Alpacas are prey animals. As nature would have it, prey animals do not show their weaknesses. If they did, predators would attack the weaker ones. This is why alpacas are stoic and do not show when they are sick (if they are showing their illness, they are actually much sicker than they appear). And pregnant alpacas do not show their pregnancy like other animals.
For example, with cats, you can pick a cat up fairly early on in their pregnancy and feel that they are pregnant (feels like lumps in their belly). Cats also have a short gestation, so if one week you think that cat might be pregnant, within a couple weeks you are sure. And I've seen cats later in their pregnancy, they hardly walk around, and waddle when the do. Alpacas seem to run all the way to the day of delivery. They don't seem to show until very late in the pregnancy, and it's hard to feel or tell. I've thought I've seen a cria move, only to later realize it was the mother's breathing. There comes a point where I'm sure it is the cria, but earlier on, it can be hard to tell for sure. I have found as the females age, it's easier to tell they are pregnant. Now that this is our 3rd year with breeding females, J is getting pretty good at feeling for the cria.
I have heard that since their gestation is so long (11.5 months on average), the cria is very small and wouldn't show until late in their pregnancy. Now having been pregnant myself, I don't completely buy this line of reasoning. The baby may be small, say 2 inches long, but by the time you add in amniotic fluid and the placenta and so forth, it feels like a lot more. Maybe I'm jaded because I have unusually large babies, but still, they are hard to hide. Though, the alpaca body is built better to hide it, with their rib cage and long torso.
I thought I'd get some pictures of our girls' bellies and let you see for yourself. To me, I think I notice the belly bulge just past their ribs, and how their belly hangs down lower. I swear near the end of the pregnancy Sancha hangs so very low. Near the end of the pregnancy, they all get a indentation just in front of their hips.
This is Tehya, who will be 2 years old in June. She is NOT pregnant. This is to give you a frame of reference. Note how she is tight past her ribs:
I think the smallest pregnant belly on our farm belongs to our Maiden, Maddie. Maddie is due in May but this is her first cria (making her a maiden). I think she looks pregnant, but this may be because I knew what she looked like before. I'm not so sure she looks pregnant to people who don't know her.
She doesn't seem quite a tight behind her ribs as Tehya is:
I remember when Victoria was pregnant with Shelby. Shelby was her second baby, but Victoria hardly showed at all. Even the day she delivered Shelby, it was hard to tell for sure that she was pregnant.
As she's gotten older, I think Victoria is starting to show more. This is her 4th pregnancy. She is due in August 2010, just under six months from now. Note in typical Victoria style, I caught a picture of her while she was eating, mid chomp of her hay:
Victoria seems to be hanging pretty low there, especially given she's the one who is due to latest of any of our females. She's got awhile to go.
I think Kateri did show near the end of her pregnancy with Tehya, her 2nd cria. Then last year with Po, she really showed, and early on too. Po was born the same size as Tehya, but Po was born early, so she was actually bigger per gestational age. This pregnancy she seems to be hanging pretty low in the middle like she did with Po. This is Kateri's 4th pregnancy, and she is due in July.
Sancha is our oldest alpaca and she is the first one due this season. Now from the back, I don't think she looks pregnant:
But from the side, wow!
I have heard a theory that a cria that is more in the mother's (dam's) ribs indicates a female cria will be born. I haven't found this to be true, my biggest example is that Kateri looked completely different when she was pregnant with Tehya than with Po, and both are girls. I haven't been able to find any link between how they carry and the sex of the cria. I am curious to hear if others have theories.