The female alpaca can produce one baby, called a cria, per year. The gestation period is
approximately 11 1/2 months. After a female has her baby, she can be rebred in about 2 to 3 weeks.
They seldom ever have twins. Birth rates are high, with the alpaca enjoying a productive life of
around 15-20 years. However, with American nutrition and veterinarian care, not readily available
in South America, alpaca lifespan may be even longer. Pregnancy is detected in three ways: by
ultrasound machine, by a progesterone test, and by the female
spitting at the male.
Alpacas do not come into estrus, like dogs. But like cats, alpacas are induced ovulators.
This means that only after the male has deposited his sperm in the female does she release an egg for
fertilization. This enables alpaca ranchers to breed alpacas at any time of the year that is convenient.
Ovulation occurs up to 26 hours after the mating. To increase the chance of conception, the same pair will
often be reintroduced every few days. The first sign that a female is pregnant is when she "spits off" the
male to reject him.
Females that are ready and eager to breed will flirt with males on the other side of the fence by parading before them with uplifted tail, or even cushing down beside them.
The courtship ritual of alpacas is very distinctive. The male indicates his readiness by making a "clucking" sound and starting to "warble". In selective breeding, the male is put with the female in a small enclosure. He will chase her and if she is not pregnant, she will eventually allow herself to be mated by cushing down for him. The males characteristically warble during active coitus, which can last up to an hour. It is very common to wrap a females tail and/or clip the fleece from around her vulva to better enable male penetration.
Field breeding is also popular and many alpaca ranchers pasture a male with his group of females year round. Pregnancy may be confirmed by a simple blood progesterone test or by ultrasound. Maiden females can have their first breeding at about 18 months of age or at about 100 pounds. Males begin breeding between two and three years of age, or when their testes are each about 3cm by 5 cm large.
Alpacas produce babies in a variety of colors. The Alpaca Registry recognizes 22 distinct colors. Color inheritability is still a matter of intense study. It may take many generations of controlled breeding before this little understood subject becomes a more exact science for alpaca breeders. The newborn baby's color is often a surprise and a delight to its owner. Statistically across a large herd, alpacas produce 50% male and 50% female crias like other mammels.
Birthing is remarkably quick and usually trouble-free. Alpacas almost always produce a single offspring. Millions of years of evolution in the high, cold Andes Mountains causes alpaca birth to happen usually in early daylight hours, thus enabling the crias to dry in the warm sun. A cria is typically up on its feet and nursing within a few hours of birth. Two weeks later, the female is ready to be bred again. Thus, she will spend most of her productive life being pregnant. This is less arduous than it sounds, because the fetus remains small for most of the gestation period. Continual pregnancy is natural and the way that alpacas have evolved. Alpacas are devoted and protective mothers. The baby alpaca, or cria, will suckle from its mother until weaning at about five or six months.
This page was last updated on June 10, 2009.