Next up in our alpaca breeding mini-series is mating and testing for pregnancy. (Check out part 1 for information on breeding ages, housing and selecting studs, stud services and registering with the BAS.)
Timing is important when planning matings
Alpacas do not have seasons as they are induced ovulators; thought to be brought into ovulation by the act of mating. Therefore, it is important to manage mating times effectively to avoid winter births & plan for spring births. Cria born in Spring & Summer gain weight faster (usually weighing 35-45KG at weaning) than those born in autumn (weighing 21-26KG at weaning). The alpacas should ideally meet after shearing, to avoid the male’s penis becoming entangled and strangulated in long fleece and to also reduce the risk of bacteria being taken into the female's reproductive tract.
Pen Mating in alpacas
Pen Mating is the method preferred by most breeders, which involves the male coming to the female for mating only to allow the exact due date of the cria to be calculated and tracked. A clean, level area of around 3m x 3m with suitable fencing should be allocated for pen mating. Mating ideally takes place after shearing in May or June and 3 weeks (definitely no sooner than 2 weeks) after the female has given birth. Here's what the process looks like:
The female is put into the pen, often with her cria, as it usually takes place just 2 to 3 weeks after unpacking, and the male is then brought in on a headcollar and lead rope.
The stud male will try to mount the female and, if she is receptive, she will sit down in a cush position (lying down with her legs tucked underneath her), so that the stud can mount her from the rear. If the female is not receptive, try again in 2 to 3 days time.
Mating occurs, usually lasting around 15 - 20 minutes, but can last up to an hour if the male is enjoying himself! The stud 'sings' to the female during the mating, also known as 'orgling'.
A behavioural test, also known as a 'spit off' can be carried out at 7 days after the last successful mating date (LMD). Non receptive behaviour (where the female spits at the male and does not sit) indicates that ovulation occurred at mating 7 days ago and could be indicative of pregnancy. Receptive behaviour (where the female sits) indicates that ovulation did not occur and re-mating can take place.
Another spit off can be carried out at 14 days after LMD. Non receptive behaviour (where the female spits at the male and does not sit) indicates that ovulation occurred at mating and she is now pregnant. If the female was spat off at 7 days, but is now showing receptive behaviour (where she sits), this indicates that ovulation occurred, but conception did not. Re-mating can occur in this latter instance.
Further spit offs can be carried out at 21 and 28 days after LMD to confirm continued pregnancy, as it is common for the pregnancy to be lost within this time frame if the developing embryo fails to attach itself to the uterine wall and begin developing the placenta.
Mating should not be attempted more often than every 7 days and only up to a maximum of 3 times in a breeding season before requesting veterinary assessment, as it does not equate to higher chances of conception and instead can increase the risk of infection.
Field Mating in alpacas
Field mating is, as the name suggests, where a stud male and multiple females are turned out to the field and left for a period of time to copulate as and when they please. This method is not typically used to avoid repeated matings, uncertainty around actual conception/due date and uncertainty around the success rate of matings as well as TB concerns if using stud services - from both owners perspective. That being said, it can be a useful tool for young females that are reluctant to mate in a penned situation due to being overwhelmed by the experience. DO NOT put multiple males in with females, as this will cause fighting.
Scanning for pregnancy
A pregnancy scan is possible from 30 days with rectal ultrasound or from 60 days with abdominal ultrasound.
Learn how to look after alpacas
This 95 page E-Guide is packed full of information for new and prospective alpaca keepers, covering Alpaca 101, Requirements, Diet & Pasture Management, Husbandry Tasks, Disease & Parasites and an Introduction to Breeding & Cria Care. Download upon purchase so you can dive straight in! For the full contents list and to get your copy, click the image below.