Caring for your new baby

Proper care and nutrition for newborn crias provide the greatest chance for a long, healthy, productive life. A cria’s feeding needs change quickly in the first weeks, so being prepared ahead of time for each phase will help get your new alpaca or llama off to a strong nutritional start.

Feeding & nutrition in the first weeks

Day 1: Crias will naturally begin nursing within two hours of birth, to take advantage of the immense immune benefits of the mother’s colostrum. However, if the cria is unable or unwilling to nurse, or if his mother has tested possible for diseases that can be transmitted by colostrum such Johne’s disease, colostrum replacer or supplement is critical to ensure that your newborn cria is receiving adequate nutrition in his first hours. Start bottle feeding colostrum supplement like Ultra Start® Multi Colostrum Supplement within 4 hours if at all possible and 4-6x feedings the first day, while the newborn’s body is best equipped to absorb the critical nutrients in the formula.

Days 2-14: After 24-48 hours, it is time to switch to milk replacer for crias who are not nursing naturally or adequately. Milk or milk replacer provides the cria’s primary source of nutrition in the first few months, until weaning. Always choose a milk replacer with at least 24% protein, such as Grade A® Ultra 24 Multi-Purpose Milk Replacer to provide the optimal blend of energy (carbohydrates and fat), protein, vitamins and minerals for healthy cria development. As a general rule, it is best to feed them animal milk replacer by bottle or pail 4x per day, because smaller, more frequent feedings can increase digestibility and minimize digestive upset.

Day 15 to Weaning: Continue feeding milk replacer 3-4x per day or allow your cria to nurse. Then begin feeding a cria, goat kid or lamb starter or creep feed concentrate in a location that is not easily accessible to the mother or other mature llamas or alpacas. This is also a good time to introduce forage (hay) for the cria to nibble on. Llamas and alpacas are “modified” ruminants, with a multi-chambered stomach built for digesting large quantities of forage, and this early feeding of forage and grain helps jump-start rumen development. Fine-stemmed hay or pasture are best at this age for optimal digestion.

Weaning: Once your cria weighs three times its birth weight and is eating at least 1 lb of concentrate feed per day and free choice forage and water, you can wean the cria off of milk or milk replacer (6-10 weeks of age). The cria’s exact age is not the most important factor; what matters most is that he is consuming ample nutrition from forage and feed before weaning begins.

Don’t forget the water! Water is one of the most important elements of the cria’s nutrition. Keeping the water clean and fresh will encourage the cria to drink adequately.

Special nutritional needs

Even the best-cared-for crias will occasionally fall ill, and your veterinarian will be the best source of information and advice for caring for sick kids. When a cria develops scours (diarrhea), it is important to make sure he is consuming enough nutrients and is staying hydrated. The cria may benefit from additional calories to help fight off the infection or illness that is causing the scours. But most critically, you will need to help him reverse the fluid and electrolyte loss by feeding an electrolyte supplement such as Electrolytes Plus™. Electrolyte supplements do not contain all the nutrients of milk replacer, so be sure to offer electrolytes in addition to the cria’s normal diet.

Mixing & feeding tips

Follow the mixing instructions listed on the package. Measuring the powder by weight with a hanging scale is more accurate than measuring by volume with a scoop or cup. Always mix until the powder is dissolved. When mixing large batches for multiple crias, add the powder before you’ve added all the warm water (115-120ºF), then add enough water to bring to volume. This is an important detail to achieve the intended nutrient content.

Feeding the cria milk replacer that is at his body temperature (~102ºF) will encourage optimal consumption. However, always follow the mixing and water temperature instructions on the package for the colostrum or milk replacer product you are feeding, as the recommended mixing temperature will vary by product formulation.

Sanitation is another important aspect of feeding your cria and preventing illness, because bacteria grows very quickly on feeding equipment. Wash your bottles, nipples and buckets in soapy water and rinse well after every feeding, and never mix new colostrum or milk replacer with already-mixed product that has been sitting out, unrefrigerated. Moisture creates an optimal breeding ground for bacteria, so allow your equipment to dry thoroughly between feedings. Check the nipples often for damage, because cracked or worn nipple holes can lead to over consumption or faster-than-usual feedings that can cause digestive upset.

Housing

In addition to a strong nutritional start, your cria a comfortable place to stay, with ample clean, dry space. For the first day or two, you can keep your cria in an indoor stall, especially if the weather outside is less than ideal. It is important to have the dam or 1-2 other mature female llamas or alpacas in the stall with the cria so that he learns to bond with the herd, not humans. Avoid handling the cria any more than necessary or treating it as a pet, as this can result in serious behavioral issues in the long term. After the first 2-3 days, cria should be integrated with the herd.

Ensuring adequate ventilation without direct drafts will make the cria more comfortable, as well as reduce the moisture, animal odors and gasses that can cause respiratory illnesses such as pneumonia. If you can smell ammonia in the barn, or if you see condensation on the walls or ceiling, it may be a sign that the barn does not have adequate ventilation for your newborn cria. Windows, fans and inlets around the ceiling perimeter allow fresh, cold air from the outside to mix with warm air before coming into contact with the cria.

With a little advance preparation, sound nutrition and a healthy environment, your cria will be off to a strong start at life!