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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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By Linda Blake Southern Alpacas Stud
Caring for frail
cria is a challenge. There are five essential care components:
a feeding regime.
3. Bonding the
cria with its mum.
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
• 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.
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.
Put 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.
Surround 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.
In 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
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.
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
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
You will find the
recommended feeding kit and feeding methods described on our page on
although there are special considerations for 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
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
(b) Cria also need
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.
cut-down syringe for expressing milk, and an artificial colostrum substitute,
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
(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
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.
Put 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
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
from Selwyn Rakaia Veterinary Services, has taken a close interest in
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.”
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.”
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.
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.
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
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.
We 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.
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.
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