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Alpaca Articles

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.

Click here for more articles  


By Linda Blake Southern Alpacas Stud

Caring for frail cria is a challenge. There are five essential care components:

1.   Temperature regulation.

2.   Establishing a feeding regime.

3.   Bonding the cria with its mum.

4.   Monitoring and recording.

5.   Vigilance plus quick and appropriate action.



A frail cria who needs care may be a consequence of any of the following scenarios:    

•     A cria not actively moving on birth. Cria are active creatures and move a lot, right from birth,  when they roll to undo their membrane wraps.

•     A cria who comes out ‘flat’ and stays lying down. They should be up in kush in 10 minutes – it is unusual for a cria to not get up into kush soon after birth.

•     A cria who is not fully ready for this world – either premature (earlier than due date), or  dysmature (where they may be full term gestation but not yet fully formed), and/or under 5 kg.

•     A cria where the dam had a birthing difficulty as this puts the cria at risk.

•     A cria can be frail at birth, or it can become frail quickly if it is not breathing well, if it gets cold and hypothermic, if it gets hot and dehydrated, and/or if it gets injured.

•     A cria born in adverse weather conditions – rain, cold winds, heavy frost, snow - can become hypothermic quickly.

•     A cria not feeding by four hours rapidly becomes frail without food and sustenance.



Temperature Regulation

Cria are born at their dam’s temperature of 37.7 C – 38.9 C, and they have to adjust to a cooler outside world.  A cria’s temperature may fluctuate more than an adult, from 36.8 C to 39.2 C.  Premature and frail cria cannot regulate their own body temperature and this puts them at risk.

A cria needs to have a warm core body temperature, as the essential internal organs need warmth to work.  Prevent heat loss out and away from the core of the animal by  keeping the cria in a warm environment.

flat criaPut your frail cria, with its dam, in a sheltered place - behind a hedge or a tree-line, snuggled in hay, but preferably in a shed where you can more easily control the environment to keep the cria warm.

You can warm the cria by cuddling it and using your own body heat.  Then, after ensuring it is dry, wrap it in warm towels from the clothes dryer or off an oil heater, or use a cria coat, similarly warmed. Bubble wrap can be used, but take care that the cria does not overheat.


warming criaSurround the cria with hot water bottles – use square milk bottles or rectangular juice bottles as they are stable when placed around the cria (without being in actual contact). 

An alpaca has less or no fibre on its stomach, so it gets colder/warmer quicker here. Hence it is helpful if the ground is warm where the cria is sitting.  A heated electric pad for pets (these are suitably insulated) under the hay or towels can assist.  Pictured is a dysmature cria tucked up on a heat pad, with towels and a cria coat.

bath to warm criaIn emergency cases of very low temperature, give the cria a warm bath.  Preferably put it in a large strong plastic bag with its head out, then dunk bag and cria into a warm bath (the reverse works with a cold bath for hot cria).  If you don’t have a plastic bag, put the cria in a container like a plastic washing basket, where the cria can be immersed and pulled out easily - or just put them straight into a bath.

Make sure you thoroughly dry the cria, as a wet cria is a cold cria. You will need plenty of towels and a hair dryer.



During the Night

During the night the outside air temperature drops, but the cria still needs a constant, warm environment. The coolest hours are just before dawn (at around 3-4am), so make sure the cria is still warm at this time as it is often when frail cria die.

Usually a cria sleeps close to its dam and utilises mum’s body heat.  But often dams with sick cria will not sleep with them – after all, in the wild the sick are the target of predators, so why make yourself part of that target by sleeping with it?  If the dam is not going to sleep with her cria, you may need to use your own body heat to give the cria warmth. sleeping with cria

Some premature cria are not able to regulate their body temperature. (Normal cria can maintain a stable body temperature within certain environmental temperature limits).  Like premature human babies, these cria need to be kept warm and monitored constantly. 

For human babies we use incubators.  I have found the easiest and quickest way to create an incubator environment for a cria is by using our en-suite.  It is a small room, with a wall heater, and I roll in an oil heater as well.  I open and close the door to regulate the temperature, according to the cria’s internal temperature.



Establishing a Feeding Regime

You will find the recommended feeding kit and feeding methods described on our page on Feeding Cria., although there are special considerations for frail cria.

Frail cria generally do not have the energy or strength to get up and feed from their mother.  Initially the priority is to feed the cria yourself to keep it alive.  Do not dissipate what little energy it has by trying to put it on the dam.  Keep the frail cria with the dam, as feeding is instinctive and will happen, given time and the opportunity for the cria to find food from its mother.

(a) Give the cria some energy using two teaspoons of glucose in 60 ml warm water.  Try a bottle, but if there is no suck reflex, syringe the fluid over the tongue.  Stroke the cria’s neck to help it swallow.

The gut is the last organ to form in a cria, and in a frail cria it may be tender or incomplete.  Glucose is absorbed as energy into the bloodstream, even if the gut is not able to absorb other foods.  Therefore glucose is preferable to milk when gut motility is compromised.

Glucose is the essential food for effective brain functioning.  The brain monitors and regulates all processes in the body.  So when the brain is no longer able to function due to a lack of glucose (its energy source) the body will go out of action as well.  Hence the need to get some glucose into a flat cria, to ensure the brain will be able to do its job. As our vet says:

                                    "No functioning brain = a dead cria.

                                    A functioning brain = a cria that could survive."

(b) Cria also need colostrum to obtain the antibodies that will fight infection throughout their life.  The cria’s stomach can only absorb this vital colostrum in the first 12-24 hours from birth.  You can obtain colostrum from the dam, which is the ideal source, but milking her manually  is not an easy task.

Alpaca cria feed little and often, so the dams produce small amounts of milk at a time.  Therefore there will not be much milk in the dam’s teats.  You can convert a syringe into a breast pump by cutting off the narrow end and reversing the plunger.  Put the wide flange against the teat then  pull back the plunger to create a vacuum to draw out the milk.  Pour the colostrum into a sterile plastic container, but keep it out of kicking reach.colozen and syringe pump

Pictured:  A cut-down syringe for expressing milk, and an artificial colostrum substitute, ColoZen.

Note: ColoZen is no longer available.

If you cannot obtain colostrum from the dam, use colostrum from another alpaca or from a llama, cow, goat, sheep, or use a colostrum substitute such as Halen NewBorn.  If using colostrum from an animal, feed it straight (100%) as a food.  Substitute colostrum is concentrated, so you should add a small amount to a glucose solution, or the milk replacement you are using.

(c) Frail cria need feeding a little and often, two-hourly for the initial 12 to 24 hours.  More food is not necessarily better as a cria’s stomach needs time to absorb food.  We add glucose to the milk replacement, at a teaspoon per 100 ml bottle.

Anlamb is the best milk replacement for alpacas, according to AgResearch studies.  (Note that Anlamb bought in a 10 kg bag has a larger scoop than the 2kg bucket.  Hence the instructions for the number of scoops of feed to use will depend on scoop size.)

After the first 24–48 hours, once weight is being maintained and if temperature is normal, frail cria can usually be fed three-hourly for the next three days.

If the cria is strong and standing, you may like to try assisting it on to mum before giving it the bottle.

(d) Be rigourous with your hygiene. Remember cria have no antibodies to fight infection, and it is very easy for them to catch a bug. Discard any milk left in the bottle after a feed and do not re-heat milk as germs will multiply and put a frail cria at risk

Wash your hands before handling the cria or its food. Sterilise everything – the bottles, teats and containers.

Wash the cria coats, towels and blankets daily. Clean out the hay bedding and replace it at least daily or whenever it gets soiled.



Bonding the Cria with its Mum

A normal cria and its dam are left alone to bond.  However the priority for a frail cria will be to stabilise its body temperature.  This requires immediate intervention, maybe even before the dam can really bond well with her cria.

When there has been intervention, the cria will smell of humans.  Avoid rubbing the cria’s head or its rump, near the tail, as the dam smells these areas to check that the cria is her own. 

If it seems that the dam does not recognise the smell of her cria (which may happen if there has been intervention and especially if the frail cria has been bathed), then you may need to make it smell right.  Rub the cria’s head, neck and the rump with the alpaca’s own smell – use the  placenta, cria urine or dam urine.  Yes - it sounds gross, but it is helpful. 

cria care areaPut the dam and cria in a small area together, where you can maintain a constant temperature with no draughts.  Make sure it is safe, with no gaps, holes or projections that could harm the cria. 

Our cria care area is just big enough for a dam and cria, and a human too if necessary.  The dam can see other alpaca through the stable door and when the top part is closed for warmth, she can look out the windows (which are made of safety glass). 

We have used plywood to board in a small area of our barn and insulated it with batts.  It has smooth walls and no protuberances that the cria might catch itself on. 

We put water in a hanging feeder above cria height, as sod’s law decrees that the cria will tumble into a bucket of water. If you do have a bucket of water, make it shallow and do not put it in a corner, as cria head for corners.  

We use oil heaters, which we move into a space beside the cria care area so that the alpacas can not come into direct contact with the heater. 

It is important to keep dam and cria together, as the dam will talk to the cria.  This will help keep the frail cria alive.  Once the dam starts sleeping close to her cria, which may take several nights to happen, I am more optimistic about the cria’s survival. 



Monitoring and Recording         

Record all interventions and observations.  Subtle changes in the cria can indicate situations that need attention.  You will also be surprised what you can forget in the stress of the situation.  You will probably be sharing the caring with other people and with the vet, so it is important to write down everything to keep everybody fully informed. 

We chart each day, recording the time - for temperature, weight, the food offered (e.g. glucose, colostrum, milk), how much food taken in, body motions out, medicines given, any changes in activity and demeanour.  We total up the amount fed 12 hourly, by day and by night.  A cria needs 10% of its body weight in food daily.               

Temperature is crucial.  Check the rectal temperature of the frail cria frequently.  See the vet’s instructions below on how to do this as it is not as easy as you may think.  

We use a digital thermometer which audibly beeps when done and has a screen read-out which records the temperature reading.  

We take the temperature of a frail cria twice daily if the temperature is stable and normal.  If it is fluctuating (or close to, or outside the normal temperature range), we take it at each feed. 

Temperature change is an early warning sign of infection, hypothermia, or sickness.  A cria can feel warm to the touch but its body core temperature may be low.  So use the thermometer to accurately determine the true body temperature. 

It is usual for a normal cria to have a weight drop in the first couple of days, but by day three it should be back up to its birth weight.  For a frail cria weight is more crucial as it may not have any spare weight to lose. 

A cold and/or frail cria will have slower body functions (metabolism), so it may not defecate or urinate as often as a normal cria. Give it time. However if you see diarrhea, act quickly as this will quickly dehydrate the cria. 

A frail cria will begin to shut down its internal organs if it gets cold anytime in the first few days. Be aware of weather changes. Its stomach stops functioning in the cold, and it cannot digest milk.  The milk then ferments and the belly distends as gas builds up in the stomach and gut.  A vet can puncture the stomach to let out the gas build-up, but cannot do the same for the gut. 

If the cria scours on milk, or has a distended stomach, go back to glucose solution, or use electrolytes for a day.  (We have found Calf Aid to be agreeable for most cria.)   Glucose is preferable to milk when gut motility is compromised.



Vigilance plus Quick and Appropriate Action. 

A frail cria is very sensitive and susceptible to infection.  A change in the weather (environmental temperature) and food changes can upset it.  Monitor its temperature, as this is an early indicator of problems.  

You have got to be so careful with frail cria, constantly vigilant, observing small changes, and reacting quickly, or else the result may be fatal. 

With 24 hour care you need at least two people doing shifts. You cannot do nights as well as days as you get tired, and tired people make poor decisions.  Three people are ideally needed plus a quiet daytime place for the night shift to sleep.  To function effectively, the minimum sleep required at a stretch is three hours - so use an alarm clock if you have to get up during the night for three-hourly feeds. 

Once you have got a frail cria to day four, it usually stabilizes.  By then it will be moving about more and feeding from its mum, for at least some of the time.  It is still possible for feeding problems and infections to take the cria down, so do not relax your guard. Make it to a week, and you’ve probably won the battle.

Seeing the once frail cria out playing with the others is ample reward for the all-consuming challenge of getting it up and going.




Monique Koning, from Selwyn Rakaia Veterinary Services, has taken a close interest in cria temperatures. 

Normal temperature range for a cria is quoted in most literature as 36.8 C to 38.6 C, based upon Australian data, where maybe hyperthermia (over heating) is more of a problem in cria than hypothermia (coldness) is in New Zealand.  Fowler (Medicine and Surgery of South American Camelids) says cria are born at their dam’s temperature of 37.7 to 38.9 degrees and a cria’s temperature may fluctuate more than an adult, and may rise to 39.2 degrees.  

Monique says “I’ve been called out on quite a few occasions where hypothermia was the most important single problem in a flat cria.  In those cases warming the cria and glucose administration was the only treatment needed.”  

“Taking the temperature correctly of a newborn cria can save its life, or save on the vet bill, if nothing else. Don’t get fooled by sunny but windy days.  Do not assume. Measure those temperatures.” 

Hypothermic cria who are flat (figuratively and literally) with temperatures of 36+C respond well to warming and glucose.  Any cria with a rectal temperature of 37 needs to be given extra attention. 

Most newborn animals have a shiver reflex (a reflex is something the body regulates automatically with the help of the brain).  This is a survival mechanism which will help the animal survive under adverse cold conditions a little longer, as they use shivering of the muscles to warm up.  

However, unlike other newborn animals such as lambs, cria are not born with this, and thus it is even more essential that they are born into good weather conditions, and if not, that we humans assist with warmth.  Once they are mobile, or for flat frail cria, from around day four onwards, cria have a shiver reflex which is used throughout their life.



How to take the temperature of a newborn cria

Monique gives these instructions for taking the temperature of a newborn cria.  She suggests you ask your vet to demonstrate and instruct you, if you are unsure.  

thermometerWe use a digital thermometer, which audibly beeps when done, and has a screen read-out which retains the temperature reading.  It also has marks on it to indicate how far past the metal tip you have inserted it into the rectum.

Insert the thermometer gently within the rectum without force, for at least one centimeter past the measuring part (the whole metal tip).  Angle it gently against the rectal wall, so that the tip of the thermometer is held against the rectal wall and is not buried in the middle of poo.  

For easier, smoother insertion of the thermometer in the rectum, a bit of vaseline or other non-irritating lubricant on the tip does help.  The thermometer should slide in easily, and if not, gently change the angle and roll the thermometer between your fingers, while exerting minimal inward pressure.  

When the right depth is reached, gently angle the tip of the thermometer against the rectal wall, by angling it a little bit more.  Hold the thermometer loosely, so that when the cria moves, the thermometer moves with it. Keep the thermometer in place until the temperature doesn’t change any longer.  Then reverse the procedure and remove the thermometer gently and slowly. 


Updated January 2009

Nic Cooper and Linda Blake
Main West Coast Road, West Melton, RD1, Christchurch, New Zealand
Phone 0064 3 318-1917 | fax 0064 3 318-1927 | email alpacasnz@xtra.co.nz