Preventing Heat Stress in Llamas and Alpacas

Heat stress is especially an issue here in the Arizona desert.  The key to managing heat stress is prevention and vigilance. During hot times of the year you should check your animals several times a day and have preventative measures in place.  It can start getting dangerously warm even in the early spring, so start preparing your farm or ranch for these conditions well before they occur.

Prevention

  • Shade – Provide shelter from the sun with plenty of ventilation.
  • Fans – Air circulation makes a big difference in how the area is cooled down. Fans should be placed so each animal has the opportunity to lay in a shaded area with good air movement blowing right on them. Evaporative cooler fans are great, especially if the humidity is low. If the humidity is high you can just turn on the fan without the water pump since you don’t need to add more humidity in the air. Heavy-duty industrial fans are another good option. Secure all fans so that gusts of wind or the animals themselves can’t knock them over. Clean dirt and fiber from fans using a broom or brush.
  • Cool the barn – Spraying water over the ground cuts down on dust and helps make the ground cooler. Misters can be set up high and used to cool the air in the barn.
  • Cool water – change water daily and have the buckets in the shade. Frozen plastic water bottles can be floated to help cool the water. Having multiple water sources available is very important since some alpacas will hog a water source and not allow others to drink. If you have automatic water containers, place them so the water hose and container are in the shade.
  • Electrolytes – On hot days, an additional bucket of water with electrolytes added will help your animals fight the effects of the heat. When offering electrolytes, it is important that you clean the bucket thoroughly each day as bacteria grows quickly in these conditions.  One popular option is Gatorade powder – ¼ cup of dry powder to a 5-gallon bucket.  Several people have told me alpacas like the lemon-lime flavor.
  • Pools and sprinklers – Most llamas and alpacas will happily wade or lay down in a pond or a kiddie pool to cool off.  Most also enjoy being sprayed on the legs, the belly, and the arm pits with water on days when temperatures rise to the extreme. Avoid spraying water over the animal’s back especially when full fleeced, because wet fleece will actually insulate the animal similar to a wet suit. They will even spray themselves off if you provide automatic sprinklers, set low so they spray the legs and belly and not up over the back.  Find one made of a heavy metal so they can’t pick it up and move it or turn it over.
  • Diet – Hay that is high quality with proper TDN and protein levels will also help prevent heat stress.   Feed in the late evening and early morning since the activity of digestion can raise the body temperature. Heat stress seems to increase the dietary requirement for selenium, thus animals on a marginal selenium intake are more prone to it.  Llamas and alpacas require 1-3 mg of dietary selenium per day.  Ask your veterinarian, extension agent, or hay dealer about testing the selenium levels in your feed and how to supplement appropriately.
  • Shearing – Shear at the appropriate time of the year to get their fur coats off before the high temperatures start.  Here in the valley, we recommend shearing in early to mid-May.  About ½ - 1 inch of fiber should be left so the llama’s skin will not sunburn. This remaining fiber also offers them some protection from fly bites.  If only shearing in a show cut or a barrel cut, clean and separate the remaining fiber on his body and get rid of all that accumulated dead wool. This will give the llama air circulation to the skin.
  • Re-shearing – The heating and cooling system of a llama or alpaca is through their ventral window. This area is located low on the chest, between the front legs, under the abdomen, between the back legs and up to the area under the tail. Keeping the fiber off the ventral window area is a major way to prevent heat stress in the hot months of the summer.  Dog grooming clippers work perfect for this and can be used while the alpaca is standing.  These clippers don’t make a loud noise and are easy to work with.  Most alpacas handle this process pretty well and you can shear a belly in 5 to 10 minutes depending on how well they behave.  Shear the belly and a little up the side.  Shear the area on the low part of the chest.  There is a callus area on the bottom of the chest between the front legs– that is normal, just be careful shearing in that area.  Shear under the tail and around the private parts, especially on the males. Be careful in the armpit areas so you don’t snag skin, shear away instead of toward the armpit.  Remember that clipper blades get hot, turn them off when not using and change blades when they get too hot.

Heat Index

Heat Index is the combination of the high temperature and the humidity that is expected for the day. Know what this is each day and have your ranch or farm heat stress protocols in place.

As the weather warms up, it is important to be aware of the heat index.  This is the combination of the high temperature and  the humidity that is expected for the day.  Days with a high heat index are days when there will be a higher risk of heat stress. 

To Calculate Heat Index:  

Temperature (°F) + Humidity (%) = Heat Index

Example:  105°F + 25% humidity = 130 heat index  

Guideline to determine the risk for heat stress in alpacas:

  • Less than 120 No problems, all should be comfortable. Minimal risk.
  • 120 – 160 Possible problems.  Have prevention measures in place.
  • 160 – 180 Heat Stress is very likely.  Do your prevention protocols and avoid any unnecessary stress.
  • 180+ High Risk / Critical. Be sure your heat stress prevention protocols are in place and working. Watch the herd, you may  need to take additional measures. Each animal reacts to heat stress differently, so know your animals and their mannerisms.

(Source: Llama/Alpaca Field Manual by Dr. C. Norman Evans DVM

Additional Considerations

  • A pregnant dam that has a rapidly growing fetus generates a LOT of heat and will abort if she gets too hot.  Select your birthing  time so she’s not in her last trimester during the hottest months.  We recommend starting to breed your llamas or alpacas in  February, continuing through late May only if necessary.
  • Young crias are growing fast & generate a lot of heat.  
  • Newborns don’t have a good ability to regulate temperature and will need to be monitored.  
  • Males can become sterile.  There are two types of cells in the testes.  One cell type makes testosterone and is resistant to  heat.  The other makes sperm and is heat sensitive.  Serious heat stress could possibly make them sterile.  They would still  have libido but no live sperm.
  • Handling, transport, weaning and showing are all very stressful and should be avoided during hot summer months.
  • Animals that have had previous heat stress need to be monitored closely each year – they may be more susceptible than  others.
  • Obesity interferes with an animal’s ability to dissipate body heat and can predispose to heat stress. Older animals may have decreased sweat gland activity, be in poor physical condition, or have deterioration of cardiovascular  function, making them more prone to heat stress.
  • Animals transported from cooler parts of the country can experience heat issues when dealing with their first summer  conditions in a warmer climate.  It is best to transport these alpacas in late fall or during the winter months so they don’t arrive  during the warmer time of the year. And be aware their first summer can be more difficult on them than for animals that have  been more acclimated to the warmer climates.
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