We’re excited to share our story about our first cria born on the farm this past May. Diablo was a Mother’s Day surprise. Read on for more. This article was originally published in the Camelid Quarterly Magazine June edition 2018.
In my previous article I told you about my decision to leave the city and start my Alpaca farm on the shores of Hay Bay in Napanee, Ontario. It was – and still is –the best decision of my life. June is my first anniversary and the year has been filled with wonderful new, exciting, and unexpected experiences. In this article, I’d like to tell you about one of the major events on any farm, the birth of my first cria.
What to expect when you’re expecting – Alpaca edition
As I am a new farmer, I began with detailed research on everything to do with the birthing process. I relied on my mentors Heather, Mike and Ruby Candler of Oak Hills Alpacas, who assured me that everything would go well. In fact, alpacas need far less human intervention than horses, cows, or other livestock. I also read as much as I could find on newborn cria, the birthing process, care for the dam (pre- and post-delivery), and any unexpected scenarios or situations that could arise.
For the novice farmer I highly recommend C. Norman Evans’ ALPACA Field Manual. It was especially helpful in preparing my Cria Care Kit which is the top twelve things you will need, including a hair dryer and towels to dry off the cria, in case it is chilled or the weather is not optimal for the cria’s survival; frozen colostrum in case the cria can’t make that original first suckle or the dam has only has milk on offer; and a cell phone in case I needed to call for help! Chapter 17 on newborns, in Clare Hoffman’s Caring for Llamas and Alpacas was also a must read for immediate concerns on how to check for normal breathing and what to do with the umbilical cord, how to watch for the delivery of the placenta and what a normal placenta looks like once it hits the ground.
While useful, jeepers are they scary! When I read the words, “Dystocia, uterine torsion, cystitis, uterine penetration and peritonitis”, I really started to wonder what I had gotten myself into. This wasn’t sounding like a James Herriot feel-good story, and I could not imagine having to glove up and assist with the delivery of an abnormally presented cria!
I went over my checklist and surveyed my supplies: stethoscope, thermometer, towels, blankets, hair dryer, gauze, vet wrap, iodine, syringes, the list went on. My warm room was starting to look like an over-stocked OB ward and my mother, a retired Registered Nurse of thirty-five years, could not believe that I would need so many medical supplies for the birth of one small animal. And so, prepared with everything I could think of, I began to watch the calendar.
Anxiously awaiting the new arrival
My first cria was due on May 8th, 2018. Blondie was a first time mother so neither of us knew what to expect. My other girls had given birth before (at other farms and with more experienced human helpers) and produced beautiful alpacas with lovely fleece. But I was nervous since this was my first cria.
To the barn and back again
As the day approached, I found myself pacing back and forth to the barn several times a day. I was checking for “hip dip” and whether or not she was “bagged up”, and the placement of her tail to the back of her spine – all the while thinking would I even recognize what I was looking at if it presented itself? One of the complications was the enormous amount of fleece that Blondie was carrying which made it next to impossible to tell whether the conditions were ripe for delivery. As a first-timer, having never witnessed a birth or an expectant mom ready to give birth, I had no idea what “normal” was – hence no point of reference. It was completely nerve wracking as I continued to fret about the due date. As the hours turned into days, Blondie went past her due date by five days – she was holding on to that cria like Frodo held on to the Ring. I realized that my constant vigilance wasn’t going to make this happen any quicker and that perhaps the breeding dates weren’t as reliable as I had thought. It was time to calm myself down and get a grip.
On Mother’s Day around 2:00 pm, I heard my adult boys having yet another donnybrook out in their pen. Spring has certainly had an impact on their obsession with getting to the females and when they can’t, they begin looking for alternate ways to alleviate their energy. However, on this day, their friskiness was getting a bit too loud. So out I went to break up the fight, restore order and replenish water buckets as the day was very warm.
As I reached over the door on pen #3 to pour the water, I noticed a small black bundle on the hay. It was about the size of a small cocker-spaniel puppy, was cushed on the hay, and it was still wet. After a moment of initial shock and paralysis, I pulled myself together, went for my phone and began to recite the 20-20-20 mantra provided to me by Melody Macdonald of
- 20 minutes of active labour
- 20 minutes for cria to stand and drink
- 20 minutes for placenta delivery
It’s a boy
My next call was to Heather Candler and her daughter Ruby who were grocery shopping in Belleville (45 minutes away). They dumped their cart, jumped into the car and headed over to help me through the next crucial hours. Heather and Ruby were amazing. They walked me through Heather’s customized cria checklist for Day 1, 4 weeks, 8 weeks and 12 weeks. We first checked for sex – it was a boy! We then checked his airway, breathing, teeth for eruption, heart, spine, ears, limbs, joints and iodized his navel. We delayed weighing him to ensure that we maximized his opportunity to feed. Once on the scale, we were all astounded – his birth weight was 20 lbs, and he fought us all the way to the scale! There, cushed on the hay, was Blondie’s first cria.
Diabolo is a beautiful true black baby boy. He was up and running within twenty minutes. Not only did he stand (okay, it took a few attempts to get his legs under him), but he was soon running around his pen. He was extremely unimpressed with being taken away from his first meal when we went to weigh him. I look at him now, four weeks on, and I still marvel at how fast he is growing.
Since Blondie was a new mum, on the advice of Heather and Ruby, I put Jewel, another dam and experienced mother, in the same pen with Blondie to show her the way. As of this writing Diabolo is a healthy 27.3 lbs and is filled with high spirits and a constant desire to play with his penmates. Stella and Susie – two yearlings that love to race and pronk in the paddock. My next dam is due later in June and I can’t wait.
In the meantime, the farm has had another new arrival but this one is of the canine variety. My beautiful Landseer Newfoundland puppy arrived two days ago. His name is Captain Morgan and ironically, he too is 27.3 lbs. I can see that he and Diabolo will become fast friends – they both want someone to play with! The puppy and the cria have been looking at each other through the fence and each time we go out, they come closer and closer together.
So, what have I learned and what is my advice to new farmers? Do all your research, be prepared, talk to other experienced breeders, don’t panic about the due date and, above all, trust your instincts!
Alpaca mothers know what they are doing!
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