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Managing Heat Stress in Alpacas and Llamas

Heat stress in alpacas can be devastating, causing death and premature birth of crias. But it is possible to be well-prepared to help your alpacas get through hot and humid days It's vital to manage heat stress with a combination of using cooling fans, electrolytes, early shearing, a shady loafing, and shade trees.

Heat Stress Indicator

The heat stress indicator (HSI) is a formula that adds the temperature and the humidity together. If the number is 150 or greater, then you need to take steps to manage the heat for your animals. For example, if the temperature was 92F degrees and the humidity was 85%, then the HSI would be 175. That's very hot for an alpaca or llama. Listed below are ten ways to manage heat for your animals:

  1. SHEARING - Llamas and alpacas must be sheared before the hot weather every year. In hot climates, it's best to shear before May 1. Barrel or saddle cuts for llamas are OK, but shearing is not an option. You must shear! In addition, fleece longer than 7 inches is disqualified in the alpaca show ring. And fleece longer than about 7 inches must be cut by commercial spinneries at additional charge. If you have a pregnant female that is in heat stress, go ahead and at least shear her belly for some relief. See The Shearers Directory for a list of professional shearers.

  2. SHADE - Make sure that you provide adequate shade for ALL your animals. If your pasture has no trees, plant some and put fencing around them to protect against the camelids stripping the leaves and breaking branches. You can also build some loafing sheds. Shelter on the roof, north, and west sides is adequate. Lots of shade should be available. Wherever the shade is located, place adequate fresh water for your animals.

  3. COOLING FANS - Cooling fans in the barn and pasture provide cooling breeze. The most important thing is to get the cool air underneath the animals, because the "thermal window" is located on their bellies, which has much less fleece. Fans and air conditioners should blow across the barn at floor level (not down from a height). Barns should have cross-ventilation so that stagnation does not occur in any area. I also put fans out in the pasture, and outdoor ceiling fans in the porches off the barn.

  4. PREGNANCY - Do not breed females to have crias in the hot season. Remember, gestation is about 11½ months. So if you count backwards from the last breeding, you can calculate when a dam's last trimester of pregnancy occurs. Do NOT breed a dam to have her last trimester to be in the hot months. In hot climates, breed camelids from late January to the end of May. This time frame enables you to breed for Spring crias. If you live in a hot climate state with mild winters, such as Texas, then winter breeding is also ok. This breeding schedule optimizes easy rebreeding of females. Spring breeding allows optimal lactation because of the nutrition of fresh grass; optimizes cria health because of sunlight, clean pastures, and good nutrition; and prevents females from having to suffer late gestation in the hot summer months.

  5. WATER - Clean, plain, fresh water should be available at all times. Water should be replaced at least twice a day to keep it cool (not cold). Water should be in the shade and animals should not have to compete for access. You can also spray their bellies and legs with cool water. Most likely, they will eagerly run to you for a refreshing belly squirt. I also place a small lawn spinkler out in the pasture, and they gather around and over it for a refreshing belly squirt.

  6. BEDDING - Straw is bad in summer. This thick bedding closes off the thermal window and decreases access to ventilation. Sand bedding, especially slightly moist, is very good at absorbing heat from the animals. Concrete is hard, but cool and easy to clean and wet down.

  7. WADING - I like pools. Llamas and alpacas will seek out puddles, ponds, etc to get cool. This tends to make hair fall out if they lay around in water too much of the time, but pools are very effective at allowing the animals to self-regulate temperature. Bad for show season, but good for non-showers. Water in the wading pool should be only a few inches deep, in the shade, and freshened daily.

  8. MONITORING - Observation is the key to life. Watch your animals. If they spend a lot of time eating, standing, walking around and being active, then they are probably happy and healthy. If they lay around most of the day and are not active, then they may have subclinical heat stress (early stage), and intervention may be warranted. Watch your breeding males very closely. If you see the scrotum getting pendulous, "baggy", or increasing in size, do something immediately or you may loose fertility! If pregnant females are laying around the water trough, spray their bellies or remove them to an area that is ventilated.

  9. FEEDING - Eating and digesting hay takes a lot of work and generates a lot of heat. Some have suggested that less hay, more grass and grains cause less heat stress risk because heat production from digestion is minimized. I question the application of this concept, but certainly pasture grazing is the best management style. You may want to give them their pellet supplements in the evening, when the temperature has cooled down.

  10. ELECTROLYTES - Electrolytes in water can provide protection from heat stress. Electrolytes provide the salt, potassium, glucose, and bicarbonate to help replace losses that occur in sweat and breathing. A well-balanced diet also provides protection. Of particular interest for heat stress is that adequate Vitamin E, Selenium, Zinc, and Copper are available.

Treating for Heat Stress

Successful treatment of heat stress depends upon early recognition (increased respiration, lethargy, increased recumbency, decreased appetite, decreased cooperation with or participation in activity, flared nostrils). Most of the above mentioned prevention strategies can be applied as treatment.

If you find a camelid in heat stress, hose it down from head to toe with cool water. Forget about the fleece on an alpaca, you're trying to save the animal! Get it up on its feet and remove it to a shady area that is well ventilated. If necessary, place the animal before a fan and/or wet the sand or barn floor. Take the animal's temperature. If its temperature is over 103, you need to immediately get its body temperature down. You can administer a 1ml banamine shot IM. Banamine will help control body temperature. Monitor the animal until you see it return to normal. Consult a veterinarian at the earliest time for animals showing abnormalities of behavior during summer months.

This page was last updated on June 10, 2009.

Able Oaks Ranch 6167 FM1857 S. Rusk TX 75785 | 903-530-1009