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Nic and Linda keep up-to-date with the latest in alpaca information, by reading widely, being a member of the New Zealand, Australian, British and American alpaca associations, and attending conferences worldwide.
They share this knowledge with others through holding industry training days and workshops, writing articles for industry magazines
in New Zealand, Australia, UK, and USA and also through articles on this website
and other websites.
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Helpful Hints for Birthing
By Linda Blake Southern Alpacas Stud
It is always with a mixture of
relief and pride that we approach the end of a
birthing season. All females pregnant, and all giving
birth successfully – with a little bit of help from us humans.
And it is the “help” bit that I will
focus upon, passing on some hints that helped us.
Some I learnt at the neo-natal course I
went on in Australia, way back in 1996, and I’d encourage
you to go on these courses when we hold them in
New Zealand. Others I learnt
through “trial and error” and the purpose of this article is to save you making
the same errors.
Now, remember that Mother Nature does
most of the work, and over 90% of births are normal – although 17% of first–time
mothers do require some assistance.
mating/birthing records for each female.
We record all matings and spit-offs, virtually all of which are done as pen
matings, so we know when our females are due. They can of course come
earlier, or later, than the due date !
We haven't found any particular patterns for individuals - it appears to be more
environmentally related - nutrition and weather.
We watch and wait patiently.
your soon-to-be-mothers where you can see them.
have a birthing paddock, and our females go into there 4 - 6 weeks prior
to birth. Here we can watch them, and also increase their nutrition, providing
higher protein feed, like lucerne chaff.
Watching a female circling around and
alternatively sitting then standing, allowed our birthing helper time to change
out of his bowling “whites” – otherwise they would have been “reds”.
Birthing kit - have it made up - see
Pre-pack your birthing kit to grab in a hurry.
I now wash my hands thoroughly then run
with my birthing kit, which includes a bottle of
lubrication, gloves, old towel, iodine, portable phone, vet’s
phone number, and pocket knife.
Nic, when working at the
Hospital, once responded to my phone call for extra hands by
breaking all the speed limits, with his excuse ready-made for the traffic
officer – “I’m from the hospital and going to a difficult birth, officer !”
Clear the breathing passages asap.
Ensure the mucus covering the face is
cleared away from the nose and mouth so the cria can breathe air into its
lungs. A number of ours have recently been born in a “caul”, with a membrane
bag covering the face. It is incredibly tough to break open, and that is what I
use the pocket knife for. I was born in a caul myself, and for humans, it is
supposed to be lucky.
15 minute rule.
A birthing alpaca should
make progress every 15 minutes. She may rest, and she may even eat, as she
pauses in the birthing process. What you want to see, is some progress every 15
minutes. This may be getting both legs, or more of the legs or neck coming out.
If there is no progress, assess what you can do, and alert your vet.
Get cria into correct position.
As long as you have two legs and a head, the birth should progress normally. You may need to sort the legs out so
there is one either side of the head.
Position the head so it dangles down
between the legs. This makes the shoulders narrower to birth.
yourself, with your arms and head.)
The photo on the right shows perfect positioning for the birth to progress.
Rotate the cria.
If the cria seems to be tightly wedged,
remember that the pelvis is oval in shape, not circular. Slightly rotate the
cria so its shoulders are in the widest part of the pelvis, which is on the
diagonal. (About 10 to 4, using a clock face analogy.)
Legs but no head
The challenge when the head is missing,
is whether you have front legs or back legs. If
you have back legs, you can pull the cria out. But if
they are front legs, you must have the head before you
can commence to pull the cria out.
In our recent experience with a “missing
head”, my first step was to check which way the limbs bent.
The first two joints of the front legs bend in the same direction,
forming a U shape. By contrast, the first two joints of the back legs bend in
opposite directions, forming a Z shape. (see diagram)
If it is front legs, as we had, you will
then have to go inside to get the head to come forward and out. This is
where you need your neo-natal course experience, practising on dead cria.
Or your friendly vet. Know your limits.
when to call the vet.
Know your limits. Assess the situation, and call
the vet once you are unsure or you are unable to progress the birth. For
our “missing head” case above it took an epidural from the vet and much patience
to extract the head of a cria which kept pulling its neck back and facing the
rear, rather than fronting the cold, wet, (and increasingly bloodied) world
After the birth
I apply iodine as soon as possible to
guard against infection getting in via the cria's navel. Very occasionally
a cord needs clamping to stop excess bleeding.
Over the years we have become adept at guessing a cria's weight, but weighing
the cria within a few hours of birth will assist you in making decisions about
its health and management.
is useful to have two people at the after-birth stage – one to distract the
possessive mother as you handle her precious cria!
Also, once the placenta is passed, the milk should begin to
flow. You may need to gently ease out the waxy plugs in the nipples to get the
At this stage take a look at the dam's rear end too - look for splits and tears
that may need cleaning to avoid infection.
the placenta is passed.
In the usual course of events, the
placenta will be passed within a couple of hours.
Ideally, stay around until the placenta is passed. One breeder had the
misfortune to lose a cria which was suffocated by a placenta falling
upon its head.
Spread the placenta out on the ground and check that it is all
there. It should have two tips. Avoid handling the placenta with bare hands as
it can potentially pass on diseases to humans – use gloves, or manipulate it with
the spade. Take it away and bury it.
It is abnormal for the placenta not to be passed within 6 hours. After 12
hours, action is called for – usually the vet with an injection to encourage it
to be passed. Retained placental membranes can cause infection in the dam very
quickly, and it can be fatal.
Remember, most births are natural !
If you are lucky enough to catch that brief moment when a female gives birth
herself, relax and enjoy it. It will be over so quickly, you’ll wonder why
you were concerned at the event happening.
watching mum greet her cria, and be so proud of it, makes the trials of birthing all worthwhile.
water-based, sterile, lubrication
Gloves, both short and full arm length
– preferably at least 2.5% solution, liquid, or a spray bottle
Vet wrap to wrap the dam's tail out of the way
Umbilical cord clamp - or clothes peg
Old towels if the cria needs to be rubbed dry
bathroom ones, or hanging cria scales
Portable phone and vet's phone number
spade for placenta collection
Updated January 2009