It is that time again here in the Midwest when temperatures suddenly soar to dangerous extremes for animals and farmers. With the news warning everyone to stay in the air conditioning, pools and cooling centers opening for free to keep people safe, and hospitals preparing to treat for heat issues, what can we possibly do to protect our herds? What about ourselves?
First, Take care of yourself
We all know the phrase, “You can’t pour from an empty cup” and that rings true on a farm. Your very first line of defense against heat related issues in your herd is keeping yourself safe and functional so you can care for your animals and be alert to subtle signs. Know the signs of heat exhaustion and heat stroke and how to start treating them on the way to official medical help. Check your staff for them and make sure everyone is drinking plenty. Here is a list of tips and tricks to help keep you and your team safe:
-Begin work earlier in the day and stop before the afternoon or only do essential tasks beyond Noon.
-Wear light colored, light clothing.
-Stay out of the direct sun as much as possible
-Going from one temperature extreme to the next could cause dizziness, nausea, fainting, headaches, and more. Be careful when going from the outside to the air conditioned indoors. If possible try to cool down slightly first.
-Drink plenty of fluids such as water, pedialyte, and Gatorade. Sodas, coffee, and alcohol will not help you stay hydrated.
-Always tell someone where you are working and a time you should be done. Use the buddy system and check on each other. Try not to be out alone in remote areas when possible should heat sickness strike.
A good offense is best for your herds
The very best thing you can do to keep your herd safe is to plan ahead. Pay attention to the weather and how long the extreme temps will stick around. Gather supplies, set up equipment, create an emergency action plan and share it with your staff, and get a good assessment of your herd and who may be susceptible to the heat. Here are some ways to protect your alpacas…
-Have your alpacas shorn every year before the summer heat hits. This is the number one means to prevent overheating in the summer months.
-Put out fans. Make sure the fans are rated for outdoor agricultural use, it is well worth a few extra dollars to prevent fires. Set the fans up to create air flow around the barn vs conflicting directions that can create hot spots and trap heat.
-Add additional water sources even if you have automatic waters. Refresh the water multiple times a day. Animals do not like drinking hot water on a hot day.
-Add some tasty electrolytes to the water. There are many commercially available powdered livestock electrolytes, but powdered Gatorade is also a favorite go-to because it is readily available, affordable, and usually the animals enjoy the taste.
-Ensure that there is shade or shelter available with sufficient space for the number of animals using it. Trees can be good in pasture, but be sure that as the sun moves there is still shade available. If you have a shelter or barn ensure that there is very good air flow and ventilation. Barns and run in shelters can be come unbelievably hot.
-Do multiple herd checks daily, and do them thoroughly. Alpacas are great at hiding pain and weaknesses. It is vital to catch a heat stressed alpaca early and have a heat stress plan with care kit ready.
-Do not work your alpacas at all in the heat. That means no transport unless an emergency, no breeding, no location changes, no herd changes, no show practice, or otherwise.
-Hosing off alpacas or watching them in a kiddie pool is usually a comical and enjoyable experience but a word of caution if you absolutely can’t resist doing it; it is possible to rot the fleece off your alpacas depending on your climate and other factors. Keep water low, meaning legs and bellies and not necks, backs, and heads. If you do not properly saturate the alpaca down to the skin the moisture in the fiber can act like a steamer and make the alpaca hotter.
Hopefully being prepared keeps emergency situations at bay, but things do happen. When checking your alpacas you need to be looking for the signs of heat stress. Pay special attention to crias, elderly, sick, pregnant, and dark colored alpacas. The symptoms of heat stress in alpacas are panting, depression, anorexia, and increased heart rate, temperature and/or breathing. As the condition progresses, drooling can occur, trembling, weakness, lying down (and trying to expose the belly), sweating, shock and disorientation, muscle damage, and ultimately, death. If you observe any of these symptoms, you need to take action immediately and contact your veterinarian.
While TFA and its employees are skilled in alpaca care we are not and do not claim to be veterinarians, the following information is how we handle heat stress care for educational purposes only and not prescribed medical advice.
-Move the alpaca to a cooler area.
-Water – cool down as fast as possible by applying cold water to legs, belly, armpits and groin. If using a hose, ensure cold water is flowing (water in a hose lying in the sun can be quite hot!).
-Drinking Water – offer cool water to drink. If your alpaca won’t drink, you can administer water as a drench, but can only be done if patient will tolerate it. The amount of water given must be moderate such as 1 quart to 1 gallon for an adult.
-Breeze – turn on fans if nature won’t oblige
-Ice – ice packs (frozen peas will do) in the armpits and groin
-Cold water enemas – effective but can hamper the ability to monitor core body temperature. Best administered by your vet.
-Newborn cria – give a plasma infusion as soon as possible, this will do more to save your cria than anything else