Sunday, April 15, 2012


No, no cria from Bluff yet, but all this waiting gave me the idea to write about what to expect when a cria is born and what supplies to have on hand.

Ralph saying hello to Cattera's newborn cria, Catallegre.

Hands down, crias are my favorite part of raising llamas!  There's nothing cuter than a fuzzy little baby llama!  And after waiting ~11.5 months, their birth tends to be a big deal on most farms.

Catastrophie standing proud over her newborn cria, Annapurna.

Llamas are very stoic animals, and this applies to birthing as well.  With most females, you will have no idea when they are going to deliver.  I like to watch udders, but you have to know your particular female(s).  I have had some females who won't produce milk until the day they deliver, while others (including Bluff) will have a full udder for a month or two before they are due.  When I had multiple females due every year I would keep a record of when they started to develop an udder, and then use that information the next year to try and determine when they would actually deliver.  Some alpaca breeders swear by checking the ligaments around the tail- they should soften the day of delivery.  Another possible sign is a relaxed vulva- it will look a lot bigger and even show the pink lining when birth is imminent.  Some females will go off by themselves to deliver.  I had one female who wouldn't ever deliver when someone was home!

This can be a bad sign- lying on their side with the back legs thrown out to the side.  This is Bluff (pregnant with her first cria), who was experiencing a uterine torsion.

This is a normal sign: a relaxed vulva.

When birth is really near, most females will get up and lie down repeatedly.  They'll visit the potty pile a lot, but won't actually go to the bathroom.  Sometimes they will shift from side to side when they are lying down.  You may actually see the water break, or you may just see the nose and toes appear!  If everything is going right, you want to see the head and two front legs first.  If you have anything other than the head and both front legs, CALL YOUR VET!  Delivery tends to stall at this point for a few minutes, don't be worried if the cria just dangles there.  It's good so that the fluid can drain out of the cria's nasal passages.  If there is any membrane around the cria's nose or mouth, go ahead and remove that.  It normally won't take more than 15-30 minutes for the shoulders and the rest of the cria to be delivered- if it is much more than that, you might want to call the vet or assist the dam yourself.

Once the cria is delivered, stand back and let mom and baby bond for a few minutes.  The cria will thrash around a bit in an attempt to kush upright or even stand.  As long as the cria is breathing and moving around, you don't have anything to worry about immediately.  After a few minutes (or right away if it is particularly wet or cold), try to sneak in and dry off the cria.  Some dams will freak out if you try to mess with their crias, while others have no problem.  Just be cautious and watch your particular female.  Pretty soon the cria will try to stand.  You'll want to dip or spray the navel with 7% iodine or novalsan right away, and at least a few more times that day and the next.  If the umbilical cord is particularly long, you may want to tie it up so that it doesn't get stepped on or ripped.  It should fall off in a few days.

Cattera and her newborn cria, Cataleya.

Now that the cria is standing, it will start looking around for the milk bar.  Most crias will try to nurse every possible spot on the dam before they find the right spot.  I tend to let the cria explore on their own for 15-30 minutes, but if they still haven't latched on by that point I will steer them in the right direction.  Again, hopefully the dam will let you assist.  Crias nurse a bit differently than most people would expect- they switch between nipples rather quickly (I believe it is something like every 3 seconds they will switch), and don't nurse for very long at a time (normally no longer than a minute or two).  You can check the cria's lips for milk residue to tell if they have been nursing successfully.  The cria needs to nurse in the first 6 hours to get the beneficial colostrum.

May allowing her cria, Camissia, to nurse.  Notice how May's tail is wrapped- we like to do this a week or two before the female is due, as it helps keep them clean during delivery and makes it easier for us to see what is going on back there.  Camissia's ears are also taped- they were very floppy at birth.

After the cria has nursed, you can do a bit more hands-on examination.  Make sure the teeth have erupted (no teeth is a sign of prematurity), and you can stick your little finger in their mouth to check for a good suck reflex (a weak suck reflex can cause nursing problems).  Droopy ears or weak pasterns are other signs of prematurity.  You may want to take the cria's temperature- normal is 100-101F.  You'll definitely want to weigh the cria at some point.  Normal birth weight can range from 20-35lbs.  The important thing is to weigh the cria at the same time every day for at least a week- the cria should gain between 0.5-2lbs a day.  Any weight loss or stalling of weight gain should be talked over with a vet.

A perfect example of droopy ears.  All of May's crias were born with ears like this (actually May herself was too!), I believe it was partly genetic, partly because they all were somewhat premature.  We routinely would tape up droopy ears to help them hold shape.

Within 1-6 hours, the dam should deliver the placenta or afterbirth.  If this doesn't occur within 24 hours or the placenta doesn't look to be in one piece, CALL THE VET!  Whatever you do, don't pull on the placenta!  We learned this the hard way!  Some dams are really uncomfortable until the placenta passes, and won't let the cria nurse until then.  As long as it doesn't take more than 5-6 hours, don't worry too much.

Catastrophie with her first cria, McKinley.  Alpacas Alejandro and Moreo look curiously at the new addition.

Depending on the weather, time of day, and your female, you can put the mom and baby in a stall, or leave them in the pasture to continue bonding.  If its raining, cold, or almost dark, we'll normally go ahead and bring them in the barn.  Otherwise just leave them outside.  If you have any pushy individuals in your herd, you might want to put them in the barn or a different pasture.  We like to keep the mom and baby in the barn at night for the first few nights (less if the weather is nice, normally at least 2 nights).  We bed a stall down with straw, and add water and hay for the dam (plus some grain).  Make sure there isn't anything the cria can get into.  If the weather is cold but dry, you can use a cria coat (or a child's vest) to keep the cria warm.

Catastrophie and her second cria, Annapurna.  Annie was born in late September, and wore a coat on and off her first winter.

Some people like to give an enema to the cria within a few hours of birth, to help them pass the meconium (first feces).  We don't do this anymore, unless the cria doesn't pass the meconium within 24 hours or appears weak or lethargic or is straining.

A very tired Catallegre laying in the pasture with his mom, Cattera.  Being born is a lot of work!

You'll want to continue dipping the navel for another day, monitor nursing, and weigh the cria daily for at least a week.  Make sure the cria pees and poops (it is not uncommon for the cria to have a thick, yellow feces for awhile, especially if the dam is a heavy milker- however, if this turns into persistent diarrhea, call the vet).

Bluff letting her first cria, Rainier, nurse.  Bluff is an extremely heavy milker, and both of her crias experienced "mustard poop" on and off for their first few weeks of life.

Now all that's left is to sit back and enjoy your healthy cria!  I'll try to post stories of some of our llama births over the years.  No birth is ever the same!  I apologize for not having birthing sequence photos to show, but they are all in hard copy and I don't have a scanner!  There are tons of great websites with photos though!

April keeping watch over the fall 2005 crop of crias (L-R: Trillium, Catastrophie, Inali).

Oh, and our list of cria supplies:
             Powdered colostrum
             20 oz. plastic pop bottle (washed out)

 Red Pritchard nipples
 Baby bottles and nipples
 KY jelly
 Bulb aspirator
 Film canisters w/ lids (washed out)
 Cotton gauze pads
 Clean towels
 Digital scale & sling
 Cria coat
 NurseMate (colostrum paste)
 Cria books

One of my favorite photos...3 generations!  The brown cria is McKinley, his mom is the appy (Catastrophie), and Taz's mom is the brown/silver girl sniffing the cria (Cattera).

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