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see West Melton

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  
 

FEEDING CRIA

By Linda Blake Southern Alpacas Stud

Cria have no antibodies when born, and are unable to fight infection and disease. Cria obtain antibodies from their mother’s milk.

The first milk is a creamy sticky milk, called colostrum, with high levels of antibodies in it. A cria’s bowel can only absorb these antibodies in the first 12 to 24 hours of life. 

 

 

Make sure that your cria is feeding in the crucial first 24 hours. drinking cria

Observe the feeding behaviour – how often, and if satisfactory. If a cria is seeking milk, it will find it if it is there. A cria who has found the milkbar will usually curve its tail up, and will put its tail down once it begins to actually feed. 

Check that the cria is getting milk – look for a milky moustache. If you are unsure, wait until it has been under mum, then put your finger in its mouth to check for milk.

 

 

If a cria misses out on colostrum, it will be prone to infection. Alpacas can be tested for antibodies, by measuring IgG levels. A transfusion of alpaca plasma can provide the vital antibodies if the cria misses out from inadequate initial feeding.

 

If your cria is not feeding, assist it.cleaning teats

Ensure the dam's teats are clear of wax, and milk is flowing. The milk will flow better once the placenta is passed.

You may need to hold the cria under the dam, making sure it gets to the right place. If so, position yourself at the dam's rear legs, so when the dam turns around to check what is going on, it is her cria she sees and sniffs.   

 

anlamb

The best alpaca supplementary feed is Anlamb, according to Agresearch, who tested various substitute milks on alpacas. Make up the Anlamb as for the lamb dose. (You can as much as double this amount.) We add a tablespoon of glucose per 500 ml milk.  

Or, use a bottle of milk, including colostrum, milked from its own mother.

 Alpacas are not easy to milk, as they produce milk little yet often. Milk can be expressed from the teats using a 10ml syringe with its top narrow neck cut-off. Put the wide end of the syringe (un-cut end) on the udder, and draw the plunger back. Decant it into a sterile container, out of kicking distance !

 

 

You can use colostrum from, in order of priority, another alpaca or llama, an artificial substitute, or a cow, goat or sheep. We use Halen New-Born from Halen Health

Keep all equipment sterile - we use Virkon.

 

 

weighing criaContinue to monitor feeding. Indicators of poor feeding are frequent attempts to suckle (more than once an hour), weakness and lethargy, sitting a lot, poor weight gain or weight loss, and no milk moustache after feeding.

Monitor the progress of the cria. Weigh regularly – daily initially. Plot a chart of weights of all your cria, to notice any different growth patterns. Weigh them weekly until over 20 kg.

The weight of the cria may drop by 10% in the first couple of days, but once the milk supply is fully in, cria weight gain should be 1 to 1.5 kg a week.

Normal weight gain:

6kg in each of the first two months
5kg in each of the third and fourth months

 

 

Cria are active, and move and play a lot. Day one they stay close to mum, day two they run away about 10 metres from mum, and by day three they will explore 30-40 metres from mum.

A sluggish cria, resting more, and drinking less, not gaining weight, is of concern. Take its temperature if you have any concerns about its health. Cria should be between 36.8 and 39.2 C. Outside this range, call the vet. 

 

Aim to feed the cria 10% of its body weight daily. Crias are snackers, needing frequent small feeds.  Feed at 4 hourly intervals, with 6 feeds a day, from daybreak to late evening. You do not need to feed in the early hours of the morning, as alpacas sleep then. 

As an example, a 6 kg cria gets a minimum of 600 mls a day, in 6 feeds of 100 ml.

A plastic bottle, with a lamb teat, is suitable for cria feeding. Keep all cria feeding equipment sterile, as you would for a human baby, using boiling water and a disinfectant like Virkon.
 

 

An exception to this feeding regime is very small frail cria. They may need feeding every 1.5 to 2 hours, around the clock, for the first three days. Get specialist advice and assistance.

 

cria being fed standing

Cria head for dark areas to nurse, like shed corners. Put a light on in a shed, so the darkest spot is under mother, as it would be in the paddock.

Make the cria stand to feed, and stretch its neck up to simulate the natural feeding position. This aids the milk to go in the correct stomach.  

I find it easiest to achieve this posture by straddling the cria, restraining it with my knees, and having one hand to guide its head back towards me and one hand to hold the bottle.   

Make sure the cria sucks, so the milk goes down the throat, not squirted into its airways. Keep the airhole in the base of the teat on the upper side for air to go in and help the milk to go out.

 

 

Poor suckers can be assisted to drink. Pop your finger in its mouth, then slide the teat in. Hold its mouth closed and slowly stroke its throat to encourage it to swallow. This may take three hands initially (a second person to do the throat stroking), but it is possible with two hands. 

Cria that will not suck can be stomach tubed – a job for your vet.

Keep the cria with its mother
, and encourage it to feed from her – most will use mum if possible, and may even run to have a snack from mum after the less palatable human-provided milk. Cria will eventually reject the bottle if mum is feeding them enough. 

 

feeding cria

As the cria gets older it will take the bottle front-on. 

Bottle fed cria should be kept with the herd, to minimise them imprinting on the human feeder. It is tempting to pat and cuddle them, but this can cause problems later as they come into adolescence and adulthood, when they show no respect for the human that helped them survive.

Orphan cria feeding can follow the Anlamb package recommendation for lambs for the first three weeks. Reduce down the bottle frequency to 3, then 2, then a single feed a day as the cria grows. You may like to reduce the quantity and/or the milk strength over time to wean off gradually as well. Orphan cria need feeding until 4 or 5 months old.
 

 

CASE STUDY

Erik was named for the vet who saved him by caesarean section. The dam did not bond with her cria, and he was raised on a bottle. A full record of his feeding was kept and the graph shows his feed.  

Although kept with the herd, he did begin to get over-friendly, as early as a fortnight old, and the owners had to steel their heart to keep him at a distance so he learnt appropriate behaviour with humans. About this time he developed an infection, and you can see the dip in the graph as he went off his food. He responded to antibiotics and the food intake went up. 

There was a second dip between weeks 7 and 8 when there was changing frequencies as he moved from 5 bottles a day to 3 a day. Once on 3 bottles he stabilised again in intake. By four months old Erik was on two bottles a day, then he was weaned off to one bottle a day. 

In four months Erik consumed 35 kg Anlamb, 3 boxes of glucose, and 1/2 bottle cod liver oil. Two milk bottles were used and he wore out one teat.

  Erik's intake
 

CRIA FEEDING KIT

Plastic bottle – small soft drink 500ml size with screw thread

Lamb teats with a flutter valve - the air hole with ball bearing in it

Anlamb - best substitute milk

Glucose - for extra energy and sugar

Measuring jars to shake and make up milk

Funnel and strainer (ensure no lumps)

Bottle brush, bowl, disinfectant solution like Virkon to keep things sterile

ColoZen or similar colostrum substitute in fridge OR

Colostrum frozen in freezer in small quantities like ice cube tray

Cut-down syringe to milk the dam

Electrolyte solutions - for hydration

 

Updated December 2008

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