Friday, January 8, 2010

Staying warm

There have been lots of tips floating around on the internet about how to keep your alpacas warm in the extremely bitter weather.  Many of the tips are good, and we are following some here, even though we have never had a cold-weather-related illness or death in our 14 years of raising alpacas (and longer for llamas).

The MOST important thing that we can suggest is to offer unlimited, quality hay to your alpacas.  Hay is what keeps the rumen healthy and working, and the rumen is like a furnace for the rest of the alpaca's body.  It's absolutely critical that your animals have water available at all times as well or they can quickly dehydrate.  Some farms offer hot water (our 3 late pregnant girls who are cozy and cushy in the new "due barn" are getting hot water, their "tea" a few times a day), and adding electolytes or gatorade isn't a bad idea.

Observation, as always, is key and it's smart to hone in on the youngest, oldest, and lactating females who will be most vulnerable. Shivering is cause for immediate concern.  Our 18-year-old female, Satin, is wearing an "extra" alpaca coat after she was shivering on the first really cold days last month and is doing fine.  Any animal that isn't completely thriving should be scrutinized carefully, as the extreme cold is an extra stress- healthy alpacas can handle one stress at a time (like weaning, showing, etc.) but multiple, layered stresses can prove deadly.

We did follow one newer tip for our boys who are without shelter (though we can bring them into a nearby barn if we feel conditions warrant it).  We put up a windbreak along a fenceline, in a spot they already liked to lay, under the neighbor's security light.  It is made of some poorer quality hay that we are trying to use up (we had it on hand, and it's cheaper than straw).

Yesterday when it was snowing like crazy and temperatures were dropping, the alpacas gathered right alongside the windbreak, welcomed with more "good" hay scattered along the ground where all can reach it without fighting.  Putting it along the fence worked well and gave us something to tie the bales to. 

We find that the hardest thing for the alpacas and llamas is in earlier fall (or late spring after shearing), when we have driving rain followed by large temperature drops.  The drier cold is really not that hard on them- they do have on thick alpaca fleece from topknot to toenails, right?  Still, they don't appreciate strong, cold wind and those that have shelters will go inside when it's windy or wet most of the time.

It was fun watching the weanlings experience their first snow- they didn't quite know what to do about it and seemed a bit captivated by it all!

And the dogs, well they take it all in stride.  They truly seem to thrive in the cold! Shown here is Lucy, our newest livestock guardian dog (a Great Pyrenes we bought in Quechua Benefit's charity auction last spring at the Futurity).

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