Raising and breeding alpacas for almost fifteen years in a hot, humid climate, I get a lot of questions about how to keep our little critters cool in the summer. Here’s an encore of an article I wrote a while back on preventing heat stress in alpacas.
Preplanning is essential to preventing heat stress. Cool, clean, fresh water should always be available for your alpacas. This may involve changing or checking water buckets several times a day in the late Spring, Summer, and early Fall. Alpacas’ water requirements double during periods of increased heat and humidity. Place water containers in shaded areas where the alpacas frequent. Hang them so that they cannot be knocked over or stepped in by the animals. Offer your alpacas at least one bucket of water with palatable electrolytes in it during periods of increased risk. Also offer another source of fresh, clean water for those alpacas who may not like the taste of the electrolytes. The bucket with the electrolytes should be cleaned every day to prevent the growth of bacteria.
The alpaca’s fiber should be sheared or clipped to the skin once the temperature gets to be 80 degrees for several days in a row. If you must plan in advance for shearing we have found April to be a great month for shearing in the Southeast. Avoid shearing that leaves the neck and leg fiber on the animal. It is much hotter for them with this kind of a haircut. You may leave some leg fiber for show alpacas but for the production animals it is best to keep it trimmed. In emergencies or other times of year when alpacas face heat/humidity issues their bellies can be shorn which can offer them some relief as they can cool through the ventral abdomen.
Shade, Housing, and Environment
Adequate shade and housing should be provided to alpacas as an important part in heat stress prevention. Shade trees are the best type of shade outdoors. Barns or permanent structures should have ceilings 12-14 feet high in order to provide sufficient air movement, and those structures 40 feet wide should be >14 ft. high at the eaves. Hay stored in the loft of a barn diminishes the barn’s ability to cool. Fans are essential for providing air movement! High efficiency fans or evaporative coolers work great. Install them so that they pull air from shady, cooled areas, no need to blow hot air around. Sprinklers can be useful, especially for spraying and cooling the ventral abdomen of the alpaca. Respiratory disease in llamas/alpacas have been associated with the use of foggers and misters for cooling.* Children’s wading pools will cool the alpaca but they must be cleaned frequently to prevent parasite problems and their frequent use may result in the exposed body/leg wool rotting off.
Herd management practices should be modified during hot/humid periods. Save breeding, birthing, training, and weaning until the cooler times of the year. Pregnant females and crias are very susceptible to heat stress. Continue to vaccinate, deworm, weigh, and body score your alpacas during times of extreme heat. Avoid moving alpacas from cooler to warmer climates during late Spring/Summer. Moving them in the fall is ideal as they can experience a mild winter before being hit with the extreme heat and humidity all at once. It may take up to 6-8 months for alpacas to acclimate to a new herd, climate, and feeding practices. Feeding high quality hay with proper TDN’s and protein levels will also help to prevent heat stress.
A guideline to determine whether alpacas are at risk for heat stress is to add together the ambient humidity(%) and temperature(F). If the number is less than 120 there is minimal risk of heat stress. If the number is 150 or more it is wise to employ all precautions to prevent heat stress. When the number is 180 or above alpacas are at high risk for developing heat stress. At times like these employ ALL preventative measures, take caution, and observe your alpacas several times a day. Checking on them while changing their water buckets can be invaluable. If they are showing signs of increased respiration use a hose to water the underside of their bellies. Do NOT wet their backs, this may wet the fleece on the outside of the animal which forms an insulating effect, essentially cooking them.
Tip: Buying alpacas from a climate similar to yours will provide for an easier transition for the alpaca, and fewer headaches for you, the breeder.
*“Heat Stress in Lamas” Authored by David G. Pugh, DVM, C. Norman Evans, DVM, Jimmy Hudson, MD, Art Kennel, MD, and LaRue Johnson, DVM 1999.