (The Alpaca Bible!)