At one time, all rural families knew the literal meaning of the advice "Don't count your chickens until they hatch." Much can happen to a fertilized egg until a chick is ready to break out of the shell.
I was reminded of this piece of folk wisdom when it finally became clear that one of my alpacas is not pregnant. For a long time, I had no reason to suspect this. Claudia has always been a steady producer. After I bred her in July 2011, she consistently "spit off" the male during behavior testing, grew convincingly plump, and behaved like a normal, pregnant alpaca—she did not want to be touched.
Over the last few days, Claudia showed subtle signs that her reproductive status was not what I had anticipated. After allowing the males—who had been banished to the back pasture all winter and spring—to enter the middle pasture, I soon had my proof. Claudia cushed at the shared fence line, and T-Man, Tasman, and Fortune were quickly engaged in a competitive tussle over the "open" (not pregnant) female. Darn it!
How can this happen? I suspect that Claudia had a retained CL (Corpus Luteum) which mimics a true pregnancy until it dissolves on its own or with the help of drugs. In fifteen years of breeding alpacas, I've only had that happen twice on our farm. I've been extremely fortunate with any kind of reproductive issues. Although I was disappointed, I calmly accepted the loss.
People who think they can control and predict every aspect of a livestock operation better be prepared for a rude awakening. I started my breeding program knowing that I should not count my crias until they are born.
On the positive side, I am grateful that our pastures are still green, and the alpacas find plenty of tasty plants to graze. The animals have barely touched the hay in months, and that's money in the bank!
Ingrid Wood is the author of The Alpacas of Stormwind Farm.