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Frank the cria

Premature alpaca survives storm

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An untimely arrival has a tricky start to life, SIMON WEBSTER reports. 

This is Frank, born a day before the weather system, formerly known as tropical cyclone Oswald blew into the Northern Rivers. 

Low weight, floppy ears and dodgy back legs gave him away as a premature cria (a baby alpaca). That, and the fact that he could barely stand up (normally they’re up and feeding in no time).

Oh, and he was born in the afternoon. Alpacas, sensible creatures (despite appearances), generally give birth in the morning, presumably to give the cria time to have a feed and build up a bit of strength before the freezing Andean night sets in (or the wet and wild northern NSW summer, in this case). An afternoon birth generally means something is wrong.

Anyway, we gave him some glucose to get him through the night, and got him and his mum (and the other four) into a shed, in a bid to keep them dry-ish over the next two days of howling winds and 250mm of rain.

On day two of Frank’s life, we milked mum using a syringe with the skinny bit cut off and the syringe reversed, so the smooth edge of the barrel was against the teats. We tried to feed this to Frank using a DIY bottle fashioned out of a rubber glove, with minimal success. (We were flooded in by this stage, so getting supplies, such as a real bottle, was impossible.) 

However, he now had the strength to stand for short periods and we finally got him to latch on to mum. (Maybe the smell of milk on her teats did the trick, or the fact that we’d got the milk moving and it came out easily for him.)

During the storm he stuck to the dry corner of the shed, shivering but gradually spending more time cushing (sitting) and looking alert, and less time lying down looking like he was destined for the great alpaca paddock in the sky.

A week on, he is wobbling around, keeping up with the rest of the herd, and enjoying the sunshine. As are we.