Preventing Heat Stress in Alpacas

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.

Water

TophercriaPreplanning 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.

Shearing

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

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.

Guideline

  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.

Finding Volunteer Work on Alpaca Farms

alpaca sitting

Guest Post by James Cave

There’s no doubt that alpacas are pretty much the coolest animals around. If you’re thinking about going into the alpaca farming business but aren’t sure if it’s right for you, a good way to get experience (and get to know these awesome creatures) is taking on some volunteer work on an alpaca farm.

Easier said than done, you may think, but there are plenty of alpaca farmers looking for people to help them out. You just have to know where to look.

WWOOFing

Nothing to do with dogs, and everything to do with alpacas; WWOOF stands for Willing Workers On Organic Farms. Sites to look at are WWOOF International and WorkAway. These sites cover all the bases: from fruit picking in Australia to livestock herding in Europe.

Sites that offer WWOOFing opportunities are often the first port of call for alpaca farmers who are looking for volunteers because they know they’ll find people who are looking for farm based work, usually in exchange for accommodation.

You can find volunteer work on alpaca farms all year round; sometimes you may even find exciting opportunities abroad, giving you the chance to travel too.

House Sitting

Another slightly off the wall place to look is on house sitting websites.  I’m speaking from experience, as last year I found a fairly small alpaca farm sit in the French Pyrenees.  You may think you need experience for these “house sits”, but the term is misleading; usually the farmers will have set aside a few weeks to train you in running the farm and caring for the animals. It is their livelihood, after all.

I took on the sit with my partner, and we were provided with an intense three week training course. All the bases were covered, from alpaca nutrition to medical care. The result was a wonderful month learning about and caring for a herd of 18 alpacas, while picking up some much valued experience.

Since then I’ve seen more alpaca farm sits appearing on Trusted Housesitters, in countries as diverse as France and New Zealand. It’s a good idea to keep an eye on the main house sit listing page to make sure you don’t miss out; I keep the box ticked for ‘farm animals’ to make it even easier to spot an alpaca farm sit when one does appear.

alpaca sitting

Call Farms Directly

The last idea will take a little bit of confidence. The old school way to find a volunteer opportunity is to call alpaca farms in your local area and ask. It may be that they’re not looking for volunteers, but they might be able to pass you details of a farmer they know who is.

Another way to get in touch with alpaca farmers is via their own websites. Some will mention whether or not they’re looking for volunteers, so you don’t need to be shy about sending an email or making a phone call.

Thanks for stopping by James! Lots of alpaca farmers could use some help. ~Katy

Alpacas 101 Class Coming Up June 1

BenNeonate

Saturday, June 1, 2013

An educational seminar designed to provide you with all the information you need to know to start your alpaca farm.

This seminar will be held at Fairhope Alpacas in Fairhope, Alabama, home to more than 80 huacaya alpacas. It will be hosted by Katy and Jim Cocking who have over 24 years of experience successfully breeding high quality alpacas.

Topics will include:

The history and utility of alpacas

Investment opportunity

Tax benefits

Development of business plans

Purchase selection

Herd management including parasite prevention & basic nutrition

Simple daily care of alpacas

Managing alpacas in hot, humid climates

Fleece and what to do with it

Marketing and selling your alpacas

Bring all your alpaca questions! There will also be an opportunity to get “hands-on” experience working with the alpacas in the afternoon.

So join us on Saturday, June 1 from 9:00am-5:00pm (Central Time) for this educational alpaca event. Cost is $45 per person or $80 for two people from the same farm. This includes breakfast, lunch, the seminar, handouts, “hands-on” experience and a suggested reading list to take home with you. Class size is limited so register today to reserve your place.

Contact Katy Spears at 251-583-5251 for more information. Click here for registration form.

See what past attendees have said about Alpacas 101. Visit our farm’s website. We’re in the process of downsizing our herd so we’re slashed our prices! We’re offering HUGE PACKAGE DISCOUNTS as well. Check out our sale list!