When it gets towards Autumn/Winter time again, that’s the time to start planning your weaning. Like all things in alpacas I am sure there are hundreds of different methods. However, what I am going to write about is how we manage weaning at Bozedown Alpacas. As a rule we wean the crias at 6 months of age. In the past weaning has started at Bozedown in Mid November and carries on until in the following spring. We take special care in recording all weight gains from our crias and continue monitoring these from weaning onwards, until they are about a year old. When we examined the trends of the weight gains we found that crias born July or earlier were weighing between 35 and 45 kg at 6 months. Crias born after July and into the autumn were weaning on average around 21 – 26 kg at 6 months. This was a very significant finding. Our crias born in the spring when their mothers are grazing the lush grass grow more quickly and are able to cope with the stress of weaning much better. Based on this information we have been working over the last few years to organize the breeding programme and birthing so that it all happens in the spring. Our last crias are all born by the end of July with the majority born April, May, June.
In most cases the crias will weigh between 35 – 45 kg at weaning (6 months of age), however occasionally we will wean crias as young as 4 months of age and this is usually based on the Dam’s body condition being low or if the cria is very large. We have weaned a few Suri crias at four months of age that have already weighed in at 47 kg! Suri’s generally tend to milk incredibly well and grow strong healthy crias.
Four days prior to weaning the crias will be weighed, retagged (given their own herd number (registration tag), instead of their Dam’s number), microchipped, and wormed (we tend to use Panacur – always use 4 times the sheep/cattle dose rate). Weaning is a stressful time for all crias; we do these treatments prior to weaning so as not to stress them more than we have to. They go back with their Dam’s for four days and it also means that if they have any worms they drop them before they move to clean pasture after weaning. In the past we gave the crias Vecoxan to prevent them from getting high burdens of Coccidia but have found that giving them Baycox 7 days after weaning has a much higher success rate. Worms and Coccidia multiply very quickly at times of stress and this way if they do multiply we then get rid of them quickly before they do any damage. Please get your vets advice on whether they think you may need to worm or treat for coccidia.
On the day of weaning the crias are taken from their Dams and put on clean pasture out of sight from their Dams (if possible); this makes the separation easier. The crias will come up to you when you go into their field for about a week asking to be taken back to their Moms. It really tugs at your heart strings but they settle very quickly; however, for this reason we like to keep them in the same group for about 2 months as they form friendships. This helps to reduce extra stress which in turn reduces worm burdens which can be very harmful at this age.
As we are able to wean large groups of crias at a time, we wean the crias into groups of males and females right from the start. This is not necessary but they should be separated by the time they are a year old, or younger if you see males sitting on the females. Males do not tend to start working until they are between 2 – 3 years but it has been known for males to start at 12 months of age. Either way it is not healthy for the female to be practiced on all the time.
We tend to wean new groups every 2 weeks and will wean around 40 crias at a time; we find that groups of 20 weanlings in a paddock works well. Not too many to compete for food, although we always make sure there is 2 feet of trough space per alpaca, which should eliminate most competition.
During the first part of weaning, getting the feeding and nutrition right is very important. Usually, by the time the crias are ready for weaning they are nibbling on the Camelibra and any other feed that their dams might be getting. This helps them take to their feed once weaned. Not all alpacas will eat the feed but as long as they are gaining weight and growing well that is what is important. Our herd is given an additional mineral mix every 4 months (granulated form) and our weanings are given this in the first few days after being weaned. We believe that alpacas with balanced minerals are much healthier and less susceptible to becoming ill. The weanlings are fed twice a day. In the morning we feed Camelibra and sugar beet pulp and in the late afternoon they have fibregest. Depending on how w
ell they grow we feed the sugarbeet for 2 months and the fibregest for about 3 months. However, some groups will continue on the fibregest all winter. They are also given Vitamin AD& E paste every six weeks starting in mid October until March.
Weight gain is a very useful tool to know how your alpacas are thriving and so our weanlings are weighed every 2 weeks until we are happy with their average weight gain. After this we switch to body condition scoring every 2 – 3 weeks until they are a year old.
In general, once the females have been weaned a minimum of 6 weeks they can go back in with the older females. After the females are a year old there may be a possibility of mating them. They ahould be at least 47 kg before breeding, but if a female is small, leave her longer, which may mean waiting until she is 2.
Regarding putting males together it is important to understand their behaviour. We do not generally put young males in with the working stud males until they are around 2 and are starting to work. Most stud males would try and dominate younger males until they are working. The problem is if a male is dominated at too young an age you can break his personality and presence. He can become submissive and possibly not start working until much later in life. So it is important not to put too young a male in with older boys if it can be prevented.
by Mary-Jo Smith