A baby alpaca is called a cria. This is pronounced cree-ah. Baby llamas are also known by this term.
Young alpacas, like other prey animals, are vulnerable to attack from predators, so they need to be able to run, and keep up with the herd fairly quickly. A cria is normally standing and attempting to nurse within an hour of birth, and we've found that crias are already running about by night time, even if still a little uncoordinated.
An alpaca birth is quite nerve racking to watch, as the nose appears first, then nothing happens for quite a while, while you assume the cria must be suffocating. Once the head and front legs appear, the cria is often then left hanging about, for (what seems like) an eternity, while the mum wanders about, sits down, stands up, and spins around occasionally to see what's happening back there. It is very hard to resist the urge to "help" though once you see a head and two feet emerge, the cria should start to breath (splutter) and thrash about. The cria will then usually be born within 30 minutes (often less) and the alpaca mum will do everything by herself.
That said, sometimes things do go wrong and if you are considering having alpaca babies at your place, we would suggest you read up on the possible problems. There are some good books available, which cover alpaca birth and neonatal care. We've found Llama and Alpaca Neonatal Care to be a very useful resource. See our Alpaca Books page for details about this book.
The average gestation for an alpaca is around 342 days. The shortest gestation we've had here at Intrepid, was 305 days.
It was 2001 and Johnny Come Early, arrived, we think, around 4pm. We were out, of course, and discovered him when we got home at 6pm. He was a good size (7kg), but had signs of prematurity and was obviously in trouble. He was weak, couldn't stand, or even remain sternal, and his ears were flopped over rather than upright. He was also bleeding steadily from his umbilical cord (navel).
We were certain of the dates, and knowing that crias rarely survive at such a short gestation, we got Johnny straight to our wonderful vet. He administered plasma into a vein in Johnny's neck. We were to and from the vet with Johnny for the next two days. At home, we kept him on a heat pad in the house. He had to be tube fed as he was too weak to nurse from a bottle. We also had to give him a gentle prod every now and then as he would stop breathing.
At 1.30am on his third day, I was on the night shift watching Johnny. I was so tired, and Johnny was just lying there, lifeless. I made the decision not to prompt him the next time he forgot to breathe, he'd been through enough. I was thinking about going to bed, when suddenly Johnny stood up, looked around, peed all over a computer we had left on the floor, then proceeded to try to nurse under the desk.
We rushed Johnny out to his mum, who had been pacing about near the fence since he was born, wondering what we'd done with her baby. We positioned him under her, and he nursed, as though nothing had happened.
He never looked back. It was like an instant transformation from being a totally lifeless little scrap of fur, to a perfectly normal cria. Johnny had just arrived too early and needed those three extra days before he was ready. He went on to grow into a normal, healthy alpaca.
So, I guess the moral here is, don't give up on them too soon.
An alpaca cria will continue to nurse until he's between five and nine months of age. We usually wean our crias at around six months. If left together, a mum will often decide to wean her cria by simply walking away or kicking at the cria when he tries to nurse.
Although alpacas can breed all year round, we manage our breeding program so the crias arrive in the warm months, between January and April each year. We have a nice climate here, but it can still get cold, wet and windy during Winter.
It is simply nicer to sit out and enjoy our crias when the weather is warm.