If you are an alpaca novice and about to see your first crias born this year, this sequence of pictures taken by John Gaye, show a normal birth.
The vast majority of births are normal and you can expect the cria to arrive in the morning or early afternoon. The actual birthing date is hard to predict but the average gestation is eleven and a half months. It is sensible to bring the heavy pregnants, once they are over ten or ten and a half months, up to a close paddock so you can keep an eye on them.
The birth will progress in three stages. There are few outward signs at Stage one. The female may look uncomfortable, visit the dung pile frequently, wander away from the herd and lie down, then immediately get up again.
Stage two is when the cria enters the birth canal and contractions speed up. This stage should take around 30 minutes although the cria may hang out of the mother for what seems like years. This is normal and helps to clear any fluids from the lungs.
Stage three is when the placenta is expelled, usually around an hour after the birth. Check that it is intact and then remove it from the field.
You should call for help if Stage one goes beyond six hours; if Stage two is prolonged and the cria is obviously stuck or there is a malpresentation; if the placenta is not expelled within six hours.
Once the cria has been born it should be active immediately, breathe easily and sit up in about ten minutes. Its temperature should be between 36.8 and 38.6 degrees C and it should be standing by two hours old and suckling by four hours old. The mother has four teats and the cria will move rapidly from one teat to the next rather than spending a long time on one teat. They will suckle for about two minutes per feed.
Watching the cria trying to find the udder is a very frustrating process for the new owner as the cria will go up the wrong end, walk under its mother and out the other side and so on. If it is a strong, healthy cria it will find the milk.
The cria?s navel should be sprayed as soon as possible, if the weather is cold, you may need to towel it dry - avoid the head and tail as these are scent areas ? and put on a coat.
It is crucial that the cria suckles during its first 12 hours. The mother?s colostrum provides the immunity it needs against disease. If the cria fails to suckle it must be given plasma or powdered colostrum.
A cria that is chilled or weak or premature or under five kilos in weight needs immediate attention. If you are not sure what course of action to take, put the mother and baby in a warm, dry barn and call the vet.
It is sensible to weigh your cria every week to make sure they are growing on properly. They should gain a kilo to a kilo and a half every week for the first four weeks. This will drop slightly to around five kilos a month in months three and four. If the weight gain slows, look for a reason.
Healthy cria are lively individuals. They follow their mothers around the field, play and run around. If they spend more of their time resting than normal, there may be a problem, investigate.
Remember it is vital that the mother and her newborn are given space to bond. Only interfere if you need to. For example when you spray the navel, it need only take a few seconds and then back off.
It is fun to cuddle your cria but you must be careful not to over pet them or isolate them from their group. Alpacas need to grow up as part of a herd of alpacas and not be imprinted on humans. If they do they may develop ?berserk male syndrome? where the adult treats humans with the same aggression that they would display with other alpacas. If you refrain from petting your crias, this will not happen.
Llamas and Alpacas ? a guide to management by Gina Bromage. Available from www.amazon.co.uk
Antenatal Birthing & Cria Care by Dr Ewen McMillan and Carolyn Jinks. Available from www.alpaca-uk.co.uk