SAFONA Neonatal Seminar Ramblings
By: Ron Rissel
I’m a City Slicker. At least that is what my wife’s family
calls me. For those of you not familiar with the term, it is a description of a person who grew up in the ”big
city” atmosphere. I grew up in central Pennsylvania in a town called Williamsport, known for little league baseball
and excellent trout fishing and deer hunting. Definitely not the “big city”, but I lived in the suburbs and
participated in some outdoor activities. My wife (Marcia) grew up on a dairy farm, so when Marcia and I bought
alpacas, it was business as usual for her. For me, it was a new experience. That’s where the fun
For as long as I have been around her parent’s dairy farm, I never had to deliver or
participate in the delivery of a calf. Now with our own alpaca farm, I find myself needing the experience to
deliver a cria, if called upon. Over the course of 6 births and 2 years, opportunities to help deliver a cria have
been sparse either due to a home Penn State football game or work. Marcia and/or her parents were always around
during those times to attend to the birth.
To help me become more of an ‘un’ City Slicker, I attended a Neonatal seminar sponsored by SAFONA with Missi
Cooper, DVM. The description of the class was a “wet lab”. The term was unknown to me but it sounded like I was in
for something serious.
The seminar was held at the 4-H center in
Collegeville, PA, with 20+ other alpaca owners in attendance. The morning consisted of an interactive presentation
in which Missi covered topics from pre-delivery to delivery and post-delivery. For pre-delivery, Missi presented
the symptoms, “When is She Due to Deliver?” Missi talked about frequent trips to the dung pile, humming, and
cushing with legs out to the side rather then underneath. Other symptoms are not eating, keeping away from the
herd, and restlessness. During Missi’s presentation, my mind drifted to a time when I went to work thinking one of
my females would not give birth for another 1 to 2 weeks. Two hours later, I received a phone call informing me
that a new cria was out in the field.
Missi went on to talk about the 3 stages of Parturition. Stage 1 is the dilation of
the cervix and contracting uterus (can last up to 24 hours), stage 2 is expulsion of the fetus (can usually last 15
minutes and sometimes up to 2 hours), and stage 3 is the expulsion of the placenta (should complete in 2 hours).
There was much discussion on delivery. Normal delivery has the cria’s nose and feet (with pads pointing down) out
first and is usually over in 15 minutes. On the other hand, abnormal delivery is called dystocia, meaning a slow or
difficult labor or delivery. A common cause is shoulder lock where the head and front legs are protruding but the
dam is unable to pass the shoulders. Other causes are malposition or malpresentations of the cria such as one front
foot showing or the back feet showing. Many of the solutions to the problems involved pushing the cria back in and
repositioning it to have the head and front feet presented first. For me, the first move would be to “CALL THE
VET!!!” Then I would consider what I could do to help in the meantime. Prior to this class, the meantime would have
been filled with panic.
Next Missi talked about what to do after the cria is born. The signs that the cria is
normal include the following: standing within an hour after birth; dam being attentive to the cria; cria weight
being 12 to 20 pounds; and cria passing meconium within 12 hours. Even more important though is to see the cria
nursing soon after birth. The first milk from mom is colostrum which is most critical for the cria’s immune system.
If supplemental colostrum is needed and no alpaca or llama colostrum is available, the next best would be sheep or
goat colustrum and then cow. A cria should have an IgG greater than 800 at 24-36 hours old and should ideally gain
half a pound a day. If you see the cria running and playing and interacting with its environment, those are all
good signs as well. There was discussion about separating the mom and cria from the rest of the herd to encourage
the bonding of the two and to prevent any other crias from sneaking the first milk from the new mom. During this
discussion, once again my mind drifted this time to an occasion when my clever cat Blizzard sneaked freshly poured
milk from Marcia’s glass while she was not looking.
The presentation wrapped up with a discussion on delivered crias that are not normal.
Some problems could be congenital defects such as choanal altresia (wry nose), atresia ani (abnormal anus), and
cleft palate. Others could be related to environmental factors such as hypothermia (cold), hyperthermia (hot), or
hypoglycemia (low sugar). Still others could be related to infectious diseases such as septicemia (bacteria
infection) or diarrhea.
After the presentation, the group broke for lunch. For me to be interested in lunch, I had to get
my mind off that last part of the presentation. But after seeing the food that many of the attendees brought and
set up in a buffet style, it was an easy transition. Plus I was wondering if anyone would eat my chocolate chip
cookies. Everyone was hungry and the lunch was delicious, so there were hardly any leftovers.
The afternoon session was a “wet lab”. I had little
idea what it would be (Should I have brought a “wet suit?”). I was glad I ate beforehand. Missi set up a table with
two wooden contraptions, each one made to simulate a uterus and birth canal. A real alpaca fetus was placed in each
simulator with Missi secretly positioning the fetuses in some type of malposition. Each attendee was provided with
an arm length plastic glove / sleeve. Without looking, each attendee reached into the ‘uterus’ to determine the
position of the fetus and the location of the legs and head. Everyone did this multiple times with the fetus
repositioned differently each time.
On my first try, I was happy to identify a head and leg. On another try with a
different fetus position, I thought I had identified the head. I was tempted to put my other hand in the ‘uterus’
to help with the diagnosis of the position. Marcia promptly reminded me that a normal alpaca uterus is usually not
large enough for two hands and two arms. After several unsuccessful minutes with my one hand, I had to peek and
Missi showed me that I had a rear hock. In that instance, the cria had been positioned backwards in the
I thought the entire seminar was very informative and educational. The “wet lab” was
especially valuable for me (a City Slicker) to understand first hand the various potential fetal positions. It also
provided me with some hands on experience of problems that I could encounter and correct. Instead of panicking, I
now have information and experience to help my alpacas if I am faced with an emergency situation. Lastly, it was
enjoyable to continue meeting other alpaca owners and socializing with the SAFONA members.
Perkiomen Creek Ranch