Amidst all of the other busy-ness of springtime, we have had a special situation to deal with the past few years with one of our dams, 5Peruvian Aymara. Aymara somehow developed a problem with her udder. (Possibly mastitis after a stillbirth? We just don't know), and starting about 4 years ago we had problems getting her babies "hooked up" and nursing. Her udder gets very large and tender, and ultimately only one teat is functional. To get her to the point where she'll allow the cria to nurse on the one teat has required milking her out (which she HATES), warm compresses, banamine, isolating her with cria, bottle-feeding the cria, and any number of other methods which take almost daily, round-the-clock tweaking for at least a few weeks.
Ultimately, we have been able to make it work and the trouble has been worth it because Aymara is one of our most outstanding dams, having produced multi-champions SSF Peruvian Pablo (above, owned by The Criation Station) and Barbaro (below, co-owned with RobAsia Alpacas) and others. The biggest help to this process has been, without a question, "Nanny." A little over two years ago, we purchased a large group of alpacas from a woman getting out of the business after the death of her husband. She mentioned that one of the females was no longer able to have crias, but that she would "adopt" other's crias and eventually come in to her milk. I was skeptical, but when we were having trouble with Aymara's newborn I asked our farm manager to go pick up Nanny and put her in with Aymara and her cria.
It was and is amazing to watch Nanny as she immediately starts giving the targeted cria all of the signals that she is willing and able to nurse it- sniffing the cria's behind, staying nearby, positioning herself just so. She always defers to the dam and the crias do seem to know who mom really is, but she is right there when the baby needs an extra drink! We tried to use Nanny to help with our last bottle cria, but unfortunately she had started bonding with another cria first and just never attached to the one in need. This time, she seemed to remember that Aymara is a special situation.
Last Monday, "Rachel Alexandra" (one of our first crias from Snowmass Nova's Private Reserve) was born to Aymara and we were super-prepared and excited. We had Nanny already in the maternity ward with the older crias moved out, we had frozen colostrum saved from another dam, plasma ready to give orally within the first 3 hours, etc. The cria, a beautiful dark brown female(!), was born strong and lively and has stayed that way with supplementation with Vit D. milk. She's nursing on both Aymara (with her one good teat) and Nanny (who is just now starting to lactate a little), and we are ready to discontinue bottles since she's gaining about a half a pound a day. The whole process can be challenging and often frustrating, but I think that Aymara and Nanny are learning to trust us and our goodwill toward the cria and we are able to relax and know that this process can work! It is very satisfying, and I'm looking forward to putting the three of them out together in the pasture with the other crias soon. Lest you think that Nanny is an angel, I must say that 99% of the time she's a real pain! She is an older import female from Bolivia who is very set in her ways and fearful, and she responds to any quick moves by spitting profusely, screaching, and peeing! Still, she's absolutely worth her weight in gold....