John & Susan Merrell
41390 Hwy 226
Scio, OR 97374
503-551-7219 (cell)
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Premature Crias

Premature crias are at serious risk.  It is important to check new crias to make sure they are healthy and are not premature. A simple checklist to follow will help you decide if you need to intervene or call your veterinarian for help. A premature cria will require attention from a veterinarian in order to survive.

Several areas can be examined to quickly determine if a cria is premature. If the cria is determined to be premature or you are uncertain about the prematurity of the cria, always call your veterinarian.

Birth Weight.

Check the birth weight of the cria once it is dry. alpaca crias should be over 12 pounds. A cria weighing less than this may be premature or have other problems requiring attention. Evaluate the cria with the other indicators of prematurity.

Look at the ears.

A normal cria will have ears which stand and have strong supportive cartilage in the ear. The cartilage is immature towards the tips of the ears in premature crias. This cartilage is weaker and will not hold the ears up properly resulting in a "tipped" appearance. A portion of the ears will fold over and be floppy like a dog's instead of stiff and erect like a alpaca's.

Look at the feet.

Normally, crias have a small amount of soft rubbery material covering the tips of their toenails. When it remains, crias can look like they are wearing elf shoes. This is present to protect tissues of the dam from damage by sharp toenails during pregnancy and birthing. Normally, this coating wears off or falls off after about 6-12 hours. The covering on the toenails of a premature cria is thicker and will persist for longer than normal (up to 24 hours).

Check the teeth.

A full term cria will have erupted its lower incisors by the time they are born. If there are teeth which have come through the gums, the cria is full term. Premature crias have not erupted any teeth yet and you will only see or feel gums.

Check the respiration rate.

Premature alpacas do not have fully developed lungs and may have difficulty getting enough oxygen. Watch the cria breathe. Count the number of times the cria takes a breath in one minute. Premature crias will have respiration rates less than 10 times per minute. The normal respiration rate is 20 to 40 times per minute. Listen to the cria breathe. It should be quiet without any gasps, crackles, rattles or wheezes.

Look at the eyes.

The eyelids will still be stuck together on crias who are more than one month premature. If the eyes are not open, the cria needs veterinary attention immediately!

Look at the legs.

Laxity (movement beyond the normal range) in the joints of the legs can be a sign of prematurity. Some crias may be knock-kneed without being premature, but it can be made worse due to excess laxity in the tendons. Tendon laxity can also cause the fetlocks to drop down or the knees (carpal joint) to bend backwards. The fetlocks may even touch the ground when the cria is bearing weight by standing or walking.

Know the due date.

Know the breeding date(s) of the dam and approximately when the cria is due. For first time mothers estimate about 345 days of gestation. For other mothers, estimate the gestation length to be about the same length as the previous normal gestation.

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- Sara Bassett
Carl and the Cotton Gin
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