Heat Stress and Alpacas
Submitted By: Charlotte Goldston (High Meadow Alpacas)
In the Southeast one of the things most dreaded by alpaca owners is heat stress, especially after the “Summer of 2007”.
Heat stress can not only cause temporary or permanent sterility, it can be lethal regardless of type, sex or age of the Alpaca. After the unusual heat wave and high humidity in the Southeast this past summer, I wanted to share what High Meadow Alpacas does to prevent and cope with if it happens. This is certainly not what everyone will do or should do, but just happens to be “our” protocol.
Having shade and shelter is imperative. And then you go to work from there.
Providing electrolytes is one of the MOST important things we do, (routinely in any type of weather, but especially in the summer heat.) …Our alpacas prefer cherry electrolytes…and they are harder to find at our local COOP…so sometimes they have to settle for apple, which doesn’t cause a red mustache! (Even in the winter Dr. Evans has us keep electrolytes going, saying that (in normal times) the alpacas will drink more in the winter than in the summer. ) We also have Nelson electric waterers but during the summer heat wave, we were having to fill our electrolyte buckets at 11PM or Midnight, and again by 4 or 5AM as well as every couple of hours during the day. When we fill the buckets, every couple of times, we clean out completely, and redo.
We do NOTHING, not absolutely necessary to the alpacas during the heat period. No weighing, no examining, no pictures, no nail clipping…Nothing that would cause any stress. They can come to us to be loved, and hugged…but we don’t initiate anything…that is not urgent. We do not wean in periods of excessive heat, even though it may be time. We do not make huge changes…no transporting, no changing barns…etc.
And during the summer months we actually were feeding late, after the sun went down (vs. morning and evening which is what our regular routine is), and we kept the Fiber Nutrients in the food, and free minerals out all day (which is our normal policy regardless of the weather.)
We look for symptoms of heat stress, and if see any, try to do something BEFORE there is a real problem. Some of the symptoms of heat stress that we have seen at High Meadow are lethargy, head drooping, unsteady on their feet or stiff legged, babies trying to drink, and drink, and drink, heavy breathing that is obvious in the flanks, nostrils flaring, drooling …We will take their temperatures (and to get a better idea of a normal one in the heat, may take 3 or 4 that are acting normal. Our average temperature in the heat of the summer was around 102*…something that would concern us any other time.)
We keep bottles of alcohol on hand in case of heat stress…to wet down their legs with it… (Buy it by the case). We start out with their legs, and move up to the belly and stomach areas…(Try it on your hand…alcohol opens the pores.) Jake, our farm manager, is adamant about not doing anything too quickly, (don’t immediately wet down, or pour alcohol over every part, or submerge in water, or douse with hose…lead up to it…) much like with horses. Start with their legs and move up.
We also keep shears on hand, just in case we need to do a belly shear…
We stop all breeding at High Meadow Alpacas, the end of May, (or when it gets too hot, whichever comes first) and do not start back until mid November. We do not want summer babies. Dr. Evans is the vet of record here, and those are his dates, and we adhere to them. Even if were not too hot on our herd sires, we do not want pregnant females birthing in the summer, or carrying the cria during the last month in the heat. Our babies start coming mid October at High Meadow.
We sheared in April and resheared our herd sires (thank goodness prior to the heat wave). Mark Loffhagen does our shearing and returned for a visit in July, and got all the babies, and the herd sires, as well as several of the girls with such heavy fleece sheared again…He was so quick, that it wasn’t a problem.
We have the high fans and ceiling fans, which are on constantly in our barns in the summer. And we also put up the smaller fans (individual ones), where the alpacas lie down in front of them, letting it blow in their face. We put those up as soon as the weather gets warm in the Spring (and take them down in the Winter). We have boards running across each side of the barn where the individual fans can be attached…with plugs. (For anyone building a new barn, a word of advice…which was learned from our first one, and we didn’t do it right.) You cannot have too many fans (which means electrical outlets need to be well spaced (until your electrical system will not handle any more!) A big fear we have had, is the possibility of a power outage. To alleviate that fear, we have several generators on hand for emergencies.
We wet all the alpacas down on their stomach, legs, and back end. (They turn where they want it next.) We do that every few hours during the day…Each group gets it 4 or 5 times a day in the heat. If they see a hose, (even watering trees or shrubs) they converge on the person watering in a circle. (One of the teenage boys working for our landscaper, almost had a meltdown…He was so afraid when all the alpacas rushed from the barn and surrounded him, (with his hose in hand), and kept moving closer and closer. It would have been hilarious except he was terrified, until we let him know WHY he was so popular.
We also wet the ground several times a day where the alpacas lie down. We put down prewashed gravel in the barns at our new farm, and it stays cooler when we wet it down.
We bought some of the small plastic pools, thinking it would be a good idea for the alpacas to have in hot weather, but Dr. Evans vetoed them. It had not occurred to us, that they can go to the bathroom in the water, then have everyone drinking, and end up with worse problems. He did like the idea of having access to a large pool, or pond, in case of heat stress so that we would be able to submerge an alpaca with heat stress, slowly.
The worse problem we have ever experienced was the summer of 2005 years ago, when we moved our animals to the new farm….We did not initially have everything set up as well as our previous barns, and had a serious heat stress. (Luckily it was the only one we had.) We bought a water bed…at a regular waterbed store, (just the mattress, and not expensive), and put her on it…We got her body temperature down so fast…that we couldn’t keep her on it for too long..plus it is very comfortable, for any animal that can’t stand up. And we bought her a pool (the 4 foot deep kind) that we used for therapy to get her back using her feet. (A few snickers were heard from some, but it worked!!!)
Heat is cumulative. A couple of the KY farms told of losing herd sires in mid September from what they were doing in August. They quoted Dr. Evans as saying that heat stress can occur two weeks after the first signs.
We have bought the misters that are used around a pool, and they do lower the temperature and humidity, but we have found that you have to be careful setting them up. You cannot get too close or they will be like ours, who wanted to get soaked. That is not good. We created mud. But we found the happy medium of having an area far enough back to keep them from getting too wet, but getting the effects. We are still working on that…
We keep ice on hand and have it if it is needed to help lower a temperature, or sometimes to put in their water buckets. You can freeze water in bottles, (used water bottles, or drink bottles,) and add to buckets of water during the day and if needed have enough so you have some to put around an animal if you get one down with heat stress. Put it under their arm pits as well as other areas.
Again, the above may not be for everyone, and others may have their own routine. This is just the protocol that is used at High Meadow Alpacas. Call a Vet if you do get an animal down, but hopefully some of the things to do before hand will alleviate the necessity.