A Taste of Life at Windrush Alpacas

September 20, 2008

Too much Sunscreen?

Moonie wearing his sheep cover

Moonie wearing his sheep cover


Our friend Nancy Thompson of Tres Amigos Ranch recently posted a couple of questions on the blog on the entry of February 29, 2008 entitled “Kanika you’re a Mess”  I thought others would be interested in Nancy’s questions and my reply so rather than just reply to the comment at the post I decided to discuss Nancy’s questions in a new post.


This is the question Nancy posted


“I think I am going to try the Matilda sheep covers this year on a few of our show animals.  I know I have asked you this in the past, but can you tell me again who you buy your covers from?  My vet has mentioned she doesn’t like them because if blocks UV rays…but I figure, especially on a dark animal, is the sun going to penetrate all that fleece anyway?  Have you ever had any vitamin D issues using the coats?”



To answer Nancy’s first question, unfortunately the lady who I was buying my Matilda Sheep Covers from is no longer a distributor, however if you go to the Matilda Sheep Cover Website at http://www.sheepcovers.com.au/  there is a USA Distributors Button at the top right hand side of the screen.  Just click on that button and you will be taken to a list of distributors in the USA.  With the ever rising cost of shipping these days it might be best to contact a distributor who is geographically close to you.    There is also some good information on the Matilda Sheep Cover Site and also some of the individual distributor pages about fitting and caring for your Matilda Sheep Covers.


Now onto Nancy’s second question as to whether we have ever had any vitamin D issues when using the sheep covers.  I can honestly say that we have not, but I feel I need to qualify my answer a little.


We have been using the Matilda Sheep Covers for several years and just as a personal preference we do not usually put the covers on the crias until they are at least three to four months old.  To me an alpaca cria needs to have some time just running around and being a cria before he or she starts to wear a fleece cover.  Yes, cria fleece attracts vegetable matter like Velcro, but if their fleeces have good density most of the vegetable matter stays on the outside of the fleece and we find some of it drops off once the covers are on.  I do know of one alpaca breeder who puts coats on her crias when they are just a few days old, she never seems to have any Vitamin D issues in her crias, and her crias are all beautiful, healthy and have great conformation.    Do watch newly coated crias carefully though as very occasionally you will get a dam who will not accept her cria once the coat has been put on, if that is the case it is obviously much more important to have a healthy bond between dam and cria and so we remove the coat immediately and put the cria and dam in a catch pen with a bowl of hay for a short while to allow them to regain their natural bond. 


For our adult alpacas we take the coats off the alpacas on shearing day and then we leave them off until the weather starts to cool in the fall.  We initially did this as we were concerned that in our hot, dry climate the alpacas would overheat with a fleece cover on.  Over the years it has been our experience that the fleece covers actually help keep the alpacas a little cooler, if the weather on shearing day is warm the alpacas with the fleece covers are cooler to the touch than those without them.  But again we are big softies and feel that it is nice for the alpacas to have some time without wearing the covers, the amount of vegetable matter that accumulates from spring to early fall is small and again tends to drop out of the fleece when the covers are put on.


So there are several months of the year when are alpacas do not wear sheep covers, and those months tend to be the sunniest ones.  Bear in mind also we have very few cloudy days year round and we are close to 4,000 feet altitude, both factors that contribute to the amount of vitamin D our alpacas receive from natural sunlight.


We have noticed that the juvenile and yearling alpacas do seem to experience a growth spurt after shearing, which prompts the question, is it the removal of the fleece cover or the removal of the fleece, or a combination of both that causes that growth spurt?


As Nancy mentions in her question, I too wonder how well sunlight penetrates a full fleeced alpaca, especially a dense one.  I tend to think that a lot of the time the sunlight is absorbed through areas such as the muzzle and the belly, our alpacas do their fair share of sunbathing and expose their bellies to the sun when doing so.  Even wearing a sheep cover the alpacas belly can still get good sun exposure.


Of course nutrition also plays a key role in vitamin supply of alpacas – but that’s a whole other subject!


All in all I cannot say that the Matilda Sheep covers have been detrimental to our herd health.  The fleeces from the covered alpacas are healthier, stronger, cleaner and brighter than those from the alpacas that are not covered (I don’t like to cover heavily pregnant females).  The covered fleeces are protected from the elements such as wind, dry summer heat, vegetable matter and in our case from that “lovely” fine red Clovis sand.


In conclusion I think that each alpaca breeder needs to assess their environmental conditions as to how beneficial the covers will be for them and perhaps come up with a plan to allow the alpacas to be uncovered for part of the year. 



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