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Posts Tagged ‘cria’

It is breeding season at the ranch. As we select the ladies to breed the guys line up at the pen gate hoping they get the opportunity to enhance the herd with their genetics. At Missouri Alpacas we breed for quality grey fiber which means we try to choose a dam and sire that will have the best possible chance of producing grey crias (baby alpacas).

When you introduce a male to a female alpaca she will either cush, letting the male know she is ready to breed, or she will run, kick and spit. The latter is a definite “I don’t want to have anything to do with you!” Depending on the time of day it is, you could see a frustrated male covered in green spit. Not a pretty sight.

We use a blood test to check our females for pregnancy; some ranches use a “spit test”. A pregnant female will “spit off” the male and not allow him to breed her. Not completely accurate but a good indication that a cria is on its way. Spit is a defense mechanism for the alpaca and signals that something is happening they do not agree with.

So when someone asks me “Do alpacas spit?” I say “Yes, but not usually at people.” An alpaca will spit at another alpaca for various reasons other than breeding: you are too close to their feed bucket, in their space or they just have a bad attitude right now. Most of the time if I get spit on it is because I am in the cross fire of the event. Once I opened the side barn door just in time to get the effect of one alpaca mad at another alpaca – wrong place at the wrong time.

Now don’t get me wrong, if I make an alpaca mad, by trying to get it to do something it does not want to do, I could get spit on. I have one alpaca that will wait until I am finished with the chore (usually trimming nails) then will turn around and try to spit at me after I take the halter off. I know the deal so I try to stay out of the way. I have to give her credit for her effort. She definitely tries.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We have a sign hanging in the barn, Spit Happens, because sometimes it just does.

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A couple of years ago I started to notice an unusual (to me) bird in our alpaca pastures. It made a lot of noise and did more running around on the ground then flying. I grabbed my Missouri bird book and discovered the Kill Deer. They have very distinct markings so they are easy to identify. I then discovered that they lay their eggs on the ground, usually amongst a small cluster of rocks. They don’t build a nest; just lay them in a hollowed section of the grouping. The eggs are almost the same color pattern as the rocks so you have to really look to find them.

The problem with laying eggs in the alpaca pastures is that the alpacas are continually moving around the pasture grazing. Usually the older alpacas will avoid the eggs but the crias (baby alpaca) haven’t figured that out yet. As the crias are exploring and romping around the pasture they sometimes get too close for momma bird’s comfort. When this happens a series of events and antics begin.

One of the birds, they usually guard the eggs as a pair; will start making a lot of noise to sound the alarm. She/he is probably screaming, “Get away from my nest!” Of course alpacas don’t speak Kill Deer so they haven’t a clue what is being said. The crias think the bird wants to play so they are more than willing to participate. The bird will try to draw the cria away by leaving the nest in hopes that she will follow. If that doesn’t work then the second diversion is started. The Kill Deer will spread out its wings and tail feathers, revealing a yellow coloring, meant to draw attention to itself. As the cria draws closer the Kill Deer will keep moving away from the eggs. The third diversion is known as the “broken wing” scenario. The Kill Deer will throw one wing out to the side and flap it as if it were broken; demonstrating that it is an easy prey. Again as the predator – cria – approaches it moves farther away.

I was taking a break from chores and noticed one of our new crias, Quibble, encountering one of these nests. Knowing what was to follow I watched the process with a grin on my face. After several minutes the cria finally lost interest and moved back to the herd. I am sure the Kill Deer was relieved and a little tired of the whole thing.

I’ll Play!

Nature has such a wonderful way of protecting itself. Sometimes it provides comic relief to the spectator as well.

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I was listening to my local public radio station this morning. We have a special feature called “The Backyard Birder”. He gives insight into what is happening with the birds in our area; migration, nesting, hatching, feed and feeders, etc. This morning he mentioned that everything, concerning the birds, is about 3 weeks ahead of schedule. The bird migration and their nesting have all been affected by the crazy Spring weather we have been experiencing. I am sure the fruit crop and berries will be affected as well.

The odd thing is my alpacas may be affected too, but in the opposite direction. I have 3 pregnant females, all due in the Spring. Normally the gestation period for an alpaca is 344 days.

Still Pregnant

That alone is a long time to be pregnant. Two of our ladies were due to deliver in April. April came and went and they were still pregnant. That actually became our response after checking on them; “still pregnant”.

A couple of summers past we had very high temperatures. Everyone was miserable, especially the pregnant alpacas. The gestation time started to increase. We thought it was a result of the heat and we did our best to keep the moms as cool as possible. Our barn record that year was 376 days!

Our first mom, Okura, passed her due date and we headed to shearing. Being 10 days past due we still had to shear her and it didn’t seem to matter a bit. Temperatures were unseasonably warm and we were even wearing shorts. We then had a reprieve and the temperature dropped back to more normal levels. Now she will deliver, we thought. Another week passed and still no delivery. Now the second mom was due. We were approaching the end of April with no crias on the ground yet. Our April crias were now becoming our May crias.

As I counted up the days, we were approaching our barn record. Flying by the 376 mark I was starting to get a little anxious. Visitors were scheduled for the weekend. Wouldn’t it be nice if they could see a newborn? Not much I could do but wait and pray for a healthy, live cria.

Friday was day 380! We officially would have a new ranch record. As I finished my breakfast I noticed Okura was more uncomfortable than usual. I decided to check her again in about an hour. Going to the barn I found her lying on her side, and in labor. Delivery was beginning and it went like a text-book example.

Okura & Quibble

After some serious pushing, Okura delivered a beautiful female weighing 15 pounds (an average birth weight for an alpaca). It was standing and nursing within 90 minutes. I was relieved and excited. It was a champagne day on the ranch. The visitors were thrilled to see the new arrival.

Our second mom hit day 365 today. This is an experienced mom and she has never had this long of a gestation. She still is giving no signs of being ready to deliver. Our third mom is due in 8 days. So here I am, still counting the days and waiting.

Now I don’t know if this is weather related, but it sure seems like a wild coincidence. What I do know is waiting is not an easy task. The shepherd is growing greyer with each passing day.

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Jasper, a Preemie Alpaca

We had snow this week; about 4”. It has been a very mild winter so this is only the second snowfall we have had. There was sleet and ice pellets mixed with it so the alpacas mostly stayed in the barn. The exception was our Chica Gris. Chica is the mother of our preemie alpaca, Jasper. She loves being outside, no matter what the weather is. Of course this means that Jasper is outside too. Of all the alpacas in my barn who don’t need to be out in the elements, Jasper is the one. When I went to feed and clean up around noon, there they sat, covered in snow.

The great characteristic of alpaca fiber is that it provides warmth while wicking the moisture away. The snow setting on top of their fiber just sits there. Their body heat never melts it. Their coat is just like a coat; sheltering them from the elements. Even so, I did bring Chica and Jasper in out of the snow.

Jasper, Day 1

Jasper was born August 4, 2011. He was 20 days early. For an alpaca, that is pretty early. He had a low birth weight but was up and nursing and he had a good chance of survival. I weigh my new crias (baby alpaca) daily to be sure they are getting enough to eat. Jasper was not gaining weight. The good news was he was not losing weight, but all he was doing was maintaining. I tried to bottle feed him to supplement mom but he wouldn’t have it. I gave him some vitamin/mineral paste, again to supplement mom. After a few weeks I even tried to get him to start eating grain which I softened to a paste state. He would try it for a few days and then stop taking it. He seemed a little weak but where ever mom went, Jasper followed; slowly but he followed.

A month went by with no change, except that he would gain a pound every now and then. A cria should gain 3-4 pounds a week. All I could do was monitor his progress and try different ideas to get him to eat more. Several times I thought we were going to lose him. We had visitors coming to our ranch one weekend and I even had a plan on what to do with him if he looked like he was fading away. Jasper just kept plugging along. He would even graze lying down.

Jasper, Grazing

I bring my crias into the center of the barn during morning feeding. Here they get used to eating grain out of a feed bucket and learn to eat hay. The have a chance to play together, wrestle and share feed. The older crias teach the younger ones how it works. Jasper was one of the older crias but he always keeps to himself. I noticed he was eating hay so I started putting some of the grain on top of the hay bale to trick him into eating it. It worked! He not only started eating it, but he would come look at me when it was gone. He actually wanted more! Of course, the other crias figured it out too and he had to fight a little for his share if I did not intervene on his behalf. I at least saw him eat and hoped he would keep getting stronger.

Now Jasper is 6 months old. He should be ready to leave mom and should weigh about 60 pounds. He weighs 27 pounds and we are delighted he has achieved that. I kiddingly say he may never get weaned from mom. Each day we are grateful for his life. He may never be all the alpaca he should be, but he will always be a very special alpaca to me. AND, he has the most beautiful rose-grey fiber and an adorable face.

So Jasper, keep on plugging along. The barn wouldn’t be the same without you.

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