Care of the newborn cria was a key topic of discussion at an NZVA conference. Claire Whitehead from the USA was beamed in by video-link to deliver a very enlightening presentation to the Camelid Branch of the NZVA. While a lot of her discussion related to intensive management of the newborn cria, a couple of pertinent points were raised for management in the more extensive NZ situation.
Post Natal Checks
After delivery, the cria will usually stand and drink from the dam within half an hour. If the cria is not up and drinking within three hours of birth, veterinary attention should be sought to administer some form of fluids +/- plasma.
Hypothermia and hypoglycaemia
At birth, a cria's temperature should be between 36.8-38.6°C. A low body temperature is serious and attempts to warm the cria up should be made.
Drying and warming cria using heat lamps, towels, hot water bottles etc are all recommended and well-known treatments. In the case of hypoglycaemia, IV fluids are often required but early intervention on farm often makes the difference between success and failure. Initial on-farm treatment can include 20ml of 40-50% dextrose solution, given orally or per rectum. A standard bag of Bomac dextrose is 40% and is available from your local clinic. Alternatively, smearing honey or golden syrup inside the mouth of a collapsed cria can be a life-saver while waiting for IV fluids.
Cria and Colostrum
For the first three weeks of a cria's life, it has no functional immune system of its own. The colostrum that the cria drinks in the first 24 hours of life contains all the antibodies that it will receive for those first three weeks of its life. If a cria does not get sufficient colostrum, it cannot absorb the antibodies properly, or the colostrum quality is poor, the chances of that cria dying are greatly increased. The average death rate in alpaca cria in the USA is 10% within the first three weeks of life. Of these deaths, 90% are due to septicaemia and the cria's inability to fight infections.
In a normal, healthy cria, the absorption rate of antibodies from colostrum is about 26% from 0-6 hours post-delivery. This figure decreases to around 18% from 6-18 hours post-birth and by 24 hours post-delivery the absorption rate is well below 10%. After 24 hours the gut of the cria does not allow the antibodies in the colostrum to pass into the blood as whole units; instead the gut begins to digest them into amino-acids for energy, as if they were normal dietary protein.
10% of all alpaca cria born have inadequate colostrum absorption in the first 24 hours of life. Cold, stressed or premature cria have a gut absorption rate for antibodies of about 2%, compared with 26% in a healthy cria. Cria that are likely to have problems with either obtaining adequate colostrum intake or having adequate colostrum antibody absorption are called the "at-risk" group.
The at-risk group would include the following:
Cria that fail to stand and suckle within three hours of birth
Weak, cold, slow cria
Any cria that requires assistance for delivery where the procedure lasted >15 minutes
Cria born to known "problem females" - these would be those hembras that have had cria die in previous years in the first few weeks of life
Cria born to old, weak or sick females, especially if their body condition is less than average
Cria born to females with mastitis
Cria born to stroppy females who will not let them suckle. Maiden hembras often fall into this category.
The antibodies supplied in colostrum are called globulins (IgG), and these levels can be directly measured by doing a blood test. The minimum level required for a healthy alpaca cria is 500mg/dl. By giving an "at-risk" cria a unit of plasma directly into the abdomen, it is possible to raise its IgG levels from <200mg/dl to>800mg/dl within one hour of the transfusion.
A plasma transfusion involves obtaining plasma from older, healthy alpaca and injecting it into the abdominal cavity of the cria within the first 6 hours of life. The antibodies in the plasma are absorbed into the blood stream through contact with the inside of the abdomen and the abdominal organs. This is called the intra-peritoneal (IP) route of admission and it is the preferred route of giving plasma to cria for several reasons:
Cria have very small veins making intravenous (IV) administration difficult
Another disadvantage of the IV route is that the plasma has to be given very slowly (2-3 hours per unit) compared to the IP route where a single unit can be administered in 10-15 minutes
Absorption rates IP are almost identical to those given IV, and are significantly greater than giving the plasma orally.
If a dam is unable or unwilling to feed her cria, the aim is to find a substitute similar to normal alpaca milk. Adult alpaca can be milked - it is a slow job but individual feed volumes of milk can be obtained from a lactating female with patience. In most lactating females, especially soon after unpacking, only small volumes of milk can be obtained from each teat (couple of squirts) before it stops. Working around the four teats in a circular pattern allows the first teat to be ready to release more milk once the fourth one has been milked.
If an owner wants to use whole milk, goat's milk is the closest substitute with sheep and cow's milk behind them. Don't use pasteurised milk from the supermarket. The use of cow's milk as a milk replacer in very young animals will induce a milk scour that can cause death if secondary infections develop or if the diarrhoea results in severe dehydration.
Should a cria require additional feeding, it is necessary to use a form of milk replacer. If a milk replacer is needed, feed 10% of the cria's body-weight divided into 6+ feeds over the day. Feeding more than 200ml in a single feed is not advised as spill-over into the intestines can occur resulting in diarrhoea (milk scour).
milk replacer is a specialised milk powder sourced wholly from cow's milk in New Zealand. The formulation contains essential vitamins and minerals required for early growth and development. Anlamb™
contains no coccidiostat and thus is safe for all label claim species. Anlamb™
can be fed to young animals such as cria.
Available in store in 2kg, 5kg & 10kg