Things never go as planned, and so is the story of baby Ryan’s entry into the world.
On Friday the farm was full of people for tours and shopping. Jason had just started an alpaca tour and I was headed onto a work call. Just as I hit the connect button on Zoom, Jason texted to say Lilly Grace is in labor. We knew the birth was coming soon, and as always, it tends to happen when I’m about to jump on a call with a client.
I head out to the paddock to make sure the birth is going smoothly and to serve as Lilly Grace’s personal doula. Lilly Grace was born on our farm, and I have always had a close bond with her. As she progressed with her labor, our farm visitors quietly watched.
First, we see the nose, then a leg, and then nothing. This can happen, so there was no reason for me to panic yet. I lay a sheet under the baby to make sure the head is kept clean. Lilly Grace is fine with my presence and doesn’t mind me assuming the role of alpaca doula.
Soon I realized she had stopped pushing. I watch a contraction come and go and Lilly Grace stays still. As alpaca breeders we’re trained to wait fifteen to twenty minutes before intervening, but this is my girl, and I can tell something is wrong. She knows it and I know it.
I call Jason and ask him to come hold Lilly Grace, then instruct Hunter to grab gloves and lube for me. Both can sense my concern and immediately do as I had asked. No one is going to mess with human momma when one of her alpaca children is in trouble.
The boys prepare to restrain Lilly Grace so I dive in to see where and how the baby is stuck.
They say alpacas know when they have a troubled birth and that they will instinctually pause everything and let you help. Lilly Grace did just that. She knew she was in trouble, she knew she needed help, and she calmly waited for her humans to step in to provide assistance.
I have no idea how much time has passed as I move my hand around inside her feeling for legs and adjusting to set them both into position for birth. Thankfully my hands are small, and it is easy for me to feel around and wiggle the stuck leg free. I paused at the very end for fear of hurting her, Jason noticed my hesitation and wiggled the leg the rest of the way to freedom.
I step back, pull off my gloves, and tell Lilly Grace she is safe to push. I talk to the alpacas a lot, so in my silly head, I must have thought she would understand. Somehow, she did and she started pushing once again.
I promised her the hard part was done and now she only had to worry about pushing the shoulders to get out. They came quickly, but Lilly stopped pushing at the end and didn’t seem to have the energy to push the remaining legs out. There wasn’t much left, so I gently pulled the legs out while she recovered from the birth.
The farm visitors cheered, watched, and waited to see what would come next.
I waited for Lilly Grace to get up and come see her baby, so she could connect with it and know her hard work provided an amazing reward. This is her first baby and I did not want to interrupt that moment of imprinting and bonding.
Lilly Grace has been so sweet with all the other babies this year, I just knew in my heart she was going to be an amazing mother. She did not prove me wrong. She walked over to the baby and immediately started to nuzzle it and make that motherly connection.
This cleared me to step back in and dry the baby off. I could see the baby was a beautiful boy with a fading fawn coloring and lots of curls. I also could see his ears and legs were floppy. We don’t want floppy.
Over the next day, we worked to help the baby feed from Lilly Grace, and we supplemented with cow colostrum to make sure he was keeping his strength up and building his IgG levels (Immunoglobulin G). The baby just didn’t progress as he should have, and we hoped this whole milking thing would kick in overnight.
By the next morning, we could see baby Ryan had figured out how to get milk from mom. He was stronger, he was refusing the bottle, and he was fighting to get stability in his floppy legs. This continued the next day and you could see everything was finally starting to progress as it should.
It’s now Monday and we released Ryan and Lilly Grace into the paddock with the other moms and babies. He is healthy, active, and quick to come see me when he hears me talking.
Alpaca births never seem to go as planned and nature can be unpredictable in so many ways. The best we can do as breeders is to educate ourselves (I took a wet lab class at OSU), have the right medical supplies on hand, and know when to assist and when to call the vet for emergency care.