Our first cria of the year arrived Friday, April 30. It was a beautiful, sunny spring day, perfect for a new arrival. As promised, I took some photos and will describe the birth of a baby alpaca.
The mother alpaca, or dam, is Miracle. You may remember she is the cria I found Cheetah guarding in the barn almost 3 years ago, who almost died and spent some time at Ohio State's vet hospital. Well, we have now come full circle and Miracle is mother to her first baby and it was a perfect birthing.
The first signs of impending birth are often very subtle, but I have come to be pretty familiar with them. The expectant mother may roll frequently, or get up and down and act agitated. She may stand at the poop pile for extended periods of time without actually going. She may hum continuously, she may not come in for her morning feed. Each one is different and may exhibit any or all of these signs. Here, Miracle is standing at the poop pile. Her tail is wrapped to keep the hair out of the way so I can see what is going on easier.
Miracle's labor was fairly quiet and slow. When she got close to Stage 2 of labor, which is actually pushing the cria out, she became very much more agitated and got up and down constantly, humming all the time. I keep a close eye for contractions, because once I see her actually pushing, I want to see a sign that baby is coming out very soon. And what I want to see is nose and toes. The cria should present like it is diving into a pool, with its front legs first and its head and neck stretched out along the legs. I generally breathe a sigh of relief when I see a nose and 2 feet because not much can go wrong once those come out.
Soon, the head and the legs up to the knees come along, and often the dam takes a little rest at this point to prepare for passing the shoulders, which are the biggest part of the cria. Now the cria usually starts to shake its little head and snort attempting to clear its nasal passages of fluids and of course it starts to breathe on its own. Often, this surprises new dams and if they are on their feet, they may spin in circles to try to see what that is making that noise on their backside. Miracle, however was laying down and tired.
This is a point where I can help if the dam is tired or the cria is large and I did help Miracle a little. As she strains with contractions, I can gently pull on the legs to help her hasten things along. It is a slippery job.
Once the shoulders are out, the rest follows along quite easily. And this is when we can check to see if we have a girl or a boy. It's a BOY!
You may notice the cria looks shiny. They are born with a shiny membrane that covers their entire body and which I start to peel off as soon as baby is born. I also check to make sure the cria is not bleeding from the unbilical cord stump, which I then dip in iodine to prevent bacterial infection. I dip the cord 3 times in the first 24 hours. Otherwise, at this point, we just let mama take over. Here I have placed the new cria in front of Miracle so she can sniff him and hum to him and start to bond with him.
This is very important because if she does not accept him as hers, she will refuse to nurse him and I will be stuck with a bottle baby for the next several months, which may seem fun at first, but gets old quickly. We have had dozens of births here over the last 10 years and I am always amazed at the natural instinct the mothers have to mother their crias. And the crias are amazing in that they have such a strong instinct to FIND THE FOOD SOURCE! It can be comical watching them stagger in circles around the dam with their little tongues sticking out in the sucking mode trying to find the udder. Sometimes I give them a little help and point them in the right general direction.
Since it was such a nice day and it was now after 3 pm, I took Miracle's cria out into the sunshine to dry off and have some more bonding time with mom. Mother alpacas do not lick their crias dry as most other mammals do, so I love it when crias are born on nice warm sunny days. If it is cold and damp, I use a hair dryer to get the cria as dry as possible and then put a coat on it. As you can see in this photo, he is less than an hour old and already attempting to stand up.
The 3rd stage of labor is the passing of the placenta, which usually happens within a couple of hours after the cria's birth.
So, from 9 am, when I noticed signs of labor, it was 6 hours until the cria was born and he was up nursing and running within 2 hours. Most likely, Miracle's next labor will be much shorter. Sometimes, I miss the whole thing if I run to the house for towels or the camera, which is fine with me because that means all has gone well!