Birthing & Neonatal Study – WE NEED YOU!

We are looking for alpaca breeders to take part in a study that we will be conducting over this coming breeding season. Little is known about the incidence of birthing difficulties (“dystocia”) in alpacas, specific information about the type of problems experienced during birthing and the periparturient period, or the outcome of the problems experienced. Reproductive success and cria survival is crucial to the alpaca industry. This study aims to evaluate the incidence of periparturient events and neonatal illness and mortality in order to highlight where potential improvements can be made in both management and veterinary care of the species.

Please get in touch with us to take part in this important study if we haven’t already recruited you! We would like to collect information about all alpaca births during this upcoming breeding season, from owners all over the UK and with all levels of experience. It doesn’t matter how many or how few alpacas you have, we just a need willingness to help! Contact: [email protected] or call on 01491 680313. Below is a little more detailed information about the background behind the study and how we plan to approach the study… 

Prospective Study into Periparturient Events and the Neonatal Period of UK Alpacas

Background to the Research

Current statistics suggest that there are over 37000 alpacas registered with the British Alpaca Society in the UK and roughly three to four thousand crias have been registered as born each year for the last 10 years [BAS Registry, 2016]. Little is known about the incidence of birthing difficulties (“dystocia”) in alpacas, specific information about the type of problems experienced during birthing and the time around birthing (“periparturient period”), or the outcome of the problems experienced. There is a small amount of data available from South America suggesting a 1.6% dystocia rate among 1660 alpacas with 70% found to have the neck back in presentation.1 A small study in the US quoted a 26% rate of intervention in birthings (n=287 crias born) with 7% classed as “difficult”.2 In the UK and other developed world countries, alpacas are kept under very different management conditions and this may have an effect on the incidence and type of dystocia experienced. However, this possibility needs to be further evaluated and quantified.

Furthermore, a similar paucity of information exists for problems experienced by crias during the critical neonatal period. Bravo quoted a perinatal mortality rate of 6% in one study out of Peru (n= 424 cria) with significantly higher death rates (11.3%) in crias born to maiden females than to any other age group of dam.3 Crias that died were also smaller. In the US, another retrospective study found 2% mortality rates in crias: 37% of crias experienced some sort of illness pre-weaning with diarrhoea being the most common cause of illness (22.9%).2 The only published information for UK camelids was from a postal survey that took place in 1993 at which time there were very few alpacas in the country and most of the responses were for llamas: this found that the highest mortality was in unweaned crias and that 85.7% of alpaca deaths reported were in the first week of life.4 An unpublished study found an 11% mortality rate on 11 small farms with 76% of deaths occurring during the first week of life (Riddlestone and Whitehead, 2009).

Reproductive success and cria survival is crucial to the alpaca industry. Given the increasing alpaca population in the UK, there is a corresponding demand from owners and vets to improve the availability of information on managing alpacas during the periparturient period and to ensure cria viability. This study aims to evaluate the incidence of periparturient events and neonatal morbidity and mortality in order to highlight where potential improvements can be made in both management and veterinary care of the species.

Objectives

  1. To evaluate the incidence of periparturient events in the UK alpaca population
  2. To evaluate the incidence of neonatal morbidity and mortality in the UK alpaca population
  3. To investigate areas in which improvements can be made for alpaca management around birthing and neonatal care.

Study Plan

Alpaca owners from herds all over the UK and with a variety of numbers of breeding females will be asked to participate in the study in order to reflect the variety of management conditions under which alpacas are kept in the UK. Owners will be recruited from practice client lists and from the membership of the British Alpaca Society via a volunteer request through their weekly newsletter. There will be three parts to the study.

  1. Owners will be asked to complete a questionnaire regarding their herd (size, number of breeding females, purpose of breeding) and general herd management (eg vaccination use, parasite control, experience level) as well as historical data from their herds in regard to periparturient events and problems with cria illness and/or death over the last 5 years (where available). This will provide some background information about the sorts of issues that have been experienced over a reasonable period of time.
  2. Retrospective data, such as the information that will be obtained from the first part of the study, has inherent weaknesses in that it is only as good as the data that has been collected or memory serves. The second part of the study will provide prospective An application for smart phones or tablets will be provided to facilitate data entry: for those without access to such devices or preferring paper, forms will be provided. Study participants will be asked to supply data about all birthings on their farm during the upcoming birthing season. Data will be collected on the following key areas for each birth:
    1. The Birth
      • Gestation length, date/time of birth, weather conditions, dam parity, twinning, duration of labour (if observed), if assistance was needed whether by owner or vet and the cause of problem as well as outcome
    2. Periparturient Problems
      • Vaginal or uterine prolapse, uterine torsion, metritis, mastitis, post-partum bleeding events, vaginal/uterine tears, placental retention
    3. The Neonatal Cria
      • Birth weight (+ 7 and 14 days), gender, breed, colour, congenital defects, time taken to stand/nurse, clinical problems and treatments, IgG tests, requirement for plasma transfusion, bottle-feeding, mortality
    4. Follow-up with study participants will be completed 6 months after the breeding season in order to investigate rebreeding success for any alpacas that experienced dystocia or other events and also to evaluate cria losses before weaning.

Owners participating in the study will have the opportunity to submit blood samples for cria IgG testing at Camelid Veterinary Services at the reduced rate of £20 +VAT per sample (20% off our normal rate).

References

  1. Bravo PW. Female Reproduction. In: Bravo PW, ed. The Reproductive Process of South American Camelids. Salt Lake City, UT: Seagull Printing; 2002:1-31.
  2. Sharpe MS, Lord LK, Wittum TE, et al. Pre-weaning morbidity and mortality of llamas and alpacas. Aust Vet J 2009;87:56-60.
  3. Bravo PW, Garnica J, Puma G. Cria alpaca body weight and perinatal survival in relation to age of the dam. Anim Reprod Sci 2009;111:214-219.
  4. Davis R, Keeble E, Wright A, et al. South American camelids in the United Kingdom: population statistics, mortality rates and causes of death. Vet Rec 1998;142:162-166.

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