I’m considering moving to a colder state and alpacas are a very real possibility for me in the future. So, I needed to know, do alpacas like the snow?
Alpacas can be very fond of the snow and are often found playing in it. Some like to spend winter days playing outside in the sun. On days that have extremely cold temperatures, alpacas prefer to stay inside and huddle to stay warm. Their fleece is a good insulator and helps comforts them during the colder weather.
So, while their fleece can keep them warm, is that all they need to survive the cold? Do they need shelter or anything else to stay warm? Let’s explore this a bit more.
Can Alpacas Survive the Cold?
Alpacas have adapted to the cold fairly well, due to their lush fleece providing a lot of warmth. However, they will need some basic necessities to get them through the winter.
Alpacas can survive cold temperatures well below freezing but may need some assistance from blankets, heaters, and warm shelters. Wind chill is one of the more dangerous elements to watch out for. Keep alpacas’ internal body temperature between 99.5-102ºF. Crias, skinny, and older alpacas might need more help to stay warm.
You can help alpacas survive the winter if you help maintain their basic needs of food, water, and shelter. Keep extra hay out, make sure their water doesn’t freeze and have an appropriate shelter to block wind chill and snow blowing in.
Provide a Constant Supply of Food
Providing your alpacas with extra hay in the winter will help them maintain their body fat and insulation. When there’s not an extremely cold day, consider plowing the snow from an area of their pasture and moving the hay feeder outside. Alpacas will enjoy playing in the snow and the Vitamin-D from the sun will help keep their immune system strong (Vitamin-D deficiency is a common issue with alpacas).
For more information about what to feed alpacas, check out my other post: the complete guide to feeding llamas and alpacas.
Make Sure the Water Doesn’t Freeze
Whether you’re providing water in buckets, or troughs, check it often to see if it’s frozen. As you might have guessed, alpacas cannot drink if their water is frozen and the lack of water can give them a hard time staying hydrated and regulating their body temperature. Some alpaca farmers use water bucket heaters to prevent freezing. But even these systems can fail, so continue to monitor often.
Provide a Good Shelter
Building a three-sided shelter is a common approach to housing alpacas in the winter. Make sure to face the opening away from the wind as wind chill can be detrimental to an alpaca’s health.
If you have crias, you may want to give them cria coats or pony blankets to help keep them warm. The same goes for older or skinny alpacas. A cria’s internal temperature needs to stay in a healthy range as it can compromise their feeding ability and the number of nutrients they absorb from the milk. It’s also important to time the gestation of crias to be born in the spring, so they can mature and develop a thicker fleece before they experience a cold winter.
Also, before you head into winter, consider weighing the alpacas first. This can give you a good baseline weight to refer to if you need to check any of the herd for sickness and weight-loss.
How Cold Is Too Cold for Alpacas?
Alpacas can handle extreme temperatures but can suffer from the cold if their fleece is too thin or the wind chill and temperature is too cold.
Alpacas can handle temperatures below freezing, sometimes as low as 15ºF, but this doesn’t factor in wind chill. It’s important to provide a good shelter for your alpacas so they can survive the occasional blizzard. Protecting against wind chill and snow blowing in are some of the best measures to take.
While their thick fiber keeps them very snug, you’ll also want to protect them from the cold ground. Providing bedding such as hay or thick rubber mats are common options for alpaca farmers. Since alpacas have a communal bathroom, you don’t need to clean up the straw bedding as much as you would for goats.
You can also place heaters in their shelter if the weather is especially cold. However, make sure to take the proper safety precautions to prevent burning and fires.
What Climate Do Alpacas Live In?
Alpacas were brought to the US from South America in the 1980s, and their numbers are growing. They can be found in most states, some of the most popular being Ohio, Washington, Oregon, California Colorado, Montana, and Virginia.
They can handle temperatures ranging from 15ºF to 85ºF+. Originally domesticated from the ancient Incas, alpacas have adapted from the weather in the Andes, which includes extremely cold and hot temperatures, along with a high-elevation.
Their natural environment was harsh, and they grew accustomed to extreme cold and wet conditions. However, wind chill and heat stroke are common concerns for many alpaca farmers. Alpacas are unable to shed their fleece, so they rely on their fleece being shorn for the summer and a proper shelter in the winter.
In summary, as long as their basic needs are met, alpacas can live in most climates.
Do Alpacas Need Shelter?
As mentioned, building a proper shelter is one of the most important parts of maintaining a healthy and safe alpaca farm.
Alpacas need a good shelter to stay healthy through the winter. A three-sided shelter is the most common type, although many alpaca farmers use barns. If alpacas don’t have a good shelter, they can get sick or die. Crias, older, and skinny alpacas in particular need more shelter and warmth to survive the winter.
Whether, it’s the heat of the sun, or the cold of a blizzard, investing in a good shelter will increase the survivability of your alpaca herd.
As long as their shelter protects them from the snow, wind chill, and extreme cold, your alpacas should do just fine in the winter. Provide some bedding to insulate them from the cold ground, and keep extra food out as their body fat percentage is important to maintain. Check on their water often to make sure it doesn’t freeze or set up systems to keep the water warm if needed.
Don’t forget to clear some snow during calmer days, move the hay feeder outdoors, and let them play outside! The exercise and Vitamin-D from the sun is great for them, and it’s beneficial for them to survive the winter.