A Taste of Life at Windrush Alpacas

October 10, 2007

The Tale of A Male – From Dud to Stud!

I learned last week of an interesting situation regarding a male alpaca.  This particular alpaca will be three years old later this month.  He was sold as a breeding male and his new owners were very excited to add him to their herdsires, he had won some really nice ribbons in fleece and halter and really complemented their breeding plan.

When the new owners purchased the alpaca he had not yet been used to breed a female.  Not too long after they had purchased him they discovered one of their females had managed to work her way into his pasture and was being bred by him.  (The male alpaca is a good looking boy and the female alpaca must have decided that he was the one for her as it took her a bit of effort to get into his pasture).

It turned out that the accidental breeding was unsuccessful in that the female alpaca did not get pregnant as a result of that breeding.  The new owners of the male alpaca then started to expose him to some of their females during the spring breeding season.   The male alpaca did all the things a male alpaca should, he showed interest in the females, he mounted them, made the right “connection” with them and orgled during his breedings – everything was looking good except that none of the females became pregnant.

The new owners were understandably concerned that their new herdsire was for some reason unable to reproduce.  They had taken good care of him; the weather was not yet hot so heat stress was not thought to be a problem, so why was this male not getting the girls pregnant?  Fortunately the new owners of the alpaca had a good contract, and the seller of the alpaca, while disappointed was willing to work with the new owners to resolve the situation.  The seller consulted her vet and he suggested testing the sperm of the male alpaca to see if he had a low sperm count.  The seller was willing to take the alpaca back and refund his purchase price, but naturally wanted to make sure he was indeed non-reproductive before doing so.

The time came to test the male, and coincidentally at that time the female who had worked her way into his pen earlier had given birth to her cria from a different breeding and was ready to breed again.  (DNA testing confirmed that the alternative herdsire was definitely the sire of the new cria).   The new owners veterinarian suggested that they bring the male and the female alpaca into his clinic allow them to breed and then a sperm sample could be obtained from the female alpaca.

The test went ahead as planned and the results showed no sperm in the sample taken.  The new owners were naturally disappointed and contacted the seller to inform her of the news – the male alpaca was a dud, he would never sire a cria.

The seller started to make arrangements to take back the alpaca and refund the purchase price.  She understood that when you sell an unproven male there is always a risk that he will not be able to reproduce, she had covered that scenario in her contract and being a responsible and ethical alpaca breeder she was ready to honor her contract. 

But then something happened.  The new owners of the male alpaca went to breed the female alpaca to a different male and she was not receptive.  They had waited about 60 days before breeding her and when she spit off at the male they really had to wonder – could she be pregnant?

Off to the vets went the female alpaca.  The new owners of the male alpaca didn’t remind the vet that this was the female they had used for the sperm test preferring to wait until after the ultrasound.  The vet performed the ultrasound and immediately found an embryo, the female alpaca was pregnant and her only exposure to a male had been the “dud” alpaca.  When the new owners reminded the vet that this was the female that had been used for the sperm test he was very surprised, so surprised in fact he checked the female again with the ultrasound and quite clearly could see that she was pregnant!

So what happened, we have to ask?  How can a male alpaca with no sperm manage to impregnate a female alpaca?  The vet who did the testing is experienced with camelids and yet this pair of alpacas was defying the results of his test.  

Could it be that the alpaca produces sperm intermittently allowing for times when there is seminal fluid that does not contain sperm.  Camelids have some traits that are unique to them; one of them is that when the male alpaca breeds he “dribbles” sperm throughout the whole breeding.  This is one of the reasons that alpaca breedings take so long (anywhere from 20 minutes to 40 minutes), however it is thought that semen quality is uniform throughout the breeding process.

Having done a little research on this situation the one phrase that kept coming up is “it is difficult to collect semen from camelids”.  The technique that was used by the vet to collect semen in this instance is the recommended technique, however in all the references I found on this subject it was also mentioned that alpaca semen is very viscous making it hard to handle and it is difficult to determine parameters such as sperm concentration and motility.  So perhaps the handling of the sample after collection was the issue, but so far I have not found a good and definite explanation as to why in this particular case there was absolutely no sperm in the sample.

At the end of the day though there is a happy ending, the male has now proven himself, the seller does not have to take back the male and refund the purchase price, the new owners get to keep the male they like so much and get to look forward to a cria next year, and that female alpaca who worked so hard to get into that male’s pasture has finally had her date with her dream boy.  Maybe she knew all along that her stud was definitely not a dud!

Rosemary

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