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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  
 

Progesterone Pregnancy

By Linda Blake Southern Alpacas Stud

EllaWhen wee Ella was born, she had been two years in the making, using the latest scientific knowledge, using progesterone implants, with Ebony, her mother.

Ebony, being a maiden, was more difficult to get pregnant that first time. 

After several tries, Ebony got pregnant in the summer, but she lost it within the first month.  And this happened twice.

Our experience has shown that a maiden female who does not get pregnant in summer, will often fall pregnant in spring, with the natural cycle of the seasons.

 

Pregnant Come spring, Ebony spat off at 14 days as pregnant, but at 28 days, she sat for the male – not pregnant.  We were to go through this process several times  - pregnant at 14 days, but not holding it for the second spit. 

Our philosophy as stud masters is to be as natural as possible, but if after three matings the female is not pregnant, to intervene.  The odds are 50:50 for a female getting pregnant in any mating, which makes it 50% likely after the first mating, 75% likely after two matings, and 87.5% likely after three matings.  Research in Australia bears this out. 

Ebony came back to our farm, and her mating programme became more intensive.  Mating, a spit to check for ovulation at day 7, a spit to check for pregnancy at day 14, and so far, so good.  She was ovulating, and she was getting pregnant. 

 

  Progesterone raises upon mating, and continues to rise if ovulation occurs, and keeps rising if pregnancy occurs.  If pregnancy does not occur, the progesterone level begins to drop around day 12/13, and the female becomes receptive to mating again about day 14.

 serum progesterone


We begin 3 day spit-offs at day 14, 17, 20  …and, analysing our mating and spit-off records over two mating seasons, we found that Ebony was losing the foetus at around day 17.  Female alpacas all have a natural cycle length, which varies both individually, and over time.  It seemed that Ebony’s was around 17 days. 

“Time to get intensive, “ said Nic.  “Let’s look at artificially raising the progesterone level to see if she can keep the foetus past day 17.”

 

  We’d already checked that Ebony was in good health, including internally.  She was an acceptable size to mate, being over 40kg.  The vet used our speculum to peer inside and see if all appeared normal in looks and size, and to double check that she had no internal infection.. 

To raise her progresterone, in true Kiwi fashion we improvised – with sheep vaginal implants.  We used “Eazi-breed CIDR” which has 0.3 grams of progesterone per implant, and followed the instructions for sheep.

 

Progesterone
Implants
applicatorThe implants are narrow and long, with wings.  These are inserted with lots of lubrication on a special applicator, that folds the wings back initially, and once inside the vagina, the wings spread out, keeping the implant inside. 

The scheme was day 1 mate, day 7 spit for ovulation check, day 14 pregnancy spit, and zap a progesterone implant in before the crucial lowering of progesterone at day 17.  Day 28 – pull out the implant, and insert a new one, as they last about 14 days.

 

Testing for
Pregnancy
And the waiting began, because with increased progesterone, we could no longer check for pregnancy the usual ways - Ebony would spit off a male, and also return a high progesterone blood test. 

At week 12 we scanned.  It’s nerve-racking looking at a scanner screen.  More fluid could be seen in the uterus, which is the result of higher progesterone, due to pregnancy, or a retained corpus lutem, or due to implants !  The question was, which ? 

We looked for any body parts - nothing more could be seen.

Our hearts sank.  What to do ?  Stop the implants, and risk that she was carrying a cria, and the reduced progesterone may mean she aborts ?  Or carry on with the fortnightly procedure for another 9 months, with maybe no result ?

There was no loss by continuing with the implants.  At the worst, we could start the whole thing again in spring.

 

Spring Spring arrived, and Ebony was now 8 months along in her “pregnancy”, maybe.  This time as the image came up on the screen, we could see an even more enlarged uterus, lots of fluid, but no cria outline.  Then maybe, just maybe, a leg bone, as a long straight line appeared fuzzily on the screen.

Obviously we were going to continue the implants ...

The last implant was due to be inserted in late November, and left for a month, to run down the progesterone gradually.  Progesterone drops prior to birthing, and the hormonal changes open the cervix for birthing to occur.

 

Summer Reality The vet was keen to scan again. It is much harder to see a cria at this late stage of pregnancy, as the cria and mother’s body are so close together. Again, we could see very little that showed us a positive pregnancy. 

Bernice the vet suddenly jumped up from her crouched position by Ebony’s flank.

“It kicked me”, she exclaimed.  “There is a live cria in there.”

We could do little but wait and watch for the last few weeks. 

 

  Ebony and EllaWhen Ebony finally went into labour, we all had our eyes glued on her, looking for any signs that she needed assistance. 

A black head was quickly followed by two black legs.  Then a bigger push and the shoulders were through, followed by the rest of the body sliding out – and there was a cria.  Alive.  Kicking.  Normal.  And a female.

As we watched Ebony fussing over her cria, we felt a relief from the tension of many long months of concern.  Another life - and all the effort was worth it. 

And next time all was well - Ebony got pregnant first time she was mated, 14 days after birthing, and presented another lovely black female cria 11.5 months later.

 

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