A Taste of Life at Windrush Alpacas

June 7, 2007

How Much Do They Really Know?

Filed under: alpaca, Alpaca Care, Alpaca Health, Alpaca Reproduction, Alpacas, camelids, General — alpacalady @ 7:33 am

We recently encountered a situation with one of our female alpacas that really makes me wonder just how much alpacas know when it comes to being in tune with their bodies.

Last fall our maiden female Keeva experienced a terrible dystocia (dystocia is the term for an abnormal or difficult labor).  The cria that Keeva was carrying managed to get his legs completely wrapped around his neck.  Unfortunately our vet was out of town at the time and we had to drive Keeva 30 miles to another vet.  With a lot of work the vet managed to remove the cria but unfortunately he was brain damaged by the whole process and did not survive.

Following Keeva’s dystocia we treated her with antibiotics and flushed her for several days to encourage healing.  The female reproductive tract of an alpaca is notoriously unforgiving and so we hoped that Keeva would still be reproductively sound after all she went through.  Following the flushing and antibiotics we had Keeva examined, everything looked good with her reproductive tract and so we were optimistic that we would be able to breed Keeva again.

In January and February we had some alpacas here for breeding.  While we were doing the breedings Keeva would come and cush outside the pens which to us was a good sign that she was still interested in breeding.  It was far too early to breed Keeva at that time, we wanted her to have more time to heal and also we do not breed our own girls at that time of the year as we do not want crias born in December or January as our weather is too cold in those months.

Having sheared our herd this spring we have been busy with our breeding program.  We put Keeva in with a male to test her reaction and she ran away from him and was not interested.  Initially we thought she was just in the wrong part of her cycle, but this behavior went on for a couple of weeks.  Then we noticed Keeva was acting very much like one of our non-reproductive females.  She would flirt heavily with the males, tail up, standing proud and running up to tease them, but as soon as the male went near her she would take off as if her life depended on it.  Both Ric and I noticed this behaviour and the fact that it was so similar to our non-reproductive female set some alarm bells ringing in our minds.

We made an appointment to take Keeva to the vet on Tuesday.  Perhaps her cushing by the pens during the winter had caused a retained CL (a retained CL would make her feel and act as if she was pregnant when she really was not).  On our arrival at the vet clinic we explained what the problem was with Keeva and refreshed his memory about her bad birthing experience.  After asking a couple of questions our vet suggested that in addition to the progesterone test he use his endoscope to re-examine Keeva’s reproductive tract.

Within a short while of starting the endoscope procedure our vet discovered part of Keeva’s problem.  Some scar tissue had formed about an inch in from the vaginal opening.  The scar tissue was like a thick hymen and would have prevented a male from being able to breed Keeva.  Our vet was able to remove the scar tissue and then examined the rest of her reproductive tract which thankfully appears to be healthy.

I asked our vet if it was possible that Keeva’s body was somehow sending her signals that she had a problem that would prevent her from breeding and therefore had made her unwilling to cush for the male.  Our vet said that he didn’t think that was likely, but also said “sometimes you just don’t know”.

We brought Keeva home and planned on waiting on the results of her progesterone test before continuing with our attempts to breed her.

Yesterday though as two of our alpacas were breeding who should come over to the breeding pen but Keeva.  Interesting I thought as this time she was not showing the flirty, tail up behaviour.  After a short while Keeva cushed outside the breeding pen.  For two weeks we had been trying to get her to do this and she definitely wasn’t interested, now one day after having the scar tissue removed from her reproductive tract here she was cushed outside the pen.

Part of me wonders if this was just pure coincidence, but the other part of me feels that it was not a coincidence at all.  Alpacas have some unique abilities when it comes to reproduction, they can time births for good weather, extend or shorten their pregancies depending on the food source available, why should we doubt that they are that in tune with their bodies that they know when they are unable to reproduce?

I have had one other experience that was similar to this.  A maiden female sent to us for breeding was not displaying any sort of receptive behaviour.  She was at a good age, size and maturity for breeding so I was surprised she was so reluctant to breed.  I called her owner to ask if we should do some blood work on the alpaca and the owner requested that prior to doing that I examine the alpaca to make sure that her hymen was completely dissolved.  I examined the alpaca and sure enough the hymen was not completely dissolved but the act of the examination was enough to break the remaining hymen tissue.  The next day that alpaca cushed immediately when she saw a male alpaca and we bred her.  Did she too know that she wasn’t quite ready for breeding?  It does make you wonder.

Of course my experiences are completely anecdotal but I sometimes wonder if us humans are so out of tune with our bodies that we cannot conceive (pardon the pun!) that alpacas can be extremely in tune with theirs.  Again the words of my alpaca mentor come back to me “alpaca girls rarely lie”   I think there is more truth in those words than some would like to beleive.

 Rosemary

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