Tuesday, July 14, 2009
Heat Stress- Male Alpacas - Feritility
Breeding males: Heat stress infertility in breeding
males is probably more well-known than the cria
heat stress problem. Colored males are at a higher
risk than white males. Alpaca testicles are not
pendulous (the alpaca can’t drop them away from
the body to cool them off). When the body
temperature rises to about 104 degrees F - 105 degrees F, the existing sperm in the testicles can be destroyed. It can take from 90 days to one year for the new sperm to be available so the stud can breed again.
For many stud owners, that is fully 50% to 100% of
their breeding season (and stud fee income!). Even
worse news is that sperm production can be
destroyed permanently if the alpaca’s temperature
is above 105oF. At that point you have a prizewinning,
• Sick or old Alpacas: Heat stress adds an additional
burden on alpaca’s that are already battling illness
or age. As such, special care should be taken to
monitor sick or old alpacas to ensure that heat
stress does not put an additional burden on them.
Herd Management Practices:
• Shade: Shade can come in a number of forms.
Shade trees are the best type of outdoor shade
although run-ins also provide alpacas relief from the
sun. Barns or permanent structures should have
high enough ceilings in order to provide sufficient
air movement. Note that hay stored in the loft of a
barn diminishes the barn’s ability to cool because
the hay will insulate and block heat from escaping.
Whatever type of shade is used, be sure that the
shaded area(s) can include all of the alpacas as
• Ventilation: The most
should be directed
near the floor (without
blowing dirt and straw
everywhere) so that
the breeze can get
animals (where the
"thermal window" is
should also establish
that fresh air is constantly circulating. Install large
barn fans so that they safely pull air from shady
cool areas and not from dry sunny areas.
• Shearing: Our alpaca’s fiber is sheared before we
expect the temperature to be 80 degrees for several
days in a row. If you must plan in advance for
shearing we have found April to be a great month
for shearing in Virginia and June in Washington
State. Avoid “fad” shearing that leaves the neck and
leg fiber on the animal in hot and humid weather,
since any fiber will retain the alpacas’ heat. If you
are planning to show your alpaca, check for the
fiber length requirements for the show and decide
whether shearing or showing is more important to
• Bedding: Straw should not be used as bedding in
the heat of summer since it will insulate the alpaca
and not allow heat to escape through their thermal
window when they kush. Plan to replace the straw
with earth, pea gravel, or sand for the summer;
which will allow more heat to be drawn from the
• Summer Nutrition: Don't let your alpacas get fat or
too skinny! Physically fit animals react better in
extreme temperatures than overweight or thin
animals. Consider buying feeds that contain
additives for reducing summer stress: adequate
selenium, vitamin E, copper, zinc, and B vitamins
such as thiamine can increase tolerance of hot
weather. Eating and digesting hay takes a lot of
work and generates a lot of heat.
• Water: During the Summer and Fall, water
becomes the secret weapon to battle heat stress.
The amount of water that alpacas will consume in
the heat and humidity may double during the hot
summer months. Place water containers in shaded
areas or place a shield above the water container to
shade it from the sun. Automatic water feeders are
great if they draw water from underground where it
is cooler, to refill the water receptacle. You may
want to offer your alpacas at least one water bucket
with electrolytes added in. The electrolytes contain
salt, potassium, glucose, and bicarbonate which
help replace losses that occur in sweat and
breathing. Use this electrolyte bucket as a
supplemental source of water and not a sole source
since the alpacas may elect not to drink the
electrolyte water and want to stick with plain water.
The downside of the bucket with the electrolytes is
that they should be cleaned frequently to prevent
the growth of bacteria.
Alpacas will seek out any body of water to get cool.
Some farms consider kiddie pools a great way to
allow the alpacas access to water under controlled
conditions. The pool should be placed in a shady
area. Extended exposure to water may damage the
fiber, especially around the legs, but pools are very
effective at allowing the animals to self-regulate
temperature. Be aware that pools can get really
dirty really fast and that the shallow water will heat
up to ambient temperature pretty quickly.
Farm Management Practices:
• Breeding: Consider timing your breedings and
birthings so they don’t occur during the hottest
• Weaning: Separating a cria and dam is a stressful
time for both. If possible, it should be delayed so
that it occurs during cooler weather
• Halter Training: Training increases an alpacas
stress level and should be moved to cooler months
if possible or given in shorter doses during the early
morning or evening hours is during a heat spell.
• Transporting from cooler to warmer climates: Try to
avoid transporting alpacas to an unaccustomed hot
climate during summer months. It may take several
months to acclimate alpacas to a new geographical
area, feeding practices and herd mates.
Alpaca owners and breeders can take many steps to ensure
their alpacas remain healthy and safe during the summer
months if they practice practical prevention and awareness.
However, the best person to consult if you suspect alpaca
heat stress (or any alpaca illness) is your veterinarian. As
breeders, we rely on them to provide us expert advice on
how to care for our alpacas. Consult a veterinarian at the
earliest time for animals showing abnormalities of behavior
during summer months. Or better yet, talk to your
veterinarian before the summer months arrive and get a
jump-start on your hot weather plans.