A Taste of Life at Windrush Alpacas

May 28, 2007

Introducing Maidens – Know Your Females

Filed under: alpaca, Alpaca Care, Alpaca Reproduction, Alpacas, camelids, General — alpacalady @ 7:25 am

Now shearing has been completed we have some catching up to do with our breeding schedule.  As we approach shearing each year we hold open any females that are due to be bred until after they are shorn.  The stress of shearing can interfere with a new pregnancy and to us it just makes sense to wait a little and breed the girls after shearing.

This year we have several maiden females to introduce to the world of breeding.  A maiden female is one that has not been bred before.

Maiden females have a reputation for being a little difficult when it comes to breeding.  With more experienced females there are more definite signals as to whether they are receptive to breeding and also when they are pregnant.  Maidens not having been through a pregnancy before are sometimes a little mixed up in their hormone levels and the signals that they give.

We worked with five maidens over the course of the last week.  The first Anya is a large girl and had been showing definite signs that she was ready to breed, hanging around the fence line if the boys were around and flirting with them.  It was no surprise therefore when she cushed pretty soon after we put our male Zin in the pen and allowed herself to be bred.

Next we tried Willow to see what her reaction would be.  Willow is a smaller girl and we would not have been surprised if she needed more time to develop.  Willow moved away from the male initially but then allowed him to mount.  With maidens we allow them a little longer with the male before we decide that they are not going to breed that day.  Often a maiden will be unsure of what is going on and you can almost see the wheels turning in her mind as she tries to figure our what she should do. Sometimes they will stand and shift their weight from side to side as they try and work out how to cush while the male is on top of them, other times they will drop their head and sniff the ground and take a few steps forward.  While we would never force a female down, or leave her with the male if she is obviously unreceptive we do sometimes hold up one of her front legs (as if we were trimming her toenails) to see if that will help her with cushing.  If she is truly receptive she will usually cush, otherwise she will still remain standing and we will stop the breeding process.  With Willow we did hold up one of her front legs and as soon as we did so she cushed.  Willow is being bred to Treasure and this was also his first breeding.  Typically we do not put an unproven male with an unproven female, but we had tried Treasure with some of our older girls and while he had shown us he was ready to breed, the older girls were not in the right part of their cycle and did not cush for Treasure.  If we do not get a pregnancy after two breeding attempts between Willow and Treasure we will switch to a different male for Willow’s breeding.

Our next maiden Cinnamon was a different story.  Cinnamon was born just days after Willow and so the two are comparable in many ways.  Cinnamon is a bigger girl than Willow but tends to be a little more highly strung.  When we put Cinnamon in with the male she ran, and then started to climb the side of the breeding pen.  Not a good sign, so we removed the male immediately so as not to stress Cinnamon further.  We will wait a few days and try Cinnamon again but it may be that she needs to wait a little longer before breeding.  Whereas the other maiden females had acted a little uncertain Cinnamon’s reaction was too dramatic to think that she was even the slightest bit receptive.

We then tried Snow, who did not panic and run like Cinnamon but did not really show signs of wanting to cush.  We probably caught her on the wrong part of her cycle so will wait a couple of days and try her again.

Finally on our maiden schedule for this week was TeQueely.  TeQueely is now two years old, but was very ill when she was seven months old and so we deliberately waited until she was two to even attempt to breed her.  We had tried TeQueely with a male earlier in the week and while she had allowed herself to be mounted she also spit hard at the male and made it clear she was not ready to breed that day.  Yesterday however was a different story and after a short while of figuring out how to cush she did so and bred.

I feel the key to breeding maidens is to know them well and to be very observant as to their behaviour.  The signals they give are often more subtle than an older female but usually there is some indication from them as to their readiness for breeding.  It is the hormones that they produce as they reach sexual maturity that cause the cushing or spitting behaviour, which is why when I see a maiden act with panic (like Cinnamon) rather than confusion I suspect that particular female is not yet mature enough to breed.  We usually start to attempt to breed our maiden females when they are 18 months of age, but do not get alarmed if they are closer to two years old before they breed.  Occasionally we will have one closer to two and a half before she is ready to breed, but those are few.  If however the maiden still is not showing receptive behaviour by the two and a half year point we will have a reproductive exam preformed on her by our vet to check that she is physically reproductively sound and also would draw blood to look at her hormone levels.  There are a few females that will breed closer to the three year old mark, but usually if they reach that point without showing any inclination to breed it indicates a problem.

So now we will begin the process of behaviour testing these maidens to see if they are pregnant, which again is a little more tricky than working with a more experienced female.  Fingers crossed the girls that bred will all be pregnant and this time next year I will be able to report on their beautiful crias!



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