BBC – Birthing, Breeding and Colostrum
As is always the way, when there is lots going on on the farm, there is never enough time to write about it! However, with the first birth of the day up and drinking, I am opting for a sit-down at the PC role for the afternoon.
After a disappointing start, having lost a prematurely born Bozedown Blaze of Glory son (who lived for seven days), birthing has been on the whole pretty kind this year. The majority have been straightforward births and the cria have gone on to thrive. We are currently even on males v females. The girls keep nudging ahead but then the boys catch up. We have some really lovely quality amongst them and an abundance of brown females!
It’s many years ago that we took the advice of a very experienced breeder and removed any female from the breeding herd who had any birthing, mothering, or milk production issues. This really does pay dividends, however hard it is to remove that Supreme Champion female after a second difficult birth, it makes life so much easier. We are not only considering our workload but also that low milk production, for example, can be passed on to the offspring.
One of our most exciting cria of the year is Beck Brow Mission Accomplished (the name says it all). My longer-term plan was to get colour from Bozedown Blaze of Glory. The first step was putting his daughter (white) with Vidal (light fawn) and we were delighted to get a very light fawn (possibly beige) daughter of high quality. So, an obvious next step was to put Blaze with a top-quality fawn (knowing the chances of white are 50/50 due to her genetic colour). Then after all this thought … out popped a fawn Blaze son from a white female … Hallelujah!!!
The Orphaned Cria
Our seventeenth cria of the season arrived during some very sad circumstances. We knew Chanel was active with Mycoplasma Haemolamae (a bacterial infection that attaches to red blood cells causing anaemia) and was on day 5 of a course of oxytetracyclin as treatment. Unfortunately, on a Sunday afternoon, her condition deteriorated (weak and staggering) and a blood transfusion was performed. This is something that has been done on the farm on numerous occasions, but sadly a reaction to the blood saw Chanel slipping away quickly.
A quick decision then had to be made, I felt sure that I had felt the cria move and Chanel was at 340-days gestation, was the cria to take priority? It was decided, as we were certain that Chanel had no chance of surviving, that an emergency c-section was to be performed in the paddock. This had to be done quickly before Chanel was lost and also as dusk was falling.
Now, I am a glass-half-full kind of girl, but even I was bracing myself for a bad day becoming even worse. The veterinary surgeon went in the opening made, verbalizing that he couldn’t feel any movement as he did so, then out he pulled a beautiful, healthy female who was full of life. Chanel was then PTS to aid her passing.
We have named her Beck Brow Chanel’s Chance. She spent the first night in the house to be safe and also so that we could feed her the colostrum that she needed. Since then she has been out in the paddock with the others. They all seem to look out for her. She just sits close to a dam and cria for security at night. She runs over for a bottle then runs away to play again (sometimes even forfeiting her bottle if cria racing is more fun). She is now seven weeks old, eating hard food, and loving life.
Every year the females on the breeding list for the following summer are analysed. What are their positives? Are they lacking any traits? Should they be on the list at all? Every year that final cut gets tougher. Not only are we removing females on their reproductive ability but we are increasingly tough on their phenotype, both fleece and conformation, however good their genetics may be. Thus, we have sold quite a number of females as non-breeders within the last 12 months. We are of course equally tough on our males, many males (including show winners) are castrated because they have just missed our very high-quality control standard to carry our prefix as a stud.
Much time goes into considering pairings and the qualities that the match may bring (we now have colour genetic knowledge to add to the process). Of course, you may be thinking just mate your best females to your best-unrelated males – why are you overthinking things? Well, if it was that easy it would be boring. I like to use the analogy of the Victoria Sponge (or layer cake) …
Alpaca Breeding – The Victoria Sponge Method
The Recipe – to start you need the best raw ingredients. Free-range eggs. Organic flour. Butter not margarine. Of course, you can use cheap ingredients. You will still end up with a cake, but will it be of the same quality?
This is no different with alpacas. Any alpaca bred will produce an alpaca of sorts, but has it turned out as intended? Am I proud of my efforts? Could I have done better with what I have?
The baking – once we have the best ingredients we have access to and we have created the mixture as intended, we now need to bake the cake at the right temperature and look after the process
Undoubtedly good nutrition throughout pregnancy and especially in the last trimester brings out the best of the best ingredients that you have selected. Think about achieving genetic potential.
The jam – now that we have a tasty, well risen and attractive cake we need to take it to the next level. A Victoria Sponge is nothing without good-quality jam. Your choice of filling should always enhance your cake and take nothing away. You may wish to leave your traditional Victoria Sponge with just a dusting of icing sugar. However, the love of cupcakes has taken decorating cakes to another level. We want icing. We want decorations.
So we have produced a high-quality alpaca (sponge), and we have then added to that quality using proven genetics and quality phenotypes (quality jam). This is an essential layer in our breeding just the same as our cake.
Where next? Do we go to the very best male we can find when our female still has room for further decoration? Do we add the cherry on the cake before the icing? It’s difficult not to lose your cherry (let’s say sprinkles or whatever you want!) without the icing to hold the decoration in place.
Okay, we do have some top-performing females to whom we are always looking for the male to add a little more decoration. However, there are many females who have lots to offer but require layering before final adornment. These play an important part in our breeding programme. We know these girls, with the right jam-producing male, produce iced off-spring ready for the finishing male. There are no shortcuts. A great example of this for us was Waradene St Patrick, his input of longevity of low primary fibre diameter is an essential layer in many of our top-producing females. Take him out and the cake sinks.
Specific example: Lady Gaga X St Patrick produced Snooty Boots. Snooty Boots x Goldmine produced National Champion Kiss Me Quick.
Lady Gaga x Goldmine = soggy bottom
In short: don’t put sprinkles on your cake until you have the jam in the middle and have iced the top. Pairing Mrs Bog Standard Alpaca with Mr Got It all With Bells On is unlikely to win you Bake Off!
The Results of the 2022 Pairings
We started off the season really well. Good decision-making appeared to be bearing fruit. However, whilst we are still getting plenty of lovely cria, the later births have brought the occasional soggy bottom.
Why might this be:
- The maidens (and thus if we are improving, our best females) are usually birthing in spring.
- Feeding. The early birthers are still on haylage for some of the third trimester.
- . Barbara doesn’t always stick to her breeding decisions as the season goes on.
Yes, it is the third. The cria who are not quite up there as hoped are the result of changed decisions. The reasons:
- Time is marching on and the female isn’t getting pregnant to the chosen male after two matings so we swap.
- Poor X hasn’t been used much this year and he has some lovely cria on the ground (that might be so but he wasn’t selected for this female for a reason!)
- Poor Y all his girls have spat-off and he wants a mating (absolute worst reason of all).
- We are getting tired and I already have Z on the end of the lead rope (equally as bad as above)
I have been much better this year and the only changes have been for positive reasons.
- Great cria at foot
- Very pleased with the performance of a previously un-proven male
- Offer of outside matings to bring in new genetics.
Why are we always excited about next year’s births before we have finished birthing for this year?
Refractometer and Alpaca Colostrum
Last month we had a veterinary student for a couple of weeks. Tom was extremely enthusiastic and his knowledge from dairy farming had him asking the question why we didn’t test the quality of our colostrum. As weird things happen, the very next day we saw reports on Facebook relating to a course run in Northern Ireland by Sarah Caldwell (The Human Vet) and relating to using a refractometer to test colostrum quality. One was duly purchased from Sarah with accompanying advice relating to use with alpacas.
This piece of kit has been a game-changer for us. Previously if a cria was slow to get drinking we defrosted some frozen cows colostrum. Our thoughts were why stress out the dam milking her when we can go to the freezer (acquiring the health status of the donating farm is essential). Then usually they get going themselves. But, of course, the quality of this first colostrum taken is very important.
Why have we changed practice? Every female we tested (one was a seventeen-year-old) has been off the scale for quality, this included a female whose cria was just not finding the milk easily. We defrosted the bovine colostrum. Tested it. It barely met the lowest standard to be adequate. The decision was made to milk the dam, she didn’t particularly mind, and the cria got high-quality colostrum before going solo. It is still useful to have frozen colostrum but it is no longer our first option.