Baby Alpaca

Reading Time: 8 mins

Oh, how adorable are baby alpacas, with their big, innocent eyes, long eyelashes, and fluffy fur! These young ones, called "crias," are the apple of the alpaca world's eye and the treasure of the Andean highlands. Now let's learn more about baby alpacas.


Safety in Numbers

Their mothers, called dams, have a gestation period of about 11.5 months. Births can be quite hard on the mother alpaca, taking anywhere between 30 minutes to several hours. For protection against predators, alpacas often give birth in the middle of the herd. This ensures that the vulnerable crias are surrounded by adults who can ward off any potential threats.


They're Pretty Hairless

Contrary to what you might think, baby alpacas aren't born with a lot of wool. Their full, fluffy coat doesn't come in until they're about six months old. Patience, my dear, fluffiness is coming!


Twins are Rare

Unlike many animals, twin alpacas are a rarity. On the rare occasion they do occur, often only one survives. A single healthy cria is usually the norm, making each birth a truly special event!



A Whole New World in Hours

At birth, they weigh a modest 15 to 19 pounds, but don't let their small size fool you! Unlike many animals, crias are precocial, meaning they are born in an advanced state and can stand and run shortly after birth. They are born fully formed, with their eyes open. They're ready to take in the world around them almost immediately. This is another example of their precocial nature.


Dental Pad

Let's not forget the remarkable teeth of alpacas. From the get-go, they grow two types of teeth: the incisors at the front, and the molars at the back, which help them grind down their vegetarian meals. Unlike us humans, alpacas only have teeth on the bottom at the front of their mouths. The top front is a hard gum called a "dental pad" which they use to pull vegetation off the plants.


Community Dung Pile

Baby alpacas, much like their parents, are herbivores and will begin to sample grass as early as a week old. Yet, they continue to nurse for up to six months. A unique aspect of alpaca herds is the 'community dung pile' system. Crias are trained to use these dung piles, and remarkably, they begin this practice only a few days after birth. This behavior is not just about neatness; it's about minimizing the spread of parasites.



Baby Alpaca Wool

For starters, their fiber is something to marvel at. Baby alpaca wool is softer, lighter, and more insulated than most of their grown-up counterparts. This is because their fur has fewer scales on the individual fibers, making it smoother and more comfortable against the skin.  This luxurious fiber is highly prized and considered top-tier in the textile industry. What's more, it's hypoallergenic. Unlike sheep's wool, alpaca fiber does not contain lanolin, the oil that can trigger allergies in some people. It means those with sensitive skin can enjoy its warmth and softness without any itchiness or discomfort. 


Unique Snowflakes

Just like human fingerprints, no two alpacas have the same fiber or wool pattern. From the moment they are born, each cria has a unique fiber pattern that is entirely their own.


Camelid Cousins

Alpacas are part of the camelid family, which means they're related to camels. However, unlike their desert-dwelling cousins, alpacas are more adapted to cold mountainous regions. This kinship becomes quite apparent when you observe the crias as they show similar mannerisms to young camels, such as their lanky gait.


They Hum... A Lot

Baby alpacas communicate through a variety of sounds, and one of their favorites is humming. Crias hum when they're curious, content, worried, bored, or even when they're separated from their herd. It's their cute little way of chit-chat!



Long Eyelashes

From their first glance, you might notice their prominent, sweet eyes. These eyes are not just adorable, but also come equipped with a set of long eyelashes that serve as protection against the harsh sun and wind-blown dust in their native Andean habitat. Now, isn't that nature's sunglasses?


Bean Toes

Next, you will spot the alpaca's 'bean toes.' That's right, their feet are divided into two soft, padded toes that help them navigate rocky terrains without damaging the land around them. It's like they are born with built-in hiking boots!


Natural Swimmers

Despite their heavy wool, alpacas are quite capable swimmers, and this includes the young ones too. They might not dive into the deep end like a Labrador Retriever, but don't be surprised if you see them wading into a pond or stream.



Social Glue

Alpaca herds are essentially large family units that move, feed, and rest together. This structure provides safety, companionship, and shared parenting, known as 'aunting.' The birth of a cria brings fresh energy and curiosity into the herd, stimulating the entire group's natural instincts and behaviors. 

Crias also stimulate a sense of community in the herd. Their presence often strengthens the bonds among adult alpacas, fostering a collective focus on nurturing and protecting the young. In many ways, crias serve as a social glue that brings the herd together.


Piano Hammers

Even in the world of musical instruments, alpaca wool has found a niche. In some parts of the world, it's used to make felt for piano hammers, replacing the traditional wool of sheep, as the felt made from alpaca wool is denser and lasts longer.


Nature's Lawnmowers

Even as babies, alpacas are great for the environment as they're "green" eaters. They have a unique way of grazing that doesn't damage root systems, preserving the grass for future growth. Even their droppings make excellent, eco-friendly fertilizer!


Alpaca Farming

Agriculturally speaking, alpaca farming provides income to many small and medium-sized farmers around the world, particularly in countries like Peru and Bolivia. Even in the United States, the alpaca industry has grown steadily over the past few decades. The breeding of alpacas, with an emphasis on high-quality crias, is an essential part of this industry. 



How to Care for a Baby Alpaca

One of the first things to keep in mind when dealing with a cria is their nutritional needs. Just like human babies, crias need a well-balanced diet to grow and thrive. Mother's milk is crucial for the first few months, supplying all the necessary nutrients and antibodies. If for some reason the mother can't nurse, or the cria is orphaned, a veterinarian can guide you in providing an appropriate milk replacer.

During the first few days of a cria's life, it's essential to ensure they're passing meconium, the first stool which is a result of what they consumed while in utero. If a cria is having trouble passing meconium, a vet may need to intervene to prevent severe constipation.

Weight monitoring is another significant aspect of caring for a baby alpaca. Regular weigh-ins can help you spot any changes that might indicate health problems. A healthy cria should gain weight steadily – any loss or stagnation in weight gain should be addressed immediately with your vet.

Another area to focus on is parasite control. Alpacas can be affected by both internal and external parasites, like worms, mites, and ticks. Regular deworming, as recommended by a veterinarian, is crucial to keep your cria healthy.

Let's not forget about vaccinations. Baby alpacas need to be vaccinated against a variety of diseases like clostridium perfringens types C and D and tetanus, usually starting from around 1 month of age. Your vet can provide a vaccination schedule tailored to your area's specific risks.

Alpacas, being herd animals, also have specific social needs. A cria that is isolated or bullied might display signs of stress, such as reduced appetite, lethargy, or unexplained weight loss. Observing the herd dynamics and ensuring that the cria is well integrated is an essential part of their overall well-being.

Last but not least, remember the importance of dental care. Alpacas start life with baby teeth that are eventually replaced by adult teeth. Regular check-ups can help ensure that their teeth are growing correctly and aren't causing any discomfort or difficulty eating.



Adaptation

Let's talk about their adaptability. Born in the rugged Andes, these youngsters are made for survival. Despite their fluffy appearance and fragile beginnings, they are resilient, designed to withstand the harsh climates of their homeland. Their ability to adapt to such extreme weather conditions from a young age is, in my opinion, pretty mind-blowing.


Unique Ears

What also catches the eye are their unique, spear-shaped ears. Unlike some of their relatives, such as llamas, baby alpacas have short, pointy ears that seem perfectly designed to give them their charming look. Not to mention, these ears are key in the alpaca's keen sense of hearing, alerting them to potential dangers.


Induced Ovulators

First off, alpacas are 'induced ovulators'. This means the act of mating itself triggers ovulation, allowing breeders to carefully plan cria births. Pretty neat, huh? Generally, gestation lasts for about 11 to 12 months. That's right, nearly a year! Alpaca moms, or 'dams', carry their young for almost as long as human mothers do.


Mother-Baby Language

Mother alpacas, known as 'dams', are fiercely protective of their young. Dams communicate with their babies through soft humming sounds, a unique mother-baby 'language' if you will, helping them to recognize each other among the herd. 




Sources:

Hoffman, E., & Johnson, L. (2013). The Complete Alpaca Book (3rd ed.). Bonny Doon Press.
Brady, C., & Hoffman, E. (2008). Alpaca Keeping Raising Alpacas – Step by Step Guide Book… Farming, Care, Diet, Health and Breeding. IMB Publishing alpaca.
Franklin, W. L. (2011). "Behavior and Communication in the Alpaca (Vicugna pacos)" in The Biology of the Alpaca: Recent Advances. Journal of Camel Practice and Research, 18(2), 161-170.
Cebra, C., & Anderson, D. E. (2014). Llama and Alpaca Care: Medicine, Surgery, Reproduction, Nutrition, and Herd Health. Elsevier Health Sciences.

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