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This is Maya our first born cria. She is looking at her mum Blanco while the herd leader Gretel looks on approvingly. Alpacas seem to be more social and vocal than our sheep, they can't bear to be separated and the herd instinct over-rides everything.

Alpaca birth and gestation
Maya's birth was "a baptism of fire for us" taking over two hours with Blanco screaming throughout. The presentation was front legs out and head back. A problem relatively easily corrected in sheep. But, with the cria's long neck, head back is a long way back in alpacas.

Other islanders rallied round, Stewart our cattle farmer neighbour acted as midwife, assisted by Norman from Breckan. Through the birth Linda their previous owner in Cumbria stood anxiously by the phone giving much needed advice.

Later in the year Inti and Jallu arrived in minutes with no problems at all. Much later in the year in Jallu's case. The average gestation for an alpaca is around 11 months but there is wide variation. Jallu took 14 months.

The only other health issue was Inti in his first winter with Vitamin D deficiency. He was taken into intensive care with his mum for company. They were both given injections of Vitamin D and Inti made a full recovery.

Alpaca nutrition
The rough grazing in the fields along the shore seems to suit the alpacas. We supplement their diet with a rough coarse mix for sheep. When they arrived we had a bag of camelid mix ready for them. But we were shocked at the levels of copper in the various camelid mixes. As biochemists we worried about copper accummulation in their livers and couldn't bring ourselves to feed it to our alpacas. Camelids are evidently more copper tolerant than sheep and toxicity is something that we would not expect until after several years of accumulation, and then possibly masked by symptoms of ageing.

Alpacas and the Orkney climate
When they arrived on North Ronaldsay from Cumbria in 2009 our starter herd of alpacas was the most northerly in Britain, although there are others in Orkney. In some ways the Orkney climate matches that of their homeland on the Peruvian altiplano. Our alpacas seem to revel in the high winds, becoming very skittish. Our summer temperature highs are in the low twenties Celsius similar to the daily highs on the altiplano. The altiplano is very dry and unsurprisingly the alpacas don't like rain and retreat indoors when it gets too much for them. Thankfully the Orkney is not a high rainfall area compared to some other regions of the UK.


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