On a beautiful June day, our 22nd baby of the year arrived - at 4:30 Pm a month early. Most of the time, cria are born between10 and 2 pm. Often if they are outside of this timeframe, something is wrong, which was the case for us. Fortunately, the baby itself is overall healthy but certainly premature. For preemies, often the tips of the ears are bent and/ or teeth have not ruptured and / or the feet tendons are not tight yet. This little guy has clown feet right now. They usually tighten up in 2-3 days.
The birth was an easy one, progressing relatively quickly. The cria born 3 hours before him was a behemoth 26 lbs, so this little 7 lb guy was strikingly small in comparison.
We laid him on a towel to dry him off and used the same towels from/several hours before. Mistake #1. The mother was a first time mom and immediately became confused on who the baby was. Without all of her motherhood instincts kicking in, she ran over to the other baby about 10 feet away, leaving hers in the grass alone. Eventually, we removed the little giant baby and the mother began, with significant urging, to stay around her newborn.
Mistake #2. After an hour or so, Leroy Brown was tottering around with great effort. James and I headed back to the house. We returned with a friend to find the baby limp in the grass. With premature cria, they are rarely strong enough to keep up their energy, let alone nurse. We brought baby and mother into the barn, took the temperature (which was surprisingly normal) and milked the dam for the baby’s first drink. He immediately perked up like we had given him a shot of caffeine.
We thawed goat milk that we had frozen previously and gave the baby about 100 ccs. He walked around a bit and we put the couple in a pen in the barn.
Mistake #3 because it was a warm night, in the 50s, we did not put a blanket on him. When we returned at 2 am, the baby was lying in the corner and the mother had gone through the door that had blown open (yes, Mistake #4). We gave Leroy the 60 ccs of warm goat milk we had brought him and laid him down on a heating pad. His temperature was 99.5 F. Cria should be 100 F to 102F. He snuggled in and slept. We went out and caught the new, panicking mother.
There (here, actually, as I am writing from the barn) I sat for the next 4 hours. Heating pads and premature cria are a tricky combo. Early babies have a hard time regulating body temperature. So, I turn down, turn up, remove, and resituate the heating pad throughout the night/ morning. He would stand and look energetic, take a few steps, then drop his head to head hover over the ground before simply tipping over, already asleep. Yes, I do catch him before he falls. Then, it’s back to bed for 30 or so minutes. At about 5 am or so, I went to sleep for an hour. Then, I went back to check on him, give another dose of milk and just watch. I feed him 60
ccs of milk every 2 or so hours unless he nurses.
The mother is doing as well as expected. She wants to be with the herd but that is not an option for now. Other alpacas visit her through the fence as they stare down at the moving set of towels. Every time a baby comes by, she gets excited and calls out as if it is hers. Then, she turns around and nuzzles her sleeping baby.
Luckily, alpacas as a whole are resilient. He is not sick, but just needed more time to brew before coming into the world. More than most babies, preemies sleep and sleep. With that, we monitor and wait. We milk the mother every couple of hours as well as supply raw goat milk until he is strong enough to nurse.
By the next day, we put him outside for 10 minutes on a 75 degree-day and his temperature rose to 103.7. We took him inside, cooled him with water and within 15 minutes he was at 99.5 F. Thus, be very careful with body temperatures. They can fluctuate quickly.
Even after 9 years and hundreds of babies, mistakes were certainly made. But, sometimes you just don't know. Constant monitoring is necessary to get the baby through the toughest times after birth. The other two cria born the same day are jumping around and needed nothing more from me than a kiss on the cheek as I hugged them (I use the term "needed" loosely). This little guy will need a few more days to get himself together and we are happy to help.