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Sorry, that is not MY cria!"
Author: Melissa Ferrara
Shearing day had finally arrived on our farm and of course, it had to be a classic Conencticut early summer day
90 degrees and humid as all get out. One by one, all of the alpacas were unburdened of their heavy fleeces and actually seemed cool unlike the humans working to make them so. As part of the herd to be shorn, our 9 day old cria, Dulcinea, was carried to the mat and within what seemed like mere seconds, her dense, crimpy cria coat was off. She handled this like a trooper and promptly returned to mom shaking off the whole experience. Delilah, a wonderful mother with one other cria to her name, immediately smelled the cria and looked around with some question and wonder. Not to our surprise, Dulcinea did not immediately try to nurse and off they walked together. All is well we all thought.
As the day progressed and the fiber was all brought into storage, we were able to spend more time gazing at the newly naked gang. Delilah was not being extremely attentive to Dulcinea, but there were no signs of her trying to nurse so we were not overly concerned at this point. But, then it happened. Dulcinea tried to nurse and Delilah rejected her. It happened again
and again. Our first thought for a simple solution was to put the cria coat Dulcinea wore for her first two nights back on her. Delilah nursed her. Lou and I looked at each other with great relief and went in for the night.
The next morning, my daughter, Austin, and I went out early to feed the alpacas only to find Delilah rejecting Dulcineas every attempt to nurse. The coat was still on her and not doing the trick anymore it seemed. We held Delilah to examine her utters to look for any signs of soreness or other problems and found nothing remarkable there. We took her temperature and found it to be perfectly within normal range.
Our assumption had to rest on that she did not recognize this as her cria. We did find it odd that if Delilah did not recognize this as her cria, why wasnt she looking for the cria she believed she had lost? She was not crying, distressed, or concerned in any way it seemed.
As our next step, Austin and I felt we had to try to get the shorn fleece and re-scent the cria. We took the soft, crimpy bits from the bag and rubbed that little girl all over her body with what had all just come off a day before. Dulcinea thought we were just crazy and we probably were because that did not work at all. Well, not for what we wanted anyway. What it did do was cause Delilah to go into a frenzy looking for the cria that belonged to that scented fleece. Now, we had the mother was crying, pacing, and smelling other alpacas trying desperately to find her missing cria. All the while, Dulcinea is running along side her as if to say, Here I am, Mom! Its me! This made Delilah reject her even more it appeared.
At this point, we pulled Lou into the picture and decided we had to hold Delilah to see if we could force her to nurse her cria. Lou held the front end of Delilah and I held her tail and back leg to prevent her from being able to reject Dulcinea. Dulcinea did her job of latching right on and nursing away for several minutes. Delilah was not pleased to say the least, but the cria ate and that was all that mattered.
This process continued throughout the day with no improvement in their relationship when it came to nursing. Delilah was fortunately very kind to Dulcinea and would let her lay next to her and walk along side her, but all bets were off when she tried to nurse. One of us was on watch all day long and it was easy to access that Dulcinea wanted to nurse approximately every three hours. We would allow her three attempts to nurse without human assist and then would have to intervene. We did notice that Delilah gave slightly less of a struggle each time. By days end, I would hold her tail and leg briefly and then would be able to release without her rejecting the cria. Lou still had to hold the front end.
Day three started in the same way and we knew we wanted to try something else to try to make the relationship connection. I had spent a great deal of time the day before doing research in my personal alpaca library and on the Internet looking for ideas. Many had to do with newborn cria which did not apply in this case. One line in one of my books mentioned the use of vanilla extract on the crias anus as a solution. I could not imagine what that would do other than make that area smell a little nicer. I finally placed a call to my vet who I hated to bother on a holiday weekend. After describing the scenario, he stated he had peppermint extract in his truck and I could borrow it. I asked him what was up with the extract idea and he completed the concept that the book neglected to do. He stated that the extract is not only to be put on the cria but also inside the dams nostrils. This disorients her sense of smell and the only other thing with that same smell is her cria who is also sporting the same fragrance on her head, neck, back, and anus. Now, that made more sense.
So, we did this and repeated it several times throughout that day. It was not a quick cure-all but it sure did get Delilah to take notice of her cria again. The nursings became easier and easier that day but all still needed some assist. By the last late night feeding, I alone was able to gently place my hand behind Delilahs head and she stood to nurse.
The morning of Day four, I arose early to head outside, fully expecting to assist again, and there was Delilah nursing Dulcinea on her own. I kept watch throughout the day and all regular nursings followed suit. By days end, Delilah was truly concerned when I weighed her cria and we saw gentle nuzzling and playfulness before dark.
So, Lou and I have wondered what we did differently with this situation than in the past. We have shorn cria who were less than 5 days old with no issue so we are not sure it was an age problem. In the past, we had only shorn the crias blanket area as the reason for shearing was simply to keep them cool through our hot, humid summers. This time, the entire cria was shorn. I understand there are issues with showing young alpacas whose first shearings are only in the blanket area, but I am sure rethinking this for the future. This is a situation I hope never to repeat again. As far as Delilah is concerned, I realized that of all of my alpacas, she is the one who is most highly sensitive to smell. She greets me everyday by sticking her nose almost inside my mouth and breathing deeply to smell the chai tea that I drink. This may explain her sensitivity to the shearing oils left on the cria. She has never had a spring cria so none of her cria had ever been shorn until after they were weaned. As for Dulcinea, we noticed that she makes no sounds or vocalizations to have helped her mother recognize her over others. All Delilah had to go on was smell. We briefly wondered if she might be deaf, but a banging gate proved that to be untrue.
I debated writing about this experience as I do not know really know why it happened, how we actually resolved it, or what I would do differently in the future. I suppose the one thing I can say is that keeping that cria nursing off her mother and not jumping to bottle feeding was the best thing we did. It was not pleasant and I believe we had it easy. Other breeders have told us stories of holding the dams on the ground to make the nursings take place. We would have done that if need be. With regard to cria shearing, we will shear our upcoming June cria although I have not decided in what fashion yet. As for Delilahs cria in 2008
we will wait until she is over 4 months old and able to handle life more easily without mom
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