South American Camelid, including Suri Alpacas, are fairly easy to breed. The males are not dangerously aggressive during breeding. Ironically, they breed laying down and give birth standing up! Females are sexually mature at approximately 18 months to two years old and males from two to three years old.
South American Camelid and a few other species (e.g. cat, rabbit, ferret, mink, and otter) are a modified mammalian pattern ovulator. It means that they are induced ovulators. Ovulation occurs as a result of mating and only when a mature follicle is present. Receptive females usually ovulate 24 to 48 hours after mating and quickly become resistant to the males advances. They clearly show their resistance by running away or spitting at the male. If a female successfully breeds, ovulates and is impregnated, a blood test for progesterone levels (hormone necessary to maintain a pregnancy) can be done in as little as 21 days. Other means of determining pregnancy are: routine behavior testing with a male or periodic ultrasounds after 30 days.
Gestation or length of pregnancy, averages 335 to 355 days (11 to 11-1/2 months). A single baby or Cria, is born. Twins are extremely rare and usually do not live.
Labor is often missed by the owners and normal delivery occurs very rapid (from 10 minutes to 1-1/2 hours). Owners frequently miss the birth of crias even when they are trying very hard to be there to observe. It is wise to carefully monitor the the baby (cria) in the first few days of life.
An interesting phenomenon is that they typically deliver in daylight hours between 7:00 am and 2:30 p.m., making it very convenient for herd tenders. It is believed that for survival purposes, they evolved to give birth in the warmth of the day so that the cria is dry, nursing, and able to run with the herd by nightfall.
There is no true breeding season. Alpacas are capable of conceiving year-round. However, fertility drops during the extreme heat of summer and the cold sunless times of winter. North American breeders select breeding times based on the most appropriate season for comfort of the dam and baby, as well as the herd manager.
Nothing more elaborate than a clean, dry, relatively warm place is required for birthing. Alpaca mothers and crias form a very strong bond in the first few hours of life. Babies are up and nursing within minutes to a couple of hours. They must receive the mothers first milk, or colostrum, in the first 12-24 hours to be strong and healthy. Alpacas are protective and doting mothers that bond quickly with their newborns. Camelid generally do not lick the babies dry. Therefore, Babies born in a cold environment need to be dried and protected from exposure at birth.
While Alpaca breeding and birthing are relatively easy, as with all livestock, it would benefit the new owner to have a good relationship with a competent Veterinarian, maintain a good relationship with fellow alpaca ranchers, as well as educate themselves on all aspects of reproduction and Camelid care.
Best possible results – from the breeding and birthing barn to the show ring!