2022/2023 Alpaca Owners Guide

alpacas that they perceive are encroaching on "their" food. Also, they often spit at one another during squabbles within the herd (usually involving two or more males). From time to time alpacas do spit at people on purpose, but it is more common that humans get caught in the crossfire between alpacas, so it’s best to study their behavior and learn to avoid the most vulnerable situations. Q: How does alpaca reproduct ion di f fer from other livestock? A: The courtship ritual of the alpaca is very unique. The females are induced ovulators, meaning there are no “heat” cycles with visible discharge, so it is a bit of a challenge to detect the internal ovulation cycles. This also means they can breed and conceive any time of the year. To maintain control over the breeding process, most alpaca breeders maintain separate male and female herds. By keeping the animals segregated, owners can decide which animals to breed, and when. For example, many breeders avoid late term pregnancies and births during the coldest winter months

and the hottest summer months. Induced ovulation means it is the physical act of breeding itself that causes ovulation, therefore making artificial insemination (AI) somewhat difficult. There are two basic breeding methods available: pen breeding and pasture breeding. Pen (or “hand”) breeding involves introducing the male to the female in a small enclosed area for mating. If the female is not already pregnant, she generally will be receptive to the male’s attentions. After the initial breeding has taken place, the breeder typically will then re-introduce the male/ female pair to each other a few days later. If the female has ovulated and conceived, she will reject the male by “spitting-off,” and will not permit him to breed with her. Although not conclusive proof of pregnancy, the female’s rejection of the male is oftentimes the first indication to a breeder that conception has occurred. Follow-up with an ultrasound examination a few weeks later will confirm the pregnancy. Pasture (or “field”) breeding is another method of herd management. Under this system, an alpaca rancher pastures a single male with one or more females for several days or weeks. This method is not recommended as a general practice, as it is difficult to determine when conception occurred and to predict the delivery date with any precision. However, pasture breeding can be useful in certain instances where a female is having difficulty becoming pregnant. Q: How long is the gestation period? A: The gestation period is generally 11 months (about 340 days), but can last as long as 12 or 12-1/2 months. After birthing, females are typically rebred within three to four weeks. Q: Howmany offspring do alpacas have at one time? A: Females nearly always give birth to a single cria (KREE’-ah), although twin births also do occur on rare occasions. Q: Does the birthing require human assistance? A: In most cases, crias are born without intervention, and usually during daylight hours. A cria normally weighs between 15 and 19 pounds and is usually standing and nursing within 90 minutes of birth. The cria continues to nurse for about six months until it is weaned. New owners

Photo courtesy of Jaxson Morris

20 | ALPACA OWNERS GUIDE 2022/2023

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