Environment Influence on Camelid Management

The llama and alpaca evolved in the cool mountainous areas of South America. Thus, it is common sense that if these animals are brought into a different environment, management will vary. Animals do adapt to the environment where they are born, but the effects of the centuries in South America still have an impact in the management of these animals. Likewise if an animal is born in Colorado and moved to Virginia, or an animal born in Virginia and moved to Canada – there will be stress involved, and intensive management is needed to prevent problems from occurring.

Heat Stress

Dromedary and Bactrian camels – “cousins” of the llama and alpaca – evolved in a much different environment than the South American camelids. Camels are adapted to a hot, arid climate and deal better with hyperthermia and dehydration. The llama and alpaca do not have this adaptation, evolving in a much cooler environment. Llamas and alpacas are primarily dependent on cooling their bodies by evaporative cooling via the thermal window (fiberless area on ventral abdomen), even though they do have sweat glands over the entire surface of the body. Heat stress can cause neurological damage, congenital damage or abortion in pregnant females, lower sperm count in intact males or even a case of colic. To help minimize heat stress, fiber can be sheared, feed only needed protein (protein provides more energy than carbohydrates) and by feeding a highly digestible diet (to minimize the heat produced by microbial fermentation). Animals should have a cool, shady place and water can be provided to drink, lay in, stand in or be sprayed with. Monitoring and maintaining an optimal weight is critical in warmer and more humid environments, as heavier animals are more prone to problems of overheating.

“If the sum of environmental temperature (in °F) plus humidity is > than 150 – watch for heat stress.

If the value is 180 or more – then you are on “RED ALERT” and can expect heat stress.” Based on research done on sheep, HAF (2004) also advises their clients to supplement thiamin (vitamin B0 at a rate of 1 mg/lb BW/day. Again, this is anecdotal information, but information that has been applied successfully in a clinical setting for several years. As an added caution, just because you live in a cooler environment does not mean that your animals will not be prone to heat stress. Factors other than environment that lead to this concern include packing, racing, breeding, fighting, transportation, prolonged restraint, chased by dogs (or children) or having an intact male adjacent to other intact males.


Cold Stress

Many individuals are under the assumption that cold is not a problem for the llama and alpaca, as they evolved in the mountainous regions of South America. The truth of the matter is that the temperature in the high elevations of North America (minus 40° F and wind chill) is much colder than the camelids home environment. Under intense cold, animals should be supplied shelter and a source of ice-free water. If needed, grain can be added to their diet for extra energy – up to 1/5 of their diet dry matter (remember to add grain slowly to allow the microbes a chance to adjust).