Summer time is always so full of life - the flowers, the babies, the birds and the bees. When I first began to breed alpacas, it opened up a whole new process for me and, in truth, made me a little skirmish. However, over time I have come to realize it is just anatomy and how things get done to put a little baby on the ground. So, here is a step by step in the alpaca breeding business.
A female's progesterone levels are highest 14-17 days after giving birth. This means she has a high probability of getting pregnant when bred during this window. First time females we breed when they are at least 13 months, 80+ lbs and showing signs of being interested in breeding (flirting with the boys, laying down next to their fence). Males sexually mature at 2-3 years of age and are often ready to breed. Some younger males will mount females, but rarely are able to insert their penis into the female.
Some breeders prefer to pasture breed. This means they bring a male into a pasture of ladies that need to be bred by him. In a month's time or so, the herdsire is brought back out of the pen and waits it out for 11 or so months. While this is a much simpler way to do things, there are several reasons we do not personally follow this plan.
- When was she bred? Most girls are fairly predictable in how many days she carries the baby. We like to be home for the births, so this consumes a month of our Summer waiting for the baby.
- Was she bred? Some females need a little coaxing. If she is inexperienced and spits him off, she may not have ever bred and thus no baby the next year.
- The alpaca penis is fairly fragile. It is about the width of your pinky finger and 8-12" long. It makes a corkscrew motion getting into the vagina as well as inside the uterus. If the penis gets caught up in the tail hair, it can rupture or break, making for a very sore, non-functioning expensive male.
So, we hand breed the male and female. We bring our female into a pen and then the male. The male will start to hum (orgle) and try to mount her. If she is receptive, she will sit down (cush). Sometimes it takes a few moments for her to do a self check and see if she is willing to breed. She should suckle her teeth and a 2nd eyelid will blink. She will often turn her head back to smell his leg and/ or neck, and occasionally smell you. The orgling puts the females in a trance in some ways. He will then get on top. The male will hum the entire time they are breeding.
Artificial Insemination (AI) has never been successful in alpacas. They are induced ovulators and some speculate that the sperm causes the egg to drop. Others theories it is the humming that signals the female brain to drop the egg.
As the male mounts the female, he will work on situating his penis to be lined up with her vagina. Sometimes, they cannot get it right and that is where you need to help. As the penis begins to search for the labia opening, it will look like a 1" pink worm. You need to gently help them line up. Remember, its just anatomy and a function of life. If an inexperienced male is not helped and gets frustrated, he may get up and be unwilling to breed her in the future.
As with all mammals, maiden females have a hymen. If the female is 2 years or older, the male may have difficulty breaking the hymen to reach the cervix. Again, you need to help. Put on a plastic glove and lubricant and with your index finger gently enter the vagina. About 2-3" inside, you will hit a wall. This wall needs to be broken - slowly to minimize the female being uncomfortable. She will not like this. This situation is rare, but you may need to do it from time to time.
Males can range in breeding times from 10 minutes to one male we have consistently goes over an hour. Once they are done, the male will get up and move on. The female will usually sit there for a second before getting up. The breeding process is done.