Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Keeping Them Warm

By Bev Henry
Camelid Quarterly, March 2009

Many areas of North America are experiencing severe and usual weather conditions, and this past winter was a harsh one. Most of us have some sort of shelter for our llamas to take refuge from the weather. But when sub-zero temperatures are accompanied by winds, a simple shelter, or even unheated barn, may not give enough protection. Deep bedding such as straw will help, but even that may not be adequate for our seniors.
Old llamas tend to have difficulty maintaining their weight at the best of times, with their worn teeth and less efficient digestive systems. Bitter cold weather will drain energy reserves and our faithful companions can drop weight very quickly under such conditions. A simple coat can make a world of difference, and now is a good time to start planning for next winter. There are many good and reasonably priced llama coats on the market, but for those of you who like to create, they are easy and relatively inexpensive to make. You will need:
  • About 1.5 yards of 60” wide water repellant outer fabric.
  • A single bed size gray wool army blanket or similar.
  • About 6.5 yards 1.5” wide webbing and 2 or 3 one-inch Fastex buckles.
Check the outdoor wear section of your local fabric store for suitable fabrics. The remnant table is a good place to look for bolt ends at bargain prices. For the outer shell, you will want a tough and water repellant fabric such as ripstop nylon or Cordura, and those gray army blankets are perfect for liners. Try the army surplus stores and thrift shops for any sort of wool blankets — they don't have to be new. It's a good idea to wash them first, to allow for shrinkage.
The 1.5" polyester webbing is for binding the outside edge, and for tail loop, girth, and chest fasteners. There are several types of synthetic webbing available, but if you can find it, I like the soft polyester webbing rather than the stiffer and less Flexible nylon webbing used for halters.
The best way to custom fit your llama is to use an old sheet for a pattern. But for the average llama, a rough measurement from the base of tail to base of neck plus 12" will be fine. A llama weighing about 325 lbs and about 45" shoulder height with a back length of 38" will need a coat measuring about 50" along the bottom edge from chest to tail end. I use these measurements for a medium size coat. Add or subtract about 2" in overall length for larger or smaller llamas. Depth (top of shoulder to bottom hem of coat) should be 26" or maybe 28" For tall llamas.
Lay out the fabric for the shell, folded in half- the way the fabric came off the bolt and the way it will sit on your llama. Mark the start of the cut for the neck opening about 14" back from the neck edge. Make a second mark about 11" down from the front edge. Cut a smooth curve between these marks for the neck opening. Once you have the shell cut, use it as a pattern for the wool liner.
Lay the two pieces together right sides out and pin & stitch a length of web binding (about 1" ? width) folded over to bind the raw edges. I double stitch this for strength, with the two stitching lines ?” apart.
Or, if you don't want to bother binding the edge, you can just lay the two pieces together, right sides to the inside, and stitch around the edge, leaving a gap to turn the whole thing right side out. Finish with one or two lines of topstitching around the edge.
When I made my first llama coat, I patterned it after a standard horse blanket, with a girth strap, chest straps and straps to go around the hind legs to keep it in place. Llamas, however, are far more agile and flexible than horses, resulting in torn coats and spooked llamas. Being a packer, I then thought of the crupper strap (under the tail) used to hold some packsaddles in place. That worked perfectly.
For the crupper strap, cut a piece of webbing about 20” long, fold in half lengthwise and stitch securely to the tail end of the coat, about 2" down each side from the center fold line. Overlap the webbing onto the coat by a couple of inches to leave plenty of room to secure it.
Velcro fasteners on the chest straps tend to come undone on a very active llama. Better to use one or two Fastex buckles or a metal snap here. For the girth strap (belly band), I used a Fastex buckle as well, together with a slider for adjustment.
Stitch the chest straps to the coat so that the edges of the coat overlap an inch or two for warmth when the buckles are fastened. Check the girth strap for length on your llama before attaching it.
Webbing and Fastex buckles should be available in tack shop or army surplus stores, if you can't find them in your fabric shop. Or check the thrift stores - many kids backpacks are loaded with webbing snaps and buckles that can be re-used.
I do machine wash and dry these coats from time to time, and rejuvenate them with a spray on waterproof product formulate for tents and outdoor use.
Keep safety in mind. Make sure the girth and chest straps are snuggly fastened to lessen the possibility of the llama hooking a toenail in a strap. Unless you are sure the coat is totally waterproof, I would be very cautious about leaving it on for long periods in wet weather. I know from experience as a hiker that a leaky wet coat is a good way to get chilled in a hurry.
Check your barns and paddocks for any places where a coat could get snagged. And do keep a close eye on llamas wearing coats, to ensure their comfort and safety.

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