Archive for the ‘Breeding and Reproduction’ Category

Defiant and Echo

There are alpaca owners who are known as breeders and those who are known as fiber artists. In between those two extremes are all possible combinations, from breeders who send their fiber to the co-op to those who convert their fiber themselves to finished product for resale. Whatever your preference, the only unacceptable choice is to do nothing with your clips. Why?

If you’re telling potential new breeders that the reason we raise these animals is for the fiber, but treat the clips as waste product, then you have an invalid business premise. But as a breeder who also spins, dyes, and knits, I’ve grown to believe that you are also robbing yourself of a valuable resource to advance your breeding program: your own fiber production.

Take two white animals I have with nearly identical histograms. Surely, there would be little difference in the processing of either. Not true. Animal #1 has a particularly silky slick feel that is not quantifiable by any current methodology. The fiber also tends toward a long staple with a slightly bolder crimp style and buttery tinge. In contrast, Animal #2 has a shorter staple with a higher frequency crimp style and a pure white color. Although equally fine, it lacks the buttery feeling of Animal #1. When I spin Animal #1’s fiber by itself, it’s tricky. It slips through the fingers like a wet eel and the staple is just long enough that drafting becomes difficult. When I have a mini mill process it into yarn, it comes back with more debris and more noils than Animal #2. Animal #2’s fiber, on the other hand, easily spins to a fine ply, the tiny crimps catching on each other to allow long draws. This yarn tends to be loftier. But it doesn’t have the buttery feel of Animal #1’s yarn. The solution, of course, has been to combine these two into the same batch for processing or spinning.

So what’s the point of this when looked at from a breeding perspective? I’ve found that as I work with the fiber, it shapes what fiber qualities I want to breed for. If solid conformation is a given, then I tend to cherish those fiber characteristics of animals that give me a superior product. And that doesn’t always mean the animal with the best histogram or the most prestigious wins. What it’s come to mean for me when considering fiber as a priority is an increasing shift toward fineness, brightness, handle, uniformity of micron, and lingering fineness as cherished attributes. These are all interrelated as they speak to that “aaah” factor when you pick up that alpaca yarn or alpaca product. Higher frequency crimp also has risen on the list for its indication of spinning ease, loft, and compression (higher memory).

Oddly enough, working with the fiber has also defined my preferences for color. White, fawn, black are my top choices. White can be dyed any color and so can fawn. It yields muted shades that are wonderfully elegant. Dyed gray can do the same but the handle tends to not be comparable due to the mix of stronger fibers. Black, of course, is always classic for use by itself or combined with any color. But I’m just not into the myriad shades of brown. That’s just me.

You may be wondering where density fits in here. I do value density but not just as a measure of yield per animal. At this time in our pre-commercial industry stage, density to me has more value as a precursor for the premium qualities it enables: higher secondary to primary fiber ratios and therefore uniformity of micron, fineness, and crimp style.

So maybe you’re scratching your head by now. I’ve told you that working with fiber arts has caused me to breed for those qualities that you probably breed for anyhow. So did I take a long road to arrive at the same place everyone starts from? I don’t think so. The point was understanding how those qualities translate from animal to finished product to help make the breeding choices that best reflect your own chosen preferences. Because it’s not just about breeding by the numbers: numbers in a histogram, numbers in a shear weight, number of show wins. It’s about quality…and using the fiber, handling it, understanding how its characteristics manifest in product…help you to determine just what that word means in your own breeding program.

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La Belle Premier Select Colostrum Supplement

La Belle Premier Select Colostrum Supplement

Colostrum is a lot like insurance. If you’re lucky, you’ll never need it. Because if you’re not, a much dreaded scenario has happened. So I happily buy it, only to toss it away expired, buy it again, and restock.

So what is it and why so critical? Alpaca babies are born immuno-naked. That means they did not absorb any immunities from the dam in utero. During the first day post partum, the dam’s first milk is called colostrum. It’s thick and viscous and packed with immunoglobins and nutrients to build up the newborn’s immunities until it can develop its own. Crias who do not get this are most often candidates for an immediate plasma transfer, depending on the results of the IgG test (which you should always get in non-normal births). At this time, there is no alpaca-derived colostrum you can buy; therefore, purchased colostrums are either sourced from goats or cattle.

But back to exactly how you can acquire colostrum to have on hand. There are quite a few ways and, I’m sure, many more than I can put down here.

1. Stillborn Death: In the saddest example of turning something tragic into something useful, a still born baby is an opportunity to milk out the grieving dam and freeze the colostrum for future use.

2. Artificial Colostrum: This is a method taught during Roni Spresser’s Photonic Therapy course. Intriguing but kind of gross (the method, not the course which is very worth taking). Remove half a bottle of blood from an animal from your herd (or have the vet do it with one of your geldings or non breeders). Lay the stoppered bottle on its side at an incline and let it clot, making sure the lid is not touched by the blood. Stand upright in the fridge for two days. The clot contracts and squeezes out pure serum (with antibodies). Decant serum into an ice block tray and freeze. Dissolve a couple of blocks in a pint of goat’s milk as needed to feed the newborn cria.

3. Frozen Goat Colostrum: Support your local goat breeder! They are often happy to sell you colostrum frozen in cubes in an ice tray. It can be pricey- I’ve purchased it at $2/cube. You can store this up to two year, preferably in a frost-free freezer. Make sure the goat breeder has your vet’s approval for maintaining a disease-free herd.

Frozen Cattle Colostrum

Frozen Cattle Colostrum

4. Frozen Cattle Colostrum: Useful-Items.com sells a frozen cattle colostrum that is shipped overnight. They recommend two bottles for an alpaca cria. One bottle costs $14.

4. Powdered Colostrum: Also available from Useful-Items.com is a powdered cattle colostrum that has been customized for alpacas. Manufactured by La Belle, the biggest advantage of the Premier Select Alpaca Supplement is a long shelf life. It’s $19.95 when purchased directly from La Belle.

There is some debate as to the efficacy of substitutes for alpaca colostrum. From personal experience, none of these substitutes have passed on immunoglobins in sufficient quantities to protect the cria ( which would be an IgG greater than 800). But I still keep colostrum in some form on hand. It can’t hurt and even if it helps a little, I’m game. For anyone who’s been there, struggling hour by hour to keep a delicate new cria going, you know just how far and how much you’d do to tilt the odds toward a happy ending.

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Which description would make the price go up or go down?:Half Peruvian -Full Peruvian- Full Accoyo

Which description would make the price go up or go down? Half Peruvian -Full Peruvian- Full Accoyo

Recently I made the decision to move my herd to all-Peruvian. Although my light breeding program had always operated within that guideline, my blacks (since I avoid browns and greys) had always been Chilean-Peruvian mixes. This earned me a rebuke from some of my breeder peers who object to the premium attached to Peruvian and especially Accoyo. I can understand their frustration. In fact, I agree with them. But I didn’t make the decision because I thought it would increase the breeding value of my animals. The decision is purely motivated by business reasons.

And here’s we arrive at the contradiction that can sometimes be found in comparing breeding value versus marketing value.

Fact: There absolutely is a market value premium attached to a Peruvian heritage.

Fact: There absolutely is a market value premium attached to full Accoyo.

Fact: There is little or no sense to attaching breeding value to either full Peruvian or full Accoyo, especially multiple generations removed from the original breeding program.

Fact: There is significant evidence to point to increased vigor through “hybrid” heritages e.g. mixing Chileans with Peruvians.

So I’m not disputing that a Bolivian or Chilean can have equal or greater breeding value than a full Peruvian. But I’m also not able to move the market with my tiny little microherd. So I make the decisions that suit my goals the best, both business and breeding. And isn’t that the prerogative we all enjoy as entrepreneurs and business owners?

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The amazing alpaca dam: instinctually standing still for a newborn who searches for milk

The amazing alpaca dam: instinctually standing still for a newborn who searches for milk

The trying life of a breeding female alpaca. She often gets bred for the first time when she still has 20% to 30% of her final adult weight to achieve. She only gets a few weeks post-delivery before she is bred again. She spends three to five months a year feeding both a new fetus and a growing cria. And her hormones drive her to be unhappy unless this is the pattern her breeding years follow.

So for those all too few golden weeks when a dam is open, I like to get a lot of things taken care of that I let slide during that sensitive last trimester. I like to call them spa days. I’m sure the dam doesn’t view them that way, but it sure makes me feel a lot better.

Spa Days for the Open Dam:

First Three Days Post-Delivery: Panacur
One Week Post-Delivery: Vaccination Catch Up

  • CD&T (if not administered six weeks prior to delivery date)
  • West Nile Virus (for summer deliveries)

Prior to Rebreeding: The Three T’s

  • Toenail Trim
  • Topknot Trim
  • Tooth trim

As with any spa treatment, the dam also gets some good-for-you snacks. In this case, it’s extra helpings of alfalfa as she takes on the burden of a nursing baby. That part of spa days, at least, she heartily enjoys.

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For me, birthing for 2009 is over. As I work my way through rebreedings, my calendar is my best friend, as I carefully record the schedule of breeding for each dam. Breeders each have their own frequency for behavior testing. Some breed every seven days until the dam spits. Some don’t behavior test until 2 weeks after breeding. I follow this schedule:

Day 1: Breeding (note receptivity of dam and duration of breeding)
Day 3: Behavior Test dam (note receptivity of dam – there may not be spit – and allow rebreeding if receptive. Note duration of breeding)
Day 8 (same day as Day 1 but one week later): Behavior test dam
-if spit, test every seven days (every week same day)
-if no spit, rebreed and count it as Day 1
Day 15: Behavior test. If still non-receptive, schedule an ultrasound

Test every week until ultrasound.

Although the frequency is easy enough to remember, the science behind it is less so. Explanations of the alpaca follicular wave can range from highly technical (with words only a vet would understand) to the fairly layman. For someone like me, who has no vet training whatsoever, I like to dumb it down. Way down.

My favorite layman’s explanation can be found in Llama and Alpaca Neonatal Care by Bradford B. Smith, Karen I. Timm, and Patrick O. Long. My favorite slightly technical (but not too technical) explanation can be found in The Complete Alpaca Book by Eric Hoffman. I recommend you read both if not others. What I summarize below falls short of both of those sources in information – more of a “Alpaca Follicular Wave for Dummies”. Any errors are , of course, my own.

A 9mm follicle. (Photo property of Jorge Reyna, Alpaca Breeding Technologies)

A 9mm follicle. (Photo property of Jorge Reyna, Alpaca Breeding Technologies)

The uterus of the alpaca dam is two horned. We observe that from when the placenta is ejected after delivery. Located near each uterus is an ovary. The ovary contains the supply of ovum (eggs). Follicular activity occurs in waves that begin when a hormone (follicle stimulating hormone , or FSH) is released that causes cells around the egg to form a follicle. The follicles start off small, just a few millimeters, and grow over the next few days, filling with liquid. Estrogen levels also start to rise, increasing the receptivity of the dam. This development phase lasts 3-4 days. When the follicle reaches 8 mm, it is at the minimum size needed to create a pregnancy. If the dam is not bred, the follicle continues to grow to 12-13 mm. This period of time, between 8-13 mm is when the dam is receptive and should be bred. It lasts 3-4 days, hence the magic seven day window: 3-4 days of development, 3-4 days of receptivity.

At this point, when the dam is bred, ovulation is induced and within 24-48 hours, the follicle ruptures and the egg is released into the uterine tube that connects the ovary to the uterus. It is here that it is fertilized by the sperm deposited by the male in each uterine horn. After that, the egg travels up the tube into the uterus. This takes about a week from ovulation. Meanwhile, the collapsed follicle refills with blood and becomes the corpus luteum, which begins to produce progesterone. It will develop to a size of 12-16 mm and not regress until just before delivery.

But what if a pregnancy doesn’t occur? In this case, the follicle regresses over the next 3-4 days, completing the follicular wave at 11-12 days. If you’re wondering why we’re not on a 12 day vs. 7 day rebreeding schedule, the reason is because there are two ovaries. At the point where the follicle in one ovary starts to regress, a new wave has started in the opposite ovary, creating a 7 day cycle of receptivity in opposite ovaries.

Of a more recent note, a study on OIF (Ovulation Inducing Factor) was completed by Dr. Gregg P. Adams as announced by the Alpaca Research Foundation. Although ovulation is induced through the mechanical stimulation imparted by the act of breeding itself, there has also been some question as to what role the seminal fluid imparted by the male played in increasing ovulation rates. For the dam to ovulate, a gonadotropin called luteinizing hormone (LH), must be released. Is there something in the seminal fluid that acts as a gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH)? The published study concludes that there is. I’m sure we’ll hear more on this topic.

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The long-awaited cria has arrived but mom is dry as the Sahara. No milk and you’re forced to whip out the bottle or feed tube. It’s your dreaded nightmare come to life and the prospect of endless days and sleepless nights stretch out before you.

So it’s no surprise that breeders are willing to embrace supplements that will increase the chances that mom will have an overflowing supply of millk for that precious newborn. Of those options, herbal lactation stimulation herbs have received mixed reviews. Some breeders swear by them, others shrug and think they make no difference. Others use them for every expectant dam, others say alfalfa in the last month is just as good. Still others only use them for problem dams, which I guess would put them in the “supporter” column.

Dr. Pollard's Lactation Stimulation herbs

Dr. Pollard's Lactation Stimulation herbs

The most well-known herbal milk stimulation product on the market is the one that started it all: Dr. Pollard’s Lactation Stimulation Formula. It can be purchased directly from his website www.llamadocherbs.com for $36 for a 42 oz. bag or in bulk. Newer to the market is Golden Blend Herbal Milk Enhancer which can be purchased direct or through Useful Lama Items.

Although the subjective feedback from breeders can be mixed, ,studies apparently show that these herbal formulas do, indeed, not only increase milk production in dams, but also ease labor and speed post-partum recovery. Better milk production results in faster weight gain by crias and higher weaning weights at six months of age.

In one area, however, breeders do agree. Consistent usage of the lactation stimulation products can be expensive, estimated at $50/dam when used as prescribed. The current recommended dosage is 2 oz (5 fluid oz) once daily starting the month before delivery with an increase to twice daily after delivery for a few days before reducing to once daily for a month or as needed. Although this can be a minimal cost compared to the benefit of healthy cria and dam, you can make your own by buying your herbs in bulk. Here is the recipe that was derived by an herbalist and used by some breeders in my area:

Lactation Formula:

4 oz. basil
4 oz. fennel
4 oz. caraway
4 oz. dill seed
4 oz. anise seed
1 lb. fenugreek
8 oz. red raspberry leaves

Makes 44 oz.

Fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum)

Fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum)

When looking at the ingredients, you should know that the only milk stimulant in the above is fenugreek. It is, however, not the most palatable of herbs which is the purpose the other herbs serve with one exception: red raspberry leaves. Red raspberry leaves has long been used in tea to treat women for menstrual issues. It is a uterine muscle relaxant and there is some thought that it is not wise to feed it pre-partum because of the possibility of stimulating early delivery. Post-partum, however, it can help in recovery. Golden Blend Herbal Milk Enhancer does not contain raspberry leaves for this reason. However, I have not heard of any breeders reporting this problem with Dr. Pollard’s product.

For bulk herbs:

Mountain Rose Herbs

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In Neonatal Care Part I: Supplies, we covered what to have on hand in preparation for the newborn cria.

In Neonatal Care Part II: The First Four Hours, we covered the most important priorities once the cria is delivered.

One day old and feeling good

One day old and feeling good

So now the cria has nursed, dam and cria show signs of bonding, and cria seems alert and healthy. Now it’s time to ensure that everything stays on track.

  • If you haven’t already, take the baby’s temperature. It should be between 98-100 degrees Fahrenheit. You may have already done this if you suspected hypothermia or lethargy due to extreme heat. A finger inserted in the baby’s mouth can also tell you if the temp is running too cold.
  • Dip the umbilical in either an iodine or chlorhexidine solution. Do this three times within the first 24 hours. Until sealed, the umbilical is a prime environment to conduct bacteria to the cria. Check for an umbilical hernia. The rule of thumb is if the hole is greater than two middle finger widths, you may need to either put a hernia belt on the cria or have the vet fix the hernia surgically.
  • Check the cria for maturity: Are the teeth slightly erupted? Are the ears erect, not floppy? Are the legs fairly straight? It’s not unusual for crias to have wobbly knees or dropped pasterns but these bear watching to ensure they self-correct.
  • Check for defects:
    1. Cleft or soft palate- run a finger along the roof of the mouth to check for holes. If the baby nurses and milk comes out of its nose, this can signify a cleft palate (incomplete development of the mouth roof)
    2. Heart murmur – you’ll need a good stethoscope for this. If you detect a heart murmur, recheck in six months or have your vet check. These often resolve on their own but need to be addressed if they don’t
    3. Polydactylism/syndactylism- check that there are two toes on each foot. Polydactylism (polydactyly) is when there are more than two toes. Syndactylism (syndactyly) is when there is only one.

Other defects will be instantly obvious to you, such as choanal atresia, wry face, and cyclops.

If everything has gone well and your cria passes its health exam with flying colors, careful observation over the remaining hours in the first twenty four is still called for.

Watch for the cria’s first defecation. It is called meconium and will be thick and tarry. Failure to pass this will cause the cria to become lethargic, inactive, and rob it of appetite. The fix is easy: an enema of 2 oz. warm water with a drop of a gentle liquid soap (like Ivory). Once administered, you should notice the evacuation of meconium rapidly and an increased alertness in the cria. You may need to repeat if you see the cria become depressed again.

Common sense and observation will be your best assets during this time.

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