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July 19, 2013

By: Kim Gleason, PhD

One Lucky Day

Witnessing an Alpaca Birth

They say a watched pot never boils. Nothing could be more true when anticipating an alpaca birth. We spend countless hours staring at our pregnant females looking for signs of impending labor, despite the fact that there is no real consistency of what the heck we’re looking for. Some expectant moms may seem restless, a few may just lay around, but most don’t seem any different at all; even within a few hours of giving birth. We’ve looked and examined moms-to-be every which way, angle, direction from nose to udder, and can’t seem to tell when the big event will begin. Then, we walk away to grab some lunch, and when we come back for the 100th check of the day, there’s a cria (baby alpaca) on the ground! We’ve been doing this same ritual for 8 years. In that time, I can count on 1 hand the number of babies my husband and I have actually witnessed being born. But with that said, it is an event so special, that if you’re lucky enough to be there, you will never forget it.
I was just that lucky on the fateful morning of June 19, 2010. Olivia was 2 days before her estimated due date, we determined to be 345 days past her breeding date. Alpacas are pregnant for almost a year. I went down early in the morning to check our maternity ward, but nothing was happening and all of the expectant moms were still in their barn sleepy eyed. Plenty of time for a coffee run, I thought. I drove into town for a coffee, and back to the farm for a relaxing breakfast in a rocking chair on the back porch, thinking this would be a perfect cool and sunny day to have a baby. As textbooks will point out, the majority of alpacas give birth in the morning hours, probably as an instinctive behavior being a prey animal in the harsh mountain climates of South America. Hopefully a newborn birthed in early morning would be dry, nursing, and walking around by nightfall, and thus less vulnerable to cold and predators.
With coffee break over, I decided to head back down to check on Olivia. Rounding the hill down back, I looked across into the maternity ward, and BINGO-there was Olivia straining over the pen’s poop pile. This is a typical posture for a mother in labor. I ran full speed back to the house to grab my camera and full speed back down in time to see Olivia’s back end with a nose poking out with 2 front feet! Fabulous! Cria position seemed normal, so I could stoop behind the barn to watch and wouldn’t be needed for any assistance. I snapped off one picture after another-nose, then head out. It was amazing. I was especially excited to see a fawn baby coming-my favorite color. Olivia was doing great. I felt myself coaching from behind the barn, quietly whispering, “come on Olivia, keep pushing”. Then, as if she heard me, she pushed one more time, and the baby slithered out onto a clean grassy patch of ground. I watched for a couple of minutes, and couldn’t wait any longer with anticipation. I slowly approached the two with a towel in hand to dry off the new baby, and of course, to look under the tail. A boy! What a great job Olivia did of getting him out in near record time, about 20 minutes total from nose to toes on the ground. Thankfully, she’s an experienced mom, and turned right around to talk to her new baby and offer encouragement to stand up as I was drying him. It wasn’t long, and with a lot of trembling and willpower, the little guy got himself up on those long spindly legs and immediately nudged all around mom looking for the milk. He found it, and finally there was sigh of relief in the field as everyone-other moms, babies, the llama and I-watched him take his first drink. Then Olivia strutted around with baby in tow, introducing him to the herd, as any proud mother would do.
I took some time to really savor the moment and to thoroughly enjoy this special treat. What a lucky day, I thought, a lucky day indeed! That’s when it hit me; I’ll name him Lucky; “Lucky Leo”, after the iconic attraction on nearly every boardwalk along the jersey shore. Lucky Leo, it is!
As I look at Leo today 3 years later, I’m reminded of his birth, of scooping him up in my arms to give him a big welcome hug, and I’m in awe of the mature studly guy he has become. After a successful show career, he is ready now to go off as a herdsire and make babies of his own, and I couldn’t be prouder of him. And of course, Olivia.



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