By Cathy Spalding
During our more severe winter temperatures, some alpacas and llamas have difficulty keeping warm. Gradual changes in season and temperatures are seemingly handled more easily than those that are sudden and abrupt. Sudden changes in weather and temperature do, however, occur with sprawled bodies soaking up the sun one day and the very next bringing on endless hours of stinging sleet.
Many alpacas and llamas seem to actually prefer to be out in inclement weather as opposed to being locked in an enclosed sheltered area. We have noticed the difference in choice can depend upon how the particular weather affects their facial area. Overall body fiber offers a level of protection from the weather. However, they are not normally as well protected about the face—particularly the eyes. Unrelenting rains, ice pellets and harsh winds can often send even the hardiest soul off in search of shelter.
In weather extremes, it is key to provide the best opportunities possible to assist each alpaca and llama in its ability to regulate its body temperature. Adequate shelter, windbreaks, bedding, feed/nutrition, fresh water and overall good health are a must for each animal. Age and other conditions can compromise the ability to adequately regulate body temperature. The most obvious sign that an animal is having difficulty regulating body temperature is shivering; it is cold and needs warmer conditions.
There are a number of creative and clever ways folks have provided their alpacas and llamas a warm reprieve from harsher weather. While an enclosed barn would seem top-of-the-line ideal, there are many other creative ways to provide a warm and cozy area. Windbreaks and half walls can be made for three-sided shelters using bales of straw placed across a portion of the open side. Bales of straw are also useful for blocking drafty areas such as under stall doors. Sheets of plywood or tarps can be installed along the edges of an overhang to provide more protection under those areas. Deep bedding provides a barrier between bodies and the colder flooring. In some areas, owners do not regularly replace the bedding during the winter period but rather just add new bedding each time fresh bedding is needed. Heat is generated from the lower layers of composting manure and straw.
Assisting an alpaca or llama having difficulty by having them wear a coat or blanket can make a significant difference. An alpaca or llama coat and/or blanket can be purchased from a variety of vendors. They are offered in varying sizes from cria to adult and in a vast array of styles, colors and patterns. A web search should yield a wide range of available winter wear.
Both adult alpaca and llama winter coats and sleeping bags are available from Bobra Goldsmith at Rocky Mountain Llamas.
Another popular llama blanket is made by Kate Otey of Kate's Kreations, www.ktot.net. She makes warm blankets with a waterproof outer shell.
There are also a number of very inexpensive and quite creative ways to come up with fashionable alpaca and llama winter wear:
* Visit your local Goodwill, Salvation Army or Value Village. In addition to a possible great find to replace your own worn winter wear, you can often find inexpensive blankets, quilted sleeping bags, children's zippered vests, sweatshirts, jackets, and sweaters quite suitable for alpacas and llamas. For younger alpacas and llamas, slip the front legs through the sleeves of the vest, sweatshirt or jacket and then zip it up on their backside along the top line. Putting the jacket or sweatshirt on backwards so that the zipper runs along the top line makes it much easier to put on and take off.
* Some folks have cut the arms from a sweatshirt, jacket or sweater and used one of the arm pieces as a neck warmer. Just slip the sleeve--cut to the appropriate length--over the head, fit it along the neck, and tuck the lower end into the neck opening of the sweatshirt, jacket or sweater they are already wearing--right where the two pieces meet at the withers.
* If you do not entirely cut off the sleeves of the garment, be sure they are short enough to allow your alpaca or llama free movement. It is possible to become entangled in winter wear that is not properly fit. Once entangled, all manner of possibilities exist, including injury and the inability to poop or stand to nurse.
* Many look specifically for a jacket, which is Polartek on the inside, and waterproof Cordura on the outside. Children's polar fleece vests are also a popular choice.
* Blankets and quilted sleeping bags can be reasonably fashioned as warm winter wear for adults. There are a number of creative ways these can be altered. Some have simply cut the blanket or sleeping bag to the appropriate length, stitched and bound the cut end(s) and added a length of Velcro on each side at the mid-section. The blanket/sleeping bag is held in place by connecting the Velcro ends together on the side of the animal under the belly. Others have bought a length of webbing, sewn the appropriate length of webbing on each side of the blanket or sleeping bag and have attached inter-locking clips at each free end of the webbing to secure it. Some have simply cut a hole near one end just large enough for the head and neck to slip through. This allows for a bit of the blanket to also hang down over the chest area. Sometimes, however, without some mechanism to hold it in place, winter wear will slide to the side and the alpaca or llama can become entangled.
* It is recommended to have several "coats” and/or blankets available. As one becomes soiled and/or wet, it can be replaced with a dry, clean one. The “used” one can be thrown in the wash.
* A very creative friend shared that she buys all manner of sweaters at her local thrift store. She takes them home, unravels each one and then uses the yarn to knit a whole new sweater or blanket for her animals.
* A variety of clever sewing patterns exist for making your own cria coat. There are a number of delightful materials, colors, themes and schemes to explore at a fabric store.
* Fit can be modified using safety pins. Be sure the safety pins are indeed "safety" pins such as those used for securing infant human cloth diapers (I know, who uses THOSE anymore!).
Many alpacas and llamas have truly appreciated their winter wear. Some have even put on that "special" attitude when wearing their "coats." Some, however, are not so willing. It is not uncommon for a mother to reject her younger offspring when a winter garment is first worn. While the passing of time will often cause a mom to suddenly recall that this is, indeed, her own baby, the recognition/acceptance that her baby is wearing something may be hastened by rubbing the baby with the outside of the garment. Once mom sniffs the outside of the garment that is now holding the smell of her baby, she will often immediately accept that this young one is indeed hers. Allowing a mother to sniff and thoroughly inspect any garment, as well as be present when it is fitted to her baby, can help to alleviate any initial rejection.
Older animals that are not comfortable with having their legs touched or are not generally very comfortable with human touch may find it difficult to accept winter wear. In this instance, it can be useful to halter your animals and attach a lead rope in an enclosed stall or catch pen. Take a towel, coat… most anything made of fabric… and let them smell/ inspect it. Drop it on the ground before them, again allowing them the opportunity to sniff and inspect, then place it on the middle of their back. Do not tie your alpaca or llama, but let them move freely about the enclosed area as you provide guidance and controlled movement through the lead rope. Allow the fabric item to slide off the back. Let them react and inspect it. Try it again. The whole process should become a non-issue very shortly. Next try something larger such as a blanket or bath towel. Repeat the steps until there is no reaction. Normally, after a very few times, alpacas and llamas will become quite easily accepting. It is now time to introduce the winter wear. Having already gone through the above steps, by the time you introduce the winter wear, there is usually no further reaction.
All winter wear can become wet and soiled. When washing, it can be useful to run it through the rinse cycle several times to remove as much of our laundry perfumes as might be possible. And, remember--remove that winter wear when the weather warms!