Cria Birthing for New Owners
Author: Terry Miller
For most of us in northern New England, spring heralds the arrival of our cria birthing season. I know several alpaca owners who will be experiencing cria births for the first time this year and have been thinking about how to help them to prepare.
The first thing I recommend is to purchase a book on alpaca neonatal care such as Llama and Alpaca Neonatal Care by Smith, Timm and Long. This is a good basic book, clearly written, which guides you through the process from prebirth to care of the neonate.
We like to stick close to home when a cria is due and we watch the dam carefully for any signs of labor or discomfort. Extreme discomfort could be a sign of uterine torsion which will need to be corrected by a vet. Discomfort and straining could also be a sign that the dam is not able to deliver due to a dystocia or malpositioning of the cria. A new owner might be able to correct a simple dystocia, but should never hesitate to call the vet if in doubt. I strongly recommend taking a hands-on neonatal clinic.
When we see that a birth is imminent, we try our best to watch from a distance. If everything seems to go well, we do a few quick things soon after the cria hits the ground: we make sure the cria is breathing and clear any membranes away from the mouth and nasal passages, we dip the umbilical cord and then we dry the cria with towels and/or a hair dryer depending on the weather. We do this for only a few minutes at a time and in between leave mom and baby to bond and, hopefully, start nursing. We also take the crias temperature soon after birth. A normal cria temp should be in the range of 100 to 102 degrees. Its important to understand that a cria with a low temp is not able to digest properly and must be warmed up right away. Our next priority is to make sure the cria nurses. We try not to interfere with the natural process, but we dont wait too long before stepping in and helping the cria find moms milk. It might be necessary to strip the waxy plugs from the dams teats and check to see that her milk has come down.
Once nursing is going well, we keep an eye on mom and baby without bothering them too much. We watch for the dam to deliver the placenta so we can check that its complete. The other tasks we want to accomplish in the hours following the birth are: weighing the cria and heres the exciting part waiting for that first big cria poop. This is when the cria passes the meconium. It is important to note whether the cria is urinating and pooping. The meconium can be large and difficult to pass. It might be necessary to administer an enema to help the cria pass the meconium.
Dont forget about the dam in the excitement surrounding the new cria. Check under her tail for lacerations or inflammation that might warrant the attention of the vet.
Our crias are usually born in the barn among the other dams and crias. With a new mother or one that is distracted by her herdmates, we place a pen made with green panels in the stall or pasture for mom and cria. This gives the pair some time in their own space and helps with bonding, yet allows the dam the security of being among her herdmates.
If the cria seems healthy, we like to schedule our vet to examine the cria and draw blood for IgG testing within a few days of the birth. At that time, we can put a few drops of the blood on an FTA card for DNA testing. Its a good idea to talk to your vet ahead of time and establish a protocol for neonatal care. IgG testing is important to some owners and not to others. Some vets recommend vaccinations and/or selenium shots soon after birth and others wait until the cria is older. Work with your vet to establish procedures that best suit your farm.
A breeding farm must be prepared for both routine and problematic births as well as caring for healthy and compromised crias. Some farms like to have a birthing kit ready to go at all times during the birthing season. The following are my suggestions for basic birthing and neonatal supplies to have on hand in addition to regular farm/first aid supplies:
Clean towels for drying the cria after birth
Hair dryer for drying the cria after birth
OB Lubricant in case of a dystocia
Disposable gloves regular and shoulder-length
Nasal Aspirator bulb-type aspirator sold for human babies can be used to clear nasal passages if necessary
Nolvasan or iodine to dip the umbilical cord after birth. Dont forget to dilute the Nolvasan
Film canisters the easy way to dip the umbilical cord;
Umbilical tape or clamp string can be used; dip in Novalsan and tie off umbilical cord if bleeding is excessive
Enema to help cria pass the meconium; we use a childs Fleets enema bottle with warm water and a few drops of dish soap
Cria coat may be needed in cooler weather
Colostrum frozen or powdered colostrum may be purchased and kept on hand in case a dams milk does not come in during the first few hours after birth
Pritchard nipple and plastic bottle in case a cria needs to be bottle fed
Feeding tube and syringe in case a cria needs to be tube fed
Oxytocin injectable hormone; consult with your veterinarian and use for a dam that has not passed the placenta or one whose milk has not come down
Cria scale if a large scale is not available, it is important to at least have a small scale for weighing crias
The above is only a very brief overview of birthing. For the most part, things go well and the dam and cria manage just fine without much help from us. Prepare as best you can by having a birthing kit ready to go, a good reference book and your vets phone number on hand. If youre lucky enough to have an experienced camelid owner nearby, you have a great resource. Get to know your camelid neighbors!
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