John & Susan Merrell
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Scio, OR 97374
503-551-7219 (cell)
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Breeding Physiology

The breeding physiology of alpacas (and other camelids) is unique. Unlike other livestock who breed standing up for only a few minutes, alpacas breed on the ground for 10 to 50 minutes. The female is in a "cushed" (sternal) position and the male is lying on top of her. alpacas are also different because they are induced ovulators. This means that the female will not ovulate until she is bred by the male. The act of breeding stimulates neural pathways in the female which then cause the release of hormones that cause the follicle to ovulate.

A receptive female and an interested male are placed together in some way depending on breeding management. Often at the first sight of the female, the male will begin to orgle in an attempt to court the female. Orgling will continue throughout the entire act of breeding. The male (especially if he is more experienced) will smell under the tail of the female to check and see if she is receptive before proceeding. He can tell this by both her behavior and the way she smells to him. He then approaches her from behind and mounts her to encourage her to lay down for breeding. It should only take 1 to 2 minutes for a female to "go down" for the male if she is receptive. Maiden females are the only exception. They may take slightly longer (2 to 3 minutes) because they are unsure of the situation. A female who does not "go down" for the male within these time frames is less likely to have a mature follicle and thus, is less likely to ovulate and become pregnant. Better to try again in a few days.

The female then lays down in a cushed (sternal) position. Some females will lay on their side underneath the male during breeding. This is normal and does not harm the female or fertility rates. Just be sure that the female is still able to breath properly. Too much pressure on her chest may restrict her breathing. Once the female is down on the ground, the male positions himself over top of her in order to place his penis inside her vagina and begin the act of breeding. In order to place his penis in the correct area, the male probes around the females perineal region (the hairless region around her vulva and anus) by extending and retracting his penis until it enters the vulva and vagina.

Once the male has achieved intromission (entered the female reproductive tract), the penis extends into the cervix of the female for the rest of the breeding. In order to do this, the male must scoot up and tuck his body up very tightly against the female. In this position his rear legs extend up almost as far forward as hers. The penis has a small piece of cartilage in the tip to help get into the un-dilated cervix of the female. Semen is deposited into the cervix initially, but once the cervix dilates completely the penis goes forward into the uterus. Semen is then deposited into both horns of the uterus. Once the male has completed ejaculation, he will stand up and step back from the female. He will then usually smell under the tail of the female again. The female will usually remain in the cushed position for a few more minutes before getting up.

Penetration of the cervix by the male's penis, the sound of the orgle and the clasp of his legs around her body provide the neural stimulation necessary to begin the cascade of physiologic events which result in ovulation. The hypothalamus (a portion of the brain) is the first region stimulated to release hormones by the act of breeding. The hypothalamus releases GnRH (gonadotropin releasing hormone) which stimulates the nearby pituitary gland to release LH (luteinizing hormone). LH causes the mature follicle present on the ovary to ovulate. It also causes the cells remaining in the follicle, which were previously producing estrogen, to become luteinized and form a corpus luteum which produces progesterone. Levels of LH in the blood begin to rise 15 minutes after the beginning of breeding. LH levels peak at 1.5 to 2 hours after breeding and return to pre-breeding levels by 6 hours after breeding. Luteinization takes 3 to 4 days after breeding to be complete. The production of progesterone by the corpus luteum causes the female to reject the male. Blood progesterone levels of 1 ng/ml or greater at 5 to 7 days after breeding indicates the presence of a corpus luteum and that the female ovulated. Since the life of a corpus luteum is about 14 days in the non-pregnant female, progesterone levels do not indicate pregnancy until the blood progesterone levels remain 1 ng/ml or greater for 21 days or more after breeding.

Ovulation will occur between 26 and 42 hours after breeding. Successful ovulation is mainly determined by the size of the follicle present on the ovary. The follicle needs to be mature in order to respond properly to the stimulation of breeding. The number of matings does not have an effect on the success of ovulation. Breeding the female again the same day or 24 hours later does not stimulate the release of more LH and thus will not increase the likelihood of ovulation. The same principle applies to injections of GnRH which are used in the attempt to ensure ovulation. An injection of GnRH at the time of breeding may be effective, but any injections in the next 24 hours will not increase secretion of LH at all or alter the likelihood of ovulation.

Interestingly, a great deal of what of the knowledge base about the breeding physiology of camelids was developed in the Middle East with racing camels.  Camel racing is a tradition going back many, many years, and can involve great sums of money - both that invested in the livestock, and that traded through gambling! 

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