This alpaca blog is intended to give a light hearted view of the day to day activities of an alpaca breeder, as well as providing an opportunity to share experiences and knowledge gained along the way.
Beck Brow Alpacas of Cumbria is an alpaca farm situated within the beautiful Eden Valley in the North of England. Our aim is to breed the finest quality alpacas available...this is our journey.
We have had our website changed on to Wordpress. The content is the same but the platform much simpler. However, it does require accessing the blog either directly from our website or by following the link below:
We are still waiting for the heatwave here in Cumbria...no shortage of grass for us...in fact topping grass could be a full time job. We did however have a couple of hot days last week, and some of the cria really didn't do well (rather a shock for them after the wind and rain), in fact we had a number of them who really slowed on their weight gain.
Sonata's cria (agisted and yet to be named) was obviously not enjoying either the heat nor the accompanying flies. She developed an eye infection (treated with Opticlox) and really just seemed to be off. With further observation it was apparent she had some colic. She was brought into the cool barn with mum, and was given Buscopan, an anti-inflammatory, and some re-hydration fluid. After a snooze for an hour, she was comfortable enough to nurse and was up and away.
Sonata's cria (right) who has a very dense fleece and suffered with the heat (sire: Waradene St Patrick of EPC)
Beck Brow The Strategist (sire: Beck Brow Explorer) also not enjoying the sun.
Beck Brow Match Point (sire: Timbertop CTGoldmine ) may just have the densest fleece we have had here...he will have to fight that point out with Strat (above).
We split our pregnant females (due 2015) into two groups this year; those who were due May and June, and those due July and August. This allows us to monitor feeding needs closely, and to keep those due, and those with the youngest cria, closest to the farm. Below are some of the older cria enjoying the sand pit....
The sand pit proving popular
We have five cria in the July/August group so far (10 more to go). The last to be born, to one of the agisted females, is being partially bottle fed and sticks close to mum...
The other four, who were born closely together, are inseparable...
A couple of cria photos caught in passing...
Beck Brow On The Money (sire: Timbertop CT Goldmine)...Sweet Secret has nabbed the sand pit!
Beck Brow Tutu (sire: Timbertop CT Goldmine)
This time of the year is all about birthing and mating (with next year's births in mind!). With sixty two females who reside on the farm to be mated (approximately 50% females who are managed here for clients) as well as drive-by, mobile, and on farm visiting females; our record keeping and management of the males' health and workload is vital.
This includes monitoring the strike rate of our males. Last year St Patrick had a strike rate on farm of 100% success on first mating, and has so far continued that record this year. His son, Beck Brow Crafter (owned by Fangdale Alpacas) has had success with his very first mating now confirmed pregnant. We have noticed that his daughters are very receptive too. A great quality in a male.
However, we had noted that Explorer had taken a couple of matings to get success with some of his first covers of this year, but when analysing the records we realised that he had a high percentage of maidens, and females left open over winter. So not really unexpected. All the stud boys had their mineral and selenium drench this morning, just to ensure they stay in tip top condition to maximise fertility.
We had Beck Brow First Edition (sire: Beck Brow Explorer) watching his paddock mate (Beck Brow Boxster) at work this morning. He has grown into a big strong male, but isn't looking like mating just yet. He has a sniff at the female..then he sits!! We will keep trying...I have Bozedown Celestrial in mind for him (late August). I cant wait to see his progeny, his adult fleece is coming back as well organised as his previous two and very fine...come on Eddie!
Beck Brow first Edition looking very like his sire.
We have had to give Explorer a paddock change today...I made the mistake of changing the dynamics within the group of stud males during the mating season. We gave Quintos (who was in with Explorer and Goldmine) to a client to use as a spit off male, as they are based over 3 hours away. Quintos must have played his part as peacemaker, for since his departure, Goldmine has been bullying Explorer (who is a softy). Explorer is now leader of the yearling group!!!
The male yearling group..now joined by Explorer
We have nine boys in group who have been retained as potential stud males; five white, one beige and three black. This is giving me a bit of a headache regarding choosing a show team for Westmorland Show...I cant take them all...and how do you choose when they only have an inch of fleece!
Beck Brow Bond (only Goldmine cria of 2014) was born in October so can go in the junior class.
Beck Brow Jimmy Choos (sire: Black Sabbath) has grown out really well
Beck Brow Mr Darcy (sire: Explorer) possibly my favourite. I love to see the organisation at the skin on shorn alpacas.
I have a vet student coming for a week's placement on Monday. I think we will be able to keep him busy; with the thirty one cria born so far (fifteen are ours - nine boys and six girls) to weigh and microchip tomorrow, forty five spit-offs to do and matings as required, all females to drench with mineral and vitamins, births expected, visting females to mate and their cria to weigh, as well as all the routine farm work...we should have a good week...looking forward to a captive audience to talk alpaca to!
So many acute problems in the newborn cria, that I see and hear about, appear to be down to the lack of understanding of failure of passive transfer. It is easy for the inexperienced breeder to wait to a cria has 'crashed' due to sepsis before intervening, without the required knowledge. The provision of plasma as a preventative measure, rather than a treatment, can save much stress and cria lives.
We have stored our on farm plasma for seven years now. We were fortunate to have gained our knowledge early and Beck Brow Explorer was given a plasma transfusion after 24 hours (despite no signs of sepsis). We knew that he hadnt received his colostrum and tests showed his levels at less than one 100 mg/dl. The chances are without the plasma he may not now be with us...perish the thought. Something I would add; from our experience very premature or dysmature cria often do not have the ability to create the required antibiodies despite taking colostrum. These cria often require plasma.
Below is some information I put together which may be of interest. However, please do consult your vet. I often hear about inexperienced vets, but all large animal vets should understand about the basics of any neonatal needs whatever the species.
Failure of Passive
Transfer and Plasma Transfusion in Camelid Neonates
The information provided below is for
guidance only, and is not in any way intended to be prescriptive. Advice should
be sought from your vet should you have any concerns about failure of passive
transfer ( PFT ) and are unsure about it's treatment.
A crucial component in the survival of the neonate is the concentration of
serum immunoglobulin (igG) . This specific immunoglobulin is the main source of
antibodies against infection for the neonate. Camelid cria are born without igG
and must acquire this from the colostrum (first milk produced by the dam).
Ensuring adequate colostrum intake (10 -20% of body weight in the first 24
hours - 5 % of this in the first 6 hours) is vital to protect cria in the first
few months of life. Failure to ingest enough colostrum in the first 24 hours of
life is probably the most important predisposing cause of cria mortality.
However, the window of opportunity is narrow; after about eight hours the cria
gut begins to lose the ability to absorb antibodies from the colostrum and
after twenty four hours virtually nothing will be absorbed.
If a cria has failed to nurse by six hours then an attempt should be made to
feed colostrum. Ideally this will be milked from the dam (although in practice
this is not always possible and it may even be that the lack of colostrum
production by the dam is the actual problem). Frozen camelid colostrum is also
ideal. Alternatively goat’s colostrum is considered to be the closest in
composition to camelid colostrum, but if unavailable then cows colostrum may be
used. N.B. the source of the colostrum must be scrutinized , it is important to
determine that the herd is free of disease and that the colostrum is collected
and stored under sanitary conditions.
Ideally the colostrum should be administered via bottle feeding. If this is not
possible then the colostrum may be given via an orogastric tube in to the
stomach. N.B. colostrum should not be given to a hypothermic cria, the cria
must be warmed and be normothermic if the colostrum is to be absorbed.
N.B. it is advisable to weigh new born cria on a daily basis; weight loss may
be the earliest sign that a cria is in trouble.
Failure of Passive Transfer.
In the event of the cria failing to receive adequate colostrum within the first
24 hours, the cria will be said to have a failure of passive transfer (PFT).
This may be complete or partial i.e some colostrum has been received but below
the recommended amount. Levels are checked at 24 -48 hours. A
basic serum total protein test will give an indication of FPT. A camelid
specific igG test will be more accurate but will take longer to get results. A
result less than 600 mg/ dl is considered to be a FPT and greater than 800 mg /
dl adequate. Anything In between may be considered a partial FPT. N.B if using
a camelid specific measurement goat and cow colostrum will not be measured.
Once FPT has been diagnosed (or if there is certainty that inadequate
colostrum has been received) the only way to remedy the situation is by plasma
transfusion. If we are certain that colostrum has not been taken we would transfuse on that basis rather than wait for results.
Ideally all alpaca breeders should have a supply of plasma in their
freezer; this will have been collected
from their own herd. In this case the plasma donors will have been exposed to
the same antigens present on the farm, and will have produced the required
antibodies. Blood can also be collected from the dam and spun if time and facilities
A plasma donor should be a healthy, fully grown alpaca (ideally aged at least 3
years old and not pregnant). It is advisable that the donor is fully up to date
with all vaccinations (e.g. Lambivac) at the point of collection.
Plasma may be administered via the intravenous or intraperitoneal routes (the
jury is out as to the effectiveness of oral administration, but this would need
to be given within the first six hours). We do not give oral plasma and always give intravenously.
The recommended dose is 15 -25 mls/ kg by either route, although the
intravenous route does have the advantage of the vet being able to stop the
transfusion if any complications present themselves
IgG levels can be rechecked 48 hours after the plasma is given.
REMEMBER NEVER DEFROST PLASMA IN THE MICROWAVE!
Plasma should be gently defrosted in warm water and administered at body
temperature. Over heating will destroy the proteins (IgGs).
Frozen plasma must not be stored in a self defrosting freezer.
Cotton Toni, Whitehead Claire. Neonatal Care for Camelids Breeding to
Birthing to Weaning.
Hoffman Eric. The Complete Alpaca Book
Evans Norman. Alpaca Field Manual.
Fowler Murray. Medicine
and Surgery of South American Camelids.
Let's start with last Wednesday, when Inca Havannah was showing all the signs of wishing to unpack her cria. Straight out after breakfast, chattering away to her unborn cria, and heading for the sandpit (this is the favourite place for the first stages of labour). By 11 am I had decided that something just wasn't going as it should. A quick call and Amanda and Graham (Florens) came over to hold her whilst I investigated.
Well I would have investigated if I could have got my hand in. She was so tight. We tried lubrication and gentle stretching but to no avail. A nose was evident...but there was no way the cria was coming out. The vet was called and a C-section anticipated. In the meantime the contractions were coming more frequently and Havannah was pushing hard.
The vet arrived and decisions were needed...and quickly...in the end it was agreed that an episiotomy should be tried as the first intervention. With local injected, the cut was made, and the problem was found to be the the vaginal sphincter had not opened, rather than ring womb (cervix) as expected. To cut to the chase...after much manoeuvring...out she came...a beautiful brown female, who was full of beans and quickly on to her feet.
Despite being quite torn inside, as well as cut, Havannah loved her cria immediately and was kissing her whilst the vet was stitching her up. Lots of pain relief, a week of broad spectrum antibiotics, and care of the external wound, and all seems well. We have named the cria Tutu. She is such a pretty girl who has has gained weight at a great rate, and as a bonus has a gorgeous fleece too.
Inca Havannah with Beck Brow Tutu (sire: Timbertop CT Goldmine)
On Thursday we caught up on some of our spit -offs (own and agisted). Ep Cambridge Gunsmith now has seven females rejecting him at pregnancy spit-offs. Then on Friday the boys had five females arrive for romance.
Saturday I took Dixie Chick, After Eight and Seventh Heaven to Skelton Agricultural show. Dixie, especially, was an absolute star. I don't think we have ever had such crowds before. Plenty of scarves sold despite the warm weather, and lots of animal enquires.
Sunday was another busy day with a visit from a lovely couple (holidaying in the Lakes, but based in the South) who are new to alpacas. They have females who will be having a date with Explorer later this month and were interested in seeing his progeny. This coincided with the collection of four pet boys we had recently sold. The boys have gone to Scotland to act as guards to chickens and geese as well as being family pets. This also coincided with a drive by mating...so our visitors got to see Explorer in action!
On Monday the boys had three females visit on drive-by. After that I thought I might just have a quiet evening. Paul was away...a bottle of white and some M&S treats were on the agenda...Just the evening feeds to do...and a cria being born at 5.30pm!!!! Pandora produced a beautiful mid fawn daughter (sire; Waradene St Patrick).
Pandora's adult daughter (Kingwell Athena) was especially interested in the newborn...so much so she decided now was the time to go in to labour. I am not quite sure how it came as a shock to her...but it did...she turned saw the head and legs and freaked out. Eventually birthing and running for the hills, leaving the cria on the ground. A beige female born at 8pm!!
A call to Robyn for assistance and all the girls from the due paddock were brought in to the barn. By this time the heavens had opened. Pandora's cria hadn't drank and was looking in corners, rather than under mum. She was given vitamin B1, some cows colostrum and penned with mum, and also with Athena and her cria.
Athena did decide she rather liked her daughter after a while, but wasn't keen to feed her. So her cria was also given cows colostrum. Pandora's cria (who has been named Slinkee Minx) soon got the hang of nursing and Athena's was given adequate colostrum to cover passive transfer needs, then left to look for mum. I got my glass of wine, smoked salmon, calamari, marinated artichokes etc...at 11pm!
By morning all was resolved; Athena was feeding her cria (although I did have to keep reuniting them for the first few hours, as Athena wandered off and forgot about her)
Beck Brow Slinkee Minx (sire: Waradene St Patrick)
The off the shoulder look for Athena's cria (owned by Kingwell Alpacas) sired by Timbertop CT Goldmine of Beck Brow
Tuesday and I was due a quiet day surely. One drive-by mating arranged and no one looking like birthing??
Pearl who is the mother of Pandora and grandmother of Athena was doing a lot of talking. Was she wasn't she? In the end I decided that she was just talking to her off-spring as nothing else was happening. Whereas Roma (fine Romance) was being very vocal...she got out of the sand pit and threw herself on the ground. We brought her in and couldn't find a problem, but she continued to groan. We called the vet...Roma is special...in more ways than one (a bit of a drama queen to say the least, but also one of our early home bred girls). Roma rejected her first born and tried to do the same with the second. If it were possible Roma would have her cria by elected C-section and would definitely bottle feed rather than breast. Anyway the vet decided she was indeed being dramatic and her cria wasn't ready to be born
Wednesday (today) I go to the barn for the usual checks at 6am (every one is in...they have free access to come and go). I spot Roma straight away...moaning and groaning still. Then I see a cria...it is obviously not hers...it is dry...it is sitting next to Pearl!
Pearl has had a beige St Patrick boy. The placenta is in the paddock, so she must have birthed some time ago and he has been strong enough to follow her in. Pearl is one of the females who came to us on agistment. She is 10 years of age and was extremely thin when she came. I purchased her and her daughter at foot...bought for reasons of heart not business...I felt so touched that she had come in with her cria so new born...she trusts us:))
Roma is now making such a fuss and is pushing, but nothing is happening. Paul checks internally...he cant feel anything close...we speak to the vet, he thinks the cria is low in the pelvis, as it was last night. The vet comes to visit... just as Roma gives birth!!!!! Two unnecessary call outs Roma ...its a few years since that has happpened...Yep, if Roma was a human she would certainly be classed as high maintenance...love her!
Roma's cria: Beck Brow Chocks Away (he was up and off the minute he was out) sired by Timbertop CT Goldmine
Pearl's cria; Beck Brow Piper sired by Waradene St Patrick)
No further births today, but two before 7am is enough. Explorer and Goldmine have three mobile matings late afternoon and I have stacks of paperwork to catch up on. If I have the energy!
Some cria photos:
Beck Brow Applause smiling (Goldmine)
Beck Brow Byker also smiling (Goldmine...must be the Goldmine grin)
Beck Brow Game on spots his targets...
Beck Brow The Strategist (sire: Beck Brow Explorer)
And again looking less grumpy!
Someone who might have cause to be grumpy is Beck Brow On The Money (Goldmine) with Beck Brow Evoque (Black Sabbath...standing)