Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Winter Weather Prep

After spending a few harrowing days in the past few weeks worrying about how the lamas would deal with the cold, I decided that I would write up some of what I learned.  So here goes…

Duque in his coat.

Back in Indiana, we never seriously worried about the cold.  We did the usual preparations: rubber mats over the cement floors, heated water buckets, extra hay and grain, and coats for those who needed them (mostly April and crias).  It never got terribly cold for more than a day or two, so we didn't have to worry about it too much.

A cold snowy day in Indiana.

Now that the animals are in New York, it is a WHOLE different ball game!  It is only the first week of December, and already it has gotten below 20*F more than 10 nights.  It even got down to 1*F last week!  I was pretty panicked the first few nights it got really cold, but I've since done a lot of research, tweaked a few things about our barn and feeding practices, and now feel much more prepared for the inevitable cold weather.  To make things a bit easier to follow, I will break down the suggestions that I found into a few categories.

Our first big snowfall in New York.

Barn

As I mentioned before, there are a few basic things that we already were doing in our barn.  We always have rubbed mats down in our barn, and they do a great job to insulate the animals from the cold concrete.  Heated water buckets are also a must in the winter, even if the weather gets just below freezing.

Heated water bucket.


The first really easy thing to adjust for extreme cold is adding a layer of bedding (straw is preferable, but hay works in areas like ours where straw is really hard to find).  I always hated putting bedding down on the barn floor because it makes a huge mess, but honestly that is inevitable in the winter!  My geldings insist on potty-ing in the barn when it gets cold, but they have been limiting that to one half of the barn, so I spread some stemmy hay on the OTHER half of the barn (where I assume that they are sleeping).  That way I don't have to clean up yucky hay, and I don't waste as much.

Stemmy hay on the floor of the barn.

Another thing that we did back in Indiana (though for a very different reason) was putting a tarp up over the huge door opening.  Our old barn had a very tall door (at least 12-15' tall), so my dad rigged a tarp that covered most of it (it came down to about 6' high).  It was mostly to keep birds out of the barn, but it did help with the wind.  In our new barn, the door is only 8' tall, and is luckily located on the south end of the barn, but some days we were still getting a lot of wind coming in the barn.  So I set up a smaller version of the tarp door, to cover the top 4' of the door.  I folded a 6'x8' tarp in half so it was 4'x6'.  Using screws and large washers, I screwed through the metal rings on the tarp to attach it to the top of the door frame.  I then used bungee cords to keep the bottom corners of the tarp from flapping (I used the bungee cords to attach the tarp to various parts of the barn door), and threw a couple scrap pieces of wood in the fold of the tarp to weigh it down.  It gets a bit annoying to duck every time I walk out the door, but it does seem to help with the wind.

Tarp door.

I've read that a lot of people simply lock their animals inside the barn when it gets cold.  I've really tried to avoid that so far (and will continue to do so), but it is certainly a good option in some circumstances. If it ever gets below 0*F, or if one of the animals is shivering despite my attempts to get them warm, I would definitely lock them in the barn.

Feeding

Feeding practices can also really help animals deal with the cold.  Since I don't have any breeding animals currently, only April gets a grain supplement on a daily basis.  However, I've decided that whenever the forecast says it will get below 25*F at night, I'm going to feed everyone 1c of llama pellets that afternoon/evening.  If it is going to get below 15*F, I will add 1c beet pulp.  I've also added beet pulp (as much as she will eat) to April's daily ration for the winter.  (Note: Beet pulp should be soaked thoroughly in water to allow for expansion before feeding.)  For really cold nights (below 15*F), I've also been mixing in a bit of alfalfa hay with the regular grass hay.  April won't eat it (I got it to put weight on her), so everyone else might as well benefit!

Beet pulp (brown) and alfalfa pellets (green) before soaking.

Beet pulp and alfalfa pellets after soaking.  I also mixed in a little calf manna to entice April.

A lot of people suggest feeding cracked corn during cold temperatures, but I personally hate feeding corn to my lamas!  I used to feed it as part of a weight gain mixture, but the animals never seemed to digest it, so I stopped.  From what I've heard beet pulp is also good to raise their internal body temperature (as it is digested).

Of course I always stuff the hay feeders whenever it gets cold.  We have one big hay feeder outside and one big one inside, but I've started leaving the big bucket feeders in the barn on cold nights.  I think having more feeders with hay will encourage more of the lamas to stay in the barn, which should keep them warmer.  For 5 lamas, I end up with 4 feeders inside the barn and 1 outside.  When it gets nice during the day I move the bucket feeders outside to encourage them to get some fresh air!

April and one of the bucket feeders.

Coats

For some animals (like April), coats are a necessity for getting through any winter.  I've discovered that April starts shivering when it hits about 25*F, so that is my threshold for putting her coat on.  Her coat came from Llama Hardware- it is by far the best one I've ever purchased!  Duque gets his coat when it hits about 20*F- his came from Useful Lama Items.  It isn't nearly as nice (it slides around as he wears it), but it works.  Since moving Ralph has become the next one to shiver, so he got to wear a yearling llama coat (also from Useful Lama Items) one night last week.  He looked so cute!  I know a lot of alpaca people use human vests as coats.  Horse/foal blankets can also work, but they don't fit as well in my opinion.

Ralph and April in their coats.

April in her first coat, a foal blanket.  It didn't fit very well...

It is important to remember that you should never coat a wet llama (dry them first!), and not to leave coats on if it gets too warm (this will also vary by lama).  I also like to take them off if rain is in the forecast, as most are not really waterproof.

For the recent extreme cold temperatures, I went out and bought old wool sweaters at a local thrift shop.  I cut them up and sewed them back together to make coat liners.  Wool blankets (or even fleece blankets) would also work great!

Patchwork wool coat liner.



So there you have it…a few ideas on how to keep your lamas warm this winter!  If you have any other tips that I didn't mention please share them!

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