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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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Mums' the Word
By Linda Blake Southern Alpacas Stud
So, your alpaca has birthed, and
all the focus is on the new cria. In all the excitement of heralding a new
alpaca life, do remember the mum ! Much has been written about the cria's
progress, but not as much about mum.
Here are some
crucial things to watch for in the mum once she has birthed - good observation
is needed, and most of these will require your vet assistance. And as I always
stress at the neonatal courses, do remember that 95% of births are normal !
Placenta Passing - within 6-8 hours
Watch for the
placenta to appear, then check it for wholeness - smooth edges, no obvious
broken bits. A torn placenta may mean that placental tags have been left behind
attached inside mum and these can lead to infection, as can a retained
placenta. The placenta should have passed within six to eight hours after
birth, or for a late in the day birth, by early the next morning.
If mum has a
placenta still attached and hanging out, let it come naturally. Do not pull it.
If the mum has it attached several hours later, or has not passed the placenta
at all, or you think not all of the placenta is out, get the vet. The vet may
give an injection of oxytocin to help the uterus contract and expel the
placenta, and may have to manually remove any bits of placenta, and detach any
tags from deep inside mum.
Too much fresh blood - on birthing
awful lot of blood" - words that bring fear into my heart. Birthing involves
blood, and you'll notice more on a white or light coloured mum than a darker
one. There will be some bleeding immediately after birth, but it should soon be
just a dribble that stops within the hour. But a gush of fresh blood can mean a
tear or rupture inside. A mum can die in 10 minutes from blood loss and shock.
Call the vet.
It can also be
the placental cord breaking and not sealing off - which can affect both mum and
cria. In the last stages of birthing the placental cord stretches, and this
seals it off before breaking. If it is not stretched enough, as in an assisted
or hurried birth, it may not seal, resulting in blood loss from both cria and
mum. Take action quickly.
For mum, reach
inside and find the cord, and stretch it between your thumb and fingers to
create the sealing to stop the blood flow. For cria, attach a clamp to its
umbilical cord. Improvise with a bull dog clip, cotton tied tightly, or folding
the cord and holding tight in your fingers, stretching it to seal.
attract flies, so wash off what you can, and consider trimming back fibre that
is blood caked.
Tears - on
birthing, and monitor after birthing
It is always a
wonder to me how that small opening in mum expands to allow a cria to pass out.
At times the sizes do not match - too small a mum or not enough softening of the
tissues, or too large a cria - and then there may be tears. If you have any
doubts at all, do physically check - lift the tail and check the vulva area. You
can see any tears on the outside, but there may well be tears just inside as
uterus, vagina or vulva are torn or damaged in birthing, any repairs need to be
attended to within 24 hours of the birth. Tears can also lead to internal
scarring, which is counter-productive to a breeding female. It makes her
difficult to get pregnant, especially if mating re-opens the scars and they
bleed - blood is a spermicide. Or worse, it may make birthing difficult.
superficial tears will minimise in size as mum contracts down. If flies are
bothering mum, wash off blood and trim away bloody fibre. Clean the tears and
apply a sticky antibiotic ointment like Betadine that will cover the tear.
Antibiotic cover is advised for tears, preferably by injection.
mum’s tail daily for the first few days after birth. Watch for discharges and
act quickly. Tears can infect really easily in the warm moist inside of a
female. Do not delay - infections from birthing can kill the mum within days.
- during or soon after birth
has passed, and now something else like it is coming out as well" said a client
on the phone to me. What she was seeing was the uterus prolapsing - turning
inside out and coming out. It does look a bit like a placenta, but it is fleshy
and meaty in appearance and dark red, compared to the lighter red placenta which
is translucent and usually full of liquid.
prolapses may be partial or complete, and they may have the placenta still
attached. Act immediately - call the vet. Do not move the alpaca.
rare - we've only ever
been involved in physically assisting with two, and giving advice in a
handful of other cases.
uterus remains connected to mum's backside, and hangs out. It needs to be kept
clean and moist.
clean preferably non-absorbing material on the ground, like plastic or a
tarpaulin for the uterus to rest on, and lay plastic or a damp towel or sheet on
top to keep it moist until the vet arrives to re-insert it.
of water and lots of people on hand to assist with restraint of the mum and help
the vet clean and re-position the uterus.
Usually an epidural is involved to
stop mum straining, and help get this large object re-inverted and back in
through a very small hole. Sutures may be used to keep the prolapse in.
For more details see our web page on
- before and/or after birth
"There's a big
pinky bit of flesh protruding from one of the females", I said anxiously to the
vet. By the time he
arrived, the female looked perfectly normal. Could she have pulled it back in
again ? Whilst we scratched our heads and watched, she kinda burped and then
her vagina poked back out again !
prolapses can occur both before and after birth. Usually these are poked back
inside and the opening sutured up to stop them coming back out. If this is
before birth, it is important that you keep close watch so the stitches can be
cut before the baby is born.
Tear – prior to/during birthing
“It looks like
the cria is going to come out the anus – you can see the head pushing in that
area” say owners in fright. My reassurance falls on deaf ears as it does look
ominous. Generally this is just the positioning for birthing and can start a
fortnight before birthing. And the mum will birth vaginally.
only once seen the horrid results of a rectal wall tearing, where the entire
uterus with cria inside it comes out the anal area. It is a quick death for mum
and cria, from bloody haemorrhaging. I found mum dead on the dawn birthing
round, but even if it had happened during the daytime watch, it would probably,
with the bleeding, have still been death that resulted for both.
- within days of birth
Now mum has
birthed, take almost as much interest in her rear end as you did before birthing
! Look under her tail when she is at the dung pile, and hold her for a closer
look if she remains swollen in the rear.
Do check any
discharges - a sniff will soon tell you if it indicates any infection in mum.
Any yellow discharge, or pus, or a lot of blood, requires immediate vet
but usually passed a few days after birthing, is a thick pinky mucus or glob of
tissue. To me, it looks and feels like the fatty bit I cut off the chicken meat
before cooking it. This is normal, and is of no concern. There may also be a
small amount of fluid discharged, and it may be blood tinged, within the first
5-7 days of birthing. Again normal.
birth, whether a dystocia or not, puts a mum at risk of infection. Antibiotic
cover by way of an injection and/or insertion of a foaming pessary is essential
- call your vet to do this as arm length gloves are needed to get the pessary in
through the cervix, and it needs to be done before the cervix starts contracting
After a normal
birth we like to hold mum and check her teats, stripping out any wax, and
expressing the first few drops of milk, to make it easier for the cria to feed.
We like to keep close watch and ensure that the cria is feeding within 3 hours
or so of birth.
The milk often
does not come down until the placenta has passed, so if the placenta is slow to
come, then the milk may be as well. Mums seem to know this, and may not let
their cria feed until they have milk.
If there is a
lack of milk, it can be due to a nervous or first time mum, a poor milker,
mastitis or udder edema, or refusal to let milk down.
You can get a
mum to let her milk down quite quickly with an oxytocin injection, or you can
painstakingly use a cut-off syringe to manually express the milk and collect it
for feeding the cria.
Mastitis is an
infection in the mammary glands. Indications are enlargement, tenderness,
excessive warmth, or blood in the milk, and hence the mum may refuse to let the
cria feed. Mastitis is rare and treatable. Udder edema is an accumulation of
fluid in the tissue around the mammary glands, which may feel swollen and firm.
The swelling may make the normal size teats appear small, and make it difficult
for the cria to latch on. Call the vet in both instances.
mum will get one enlarged teat, which is usually an infection. Sniff the milk
from the teat - do NOT taste it, as some of the teat infections are real nasty.
Ask your vet for advice on whether to milk the teat out or let it stay engorged
and dry that teat off.
If your cria
is not getting enough milk, for whatever reason, you need to be on to it asap.
Otherwise three days is about as long as the cria will last before it starves.
feeding - before and after birthing
Feeding a cria
can take a lot from a mum. If the mum is underweight or loses a lot of weight
early in lactation, supplementation is desirable for the dam's health.
We now feed a
high protein lucerne chaff based mix to our dams in late pregnancy and early in
lactation. Mums that have special needs are kept in a close paddock and
supplemented individually. Nic has formulated this feed from a study of the pregnant and
lactating alpaca's nutritional needs. They love the mix, and as it is not
grain-based, are able to eat as much as they want without any ill effects -
although we do measure out about 300 grams each a day.
Take as much
interest in, and notice of, your dam after birth as you do before birth. It will
make all the difference to picking up any unusual signs that indicate she needs
some health help.
all of the dreadful things described above can occur, and after a period of rest
and healing, mum can be re-mated and will birth again. In all the cases I've
been involved with - from prolapsed uterus to caesarean – the mums have gone on
to have perfectly normal births next time around.
Updated May 2013