John & Susan Merrell
41390 Hwy 226
Scio, OR 97374
503-394-3790
503-551-7219 (cell)
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Heat Stress

Alpacas evolved in the higher altitudes of the Andes Mountains where the temperature rarely gets above 75 to 80 degrees. They are not equipped to handle high heat and humidity. This creates management problems in many parts of the United States during the summer months.

There is individual variation in heat tolerance among alpacas. Some are naturally more predisposed to heat stress than others. Some alpacas are predisposed because of their physical condition. Many factors play a role in which alpacas become heat stressed and which alpacas do not. With the exception of the weather, we can alter many of the factors to decrease the risk to the alpacas.

The combination of temperature and humidity puts alpacas at risk for heat stress. A temperature which is usually not a problem can be hard on alpacas if the humidity is very high or vice versa.

Watch for signs of heat stress in your alpacas. Knowing the normal temperature of your alpacas in the morning and afternoon/evening during hot weather will help you determine what is abnormal. The signs of heat stress to look for are:

  • A temperature greater than 105 to 106 degrees
  • Stiffness due to muscle soreness (an early sign)
  • Ataxia (an uncoordinated gait)
  • Open mouthed breathing
  • Drooling
  • Unwillingness to get up
  • Depression and lethargy

There are ways to combat the many factors involved in the development of heat stress. Prevention is always easier than dealing with a problem which is already present.

Ways to Combat Heat Stress in alpacas:

Shade

Trees around the barn and barnyard or in the fields give alpacas a cooler place to rest during the day. If you lack trees, artificial shading devices are available to help keep livestock out of the direct sunlight. Keep all water in shaded areas so it stays as cool as possible.

Multiple Water Buckets

During hot weather multiple water buckets should be available. Some alpacas may sit by a water bucket and guard it to prevent others from drinking. A simple solution to this problem is to have water available from several different areas so that no alpaca can prevent others from drinking.

Fans

Air flow is critical to maintaining a cooler area for the alpacas to stay. Fans will help cool the alpacas directly as well as increase the air flow of the entire barn. Depending on the size of the fan and their positioning, one fan is needed for every 2 to 6 alpacas. During the hottest parts of the year, fans should be kept running 24 hours a day. It will help with cooling during the night too, especially the barn.

Hosing with Water

Alpacas who are hot will readily accept water sprayed onto them. Wet down the alpaca's legs, belly, tail area and front of the neck all the way to the skin. If you do not wet to the skin, a layer of wet wool may trap heat close to the alpaca's body. This in addition to the fans will make a big difference in their ability to tolerate the heat. This can be done once in the early afternoon or around mid-day and mid to late afternoon. It will not damage the alpaca's fiber. Even if your alpacas do not need to be sprayed regularly, have a hose around to cool off any alpaca which develops heat stress.

Shearing

Shearing is essential for all alpacas, and in climates which have hot and humid days should be done early in the year. It allows the alpaca to remain cooler and be cooled by a fan or water much more easily.

Baby Pools

Some alpacas really like water during warmer weather. A sturdy baby pool with cool clean water in a shaded area will be attractive to some. A few alpacas will actually lay down in the pool to cool their entire underside and legs. Many others will stand with their feet in the pool. The alpacas who lay down in the pool may damage the fiber below the water line.

Wet Sand

A sand pit in the barn or a shady area which is wet down daily will provide a cool place for alpacas to lay. Alpacas who do not like to lay directly in water will like to lay in the sand better. It should not damage the fiber as much as alpacas in the baby pool, but it is possible. The alpacas may also decide that the sand pit makes a very good place to go to the bathroom. A problem to be aware of is that sand in the fleece will dull shearing blades faster than almost anything else.

Air Conditioned Areas

In very hot climates, an area of air conditioning can be very helpful to cool alpacas down. It can be part of the barn that alpacas can freely access or it can be a special room just for emergency situations. Air conditioning can be an expensive option and alpacas may just sit in the air conditioned areas and not acclimate to the heat at all.

Water Misting

Devices which spray a mist over the alpacas or across the barn can be used for cooling. It will cool the barn several degrees. There are a few problems with misters. The constant mist and movement will mat the surface of the fleeces of any alpacas in the barn. Matting can actually decrease the cooling ability of the alpaca by trapping heat. Misting can also spread respiratory disease. And, it will tend to loose its effectiveness as humidy increases.

Decrease Handling and Stress

Handling your alpacas when they are not accustomed to it can get them stressed which will increase their body temperature and decrease their ability to deal with the heat. Excess movement and exercise may cause heat stress in a alpaca who is otherwise handling the heat. Try not to perform procedures which will stress the alpacas like putting them in a chute and giving shots or drawing blood. If you do have to perform any of these procedures, do them very early in the morning or well after dark once it has cooled off.

Body Condition

Just like people, overweight alpacas have difficulty getting rid of excess body heat and are more prone to heat stress. Feed your alpacas properly all year and avoid putting them at an increased risk for heat stress. Check the body condition for all of your alpacas and know which ones are overweight. Keep a closer eye on those who are and make an extra effort to keep them cool.

Feed in the Evening

The heat generated by digesting the food your alpacas eat can raise their body temperature or just make it harder to cool off. The peak heat from digestion occurs several hours after eating. Feeding in the morning would put this period during the middle of the day. Feed in the afternoon or evening so that this period occurs during the night when it is cooler.

Free Choice Minerals

Alpacas should have access to free choice salt all year, but especially during the warmer months. As each animal feels the need for salt due to electrolyte loss, he/she can get some salt..

Electrolytes

To keep replenishing lost electrolytes, powders can be used. Some are designed to be put in the water and others are designed to be placed on feed. Most are designed for horses but will work for alpacas as well. When electrolytes are placed in the water, be sure to provide an electrolyte free water source. There may be alpacas who do not like the taste and will refuse to drink the supplemented water. Alternatively, a small amount placed on the food each day will ensure intake without altering the water. Many owners have had success with Gatorade.

Avoid Late Gestation and Parturition

Late gestation (pregnancy) and parturition (birth) are stressful periods and heat only makes it worse. The fetus is growing at a very fast rate and demands a lot of nutrition and metabolism by the mother which increases her body temperature. As the fetus gets larger it also expands towards the thorax and compromises the mother's ability to breathe. Respiration is the primary means of cooling for alpacas and any compromise during hot weather can lead to heat stress, premature births or abortion. Parturition requires a great deal of exertion for the mother and the baby. Crias are often weak and stressed when born during hot weather and may become dehydrated very quickly after birth.

Avoid Weaning

Both the dam and cria become stressed during weaning. They may pace the fence with no regards to the heat and/or forget to drink enough water. Weaning a few weeks early or even a few months late to avoid the heat will be healthier for all your alpacas. Do not ever wean alpacas and then immediately transport them during the heat. This combines several stressors which can easily lead to heat stress alone and creates a dangerous situation.

Avoid Travelling

Transporting alpacas during the hot weather can be very dangerous. Trailers do not insulate from the heat coming off the road or from the sun beating down. Travel during the cooler hours and maintain air flow and stops for water.

If you find that one of your alpacas is suffering from heat stress, you must act quickly. Take the alpaca's temperature and call your vet. While your vet is on the way, begin to cool the alpaca down. This can be done a number of ways. Hosing the alpaca all over, immersing him/her in a pond, lake, stream, trough or whatever you have available, or place packs of ice under their belly, armpits and thighs. Continue this treatment until the temperature comes down (take it every 15 minutes) or the veterinarian arrives. Always keep a few bags of ice in your freezer during the summer months just in case you have such an emergency. Being prepared is sometimes the best protection against disaster.

 
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