On Thursday at 12:03pm, Kathy texted me the picture below and the message “HELP!” Mom had delivered the long legs of a new baby. I rushed back to the farm and by the time I arrived, baby and placenta had been successfully delivered by Daisy Mae, with Kathy’s help. The newborn weighed 18 pounds. Typical for an alpaca is 10-17 pounds. Since Daisy Mae is a small alpaca (140 pounds), the birth was very difficult. You can see how big he is - my daughter is 5 foot 5 inches and she is holding him shortly after birth.
I examined Daisy and she had no tears or bleeding. However, she was very tired and rejected the baby’s attempts to nurse. Alpaca babies generally start nursing within 90 minutes and have about 24 hours to consume colostrum - the early mother’s milk that provides them with an immune system. If they do not eat, they have no immune system and can easily die of infection.
We gently haltered Daisy Mae and held her while encouraging Danny to eat. Mom and baby just could not collaborate. We tried restraining Daisy. No luck. We had to initiate bottle feeding to keep Danny hydrated. We put him in a cria coat (a down jacket for baby alpaca) for the night since mom was not keeping him warm. However, the rest of the herd protected him.
All day Friday we tried keeping them together and encouraging bonding. It did not work. As the window closed for colostrum transfer, we had to proceed to plan B - transfusion with alpaca plasma to provide the IgG he needed to fight off infection. We drove him to Tufts large animal hospital in Grafton, MA. They infused plasma and his IgG counts rose slowly. He did not develop a fever and his white count was normal.
While Danny was being treated, we also had to treat Daisy - she was not nursing and she was at risk for mastitis. We had to massage her teets every two hours to express milk and reduce the risk of infection. She became more agitated with every treatment. Clearly she was not dealing with motherhood very well, which is typical for first time alpaca moms.
Transfusions continued for Danny on Saturday and counts were rising but slower than expected, although he looked clinically well. Thus, we had two patients, a young patient with IgG counts rising slowly and a mom increasingly agitated. Saturday was frustrating.
We made a decision that we had to bring them together so that as his counts became normal, he could be re-introduced to her and she could be sedated if necessary so that nursing could proceed. It’s typical for horses that a few hours of sedation can lead to a successful mother-baby feeding/bonding experience. We lifted all 140 pounds of Daisy into the Ford Transit truck and drove her to the Tufts facility. We checked her in, and spent an hour with Danny. Clearly he missed his herd.
Mother and baby were re-united on Sunday night. Danny was joyful, Daisy was skeptical. She was mildly sedated and he began to feed. By late Sunday night, Daisy was mothering him without sedation.
If all goes well, Danny’s transfusions will be done today and Daisy will be a fully functional mother. If we’re lucky, tonight we’ll put them both in the van and bring them back to Unity Farm.
Such is the life of a farmer - you never know what the future will bring.