ALPACANATION - The Original Online Alpaca Marketplace
AlpacaNation

The Original
Online Alpaca Marketplace
   

 

 
   

 
       
  Article Authored by: Ben Fisco, Humming Hill Suri Alpaca Farm
Article Submitted: February 2002
   
   

 

 
 

Do Alpacas Require Extra Care in Harsh Winter Climates?

 
 

Alpacas are remarkably adaptive and can survive in a wide range of climate conditions.  Still, to achieve the best results possible raising alpacas in severe conditions, a little extra care will go a long way.

Lynda and I have been raising suri alpacas in northern Ohio at Humming Hill Suri Farm Ltd. since 1993.  Our herd averages 90 to 100 suri alpacas, and we also have three huacayas.  There are no significant differences in cold weather animal husbandry between huacayas and suris; therefore, I will address this subject in terms of all alpacas.

Two years ago we made one of the most expensive and significant decisions since we started in this business.  We held all our females open and bred them for spring and fall births.  We no longer have December, January or February births and we have eliminated July and August births as well.  We have a two year old state of the art facility specifically designed for alpacas.  It includes a large heated barn, closed circuit television cameras and concrete floors covered with rubber mats.  Regardless, we still feel extreme temperature births are an unnecessary burden and especially for new alpaca clients purchasing their first animals from us.
 

Pictured Above:  The facilities at Humming Hill Suri Farm.

We have portable loafing sheds in our pastures that are moved close together in November facing east, away from prevailing winds.  They are also moved close to the gates in each pasture, making it easier to service these sheds in deep snow.  We use wheat straw in these sheds for bedding.  Unless the straw becomes wet it is not replaced but rather layered and any manure is covered with a fresh layer of straw.  The heat from the composting manure is a substantial heat source.
 

Pictured Above:  A portable loafing shed.

 
We plow snow or move it with our front end loader so the alpacas can exercise, because normally they will not walk in snow over six inches.  On sunny days we place bales of hay in the plowed pastures so the animals will leave the sheds.  These alpacas stay in the pastures at all times in the winter unless temperatures go into the single digits.  In extreme cold they are placed in the barn, particularly at night.  Common sense seems to be the best method of determining when animals need a warmer, more enclosed area.  If an alpaca is shivering, it is cold and needs a coat or a warmer atmosphere.  The most detrimental weather for all livestock occurs when we have a soaking rain followed by falling temperatures.  In these conditions, all the alpaca are brought inside and heat is used to dry them out.  Usually, after one to two hours drying out, we release them to the pasture if the rain has stopped.  On cold snowy days they are free to roam the pastures or enter their sheds or the barn, without heat.

We use heated water buckets where electric is available.  In the pastures we place warm water in large containers twice a day and remove the ice from the water tubs.

If heat is used, we recommend radiant heaters.  They are more expensive but they are worth the extra cost.  They do not have an open flame, they power exhaust out of the barn and because they do not use forced air they will not cause a draft.  Drafts are a very real detriment.  Straw bales should be used to block areas under doors, etc. to eliminate drafts.  On the west side of our barn where we have overhangs or porches, we install sheets of plywood starting in November to block the wind and leave a 24” space for the alpacas to enter and exit the barn and porches. Remember, the more you enclose the barn, the more ventilation you must provide.  Good air circulation is important year round.

Drainage is one of our most important concerns.  We use gutters on all our overhangs and sheds to avoid water and ice buildup at the very areas where the alpacas enter and exit.  Their feet must be kept as dry as possible to avoid foot rot and other hoof deterioration.

If winter births are part of your breeding program, use cria coats on all cold days and nights on newborns.  Wash the cria coats and dry them if used randomly.  Remember, if you are using cria coats randomly without washing you are moving a coat with the scent of one animal to another.  This will cause consternation for the dam.  Sometimes, in extreme cold, we layer the coats.  Make sure the alpaca are not shivering.  Even adult animals need coats if they shiver.  Every animal has its own thermostat.  We have one of our original alpacas, Grandesa, our Grand Dam import from 1993, who refuses to come inside in any weather if given a choice.  We have gone out and found her buried in snow from sleeping out all night.  We do not like to enclose animals in a barn, but in extreme conditions it is the wise thing to do.

If you have a cria birth and it has hypothermia, place it in a plastic bag in warm water.  Use a rectal thermometer and get its temperature up to normal.  Massage the animal and dry with a hair dryer.  If you place the cria directly in warm water without the plastic bag, you will wash the natural scent from the cria and the dam will not accept the cria.  In over 100 births, we have had only one bottle fed cria.

The most important food heat source is hay and not grain.  99% of their nutrition comes from the hay.  We give free choice hay at all times, all winter.  The feeders are large and are checked three times a day.  They are kept full, especially at night.  We use only third cutting, 18% protein tested hay with up to 30% alfalfa.  The results of using this expensive hay are obvious when observing our alpacas.
 


Pictured Above:
  Outside facilities at Humming Hill, including overhang gutters to avoid ice and water build up.

SYNOPSIS:  RAISING ALPACAS IN HARSH WINTER CLIMATES

  1. Breed for spring and autumn births.
  2. Use layered, thick, dry bedding in sheds and barn.
  3. Bring alpacas inside in extreme cold and when they are wet dry them off before sending them back to the pasture.
  4. Use a flame and fan-free heating system when heat is used.
  5. Avoid drafts.
  6. Provide good drainage.
  7. Provide good ventilation and air circulation in all barns year round.
  8. Clear pastures of snow in areas large enough to provide exercise.
  9. For cria hypothermia, place cria in a plastic water-tight bag in warm water up to, but not including, the head.
  10. Use heated water buckets.
  11. Use cria coats and coats for adults when you see them shiver.  Use common sense.
Feed large volumes of high quality hay in cold weather.

 

 

 

WELCOME TO ALPACANATION

Our family has 8,711 breeders, with more joining every day.

Join Now!