ARTICLES BY JULIE
What is Camelidynamics?
Haltering Alpacas for the First Time
Why Do Obstacles?
A Tale of Two Handlers
Preparing your alpacas for showing
Alpaca Husbandry and Handling, the Camelidynamics way.
To Geld or not to Geld...that is the question.
When the vet comes to call.........
Camelidynamics for larger breeders
Six Easy Steps for Teaching Leading
Doing it on your own (pdf)
Tale of Two Alpacas (pdf)
A load off your mind......transporting your camelids the stress free way (pdf)
Why bother training alpacas? (pdf)
Agility for Alpacas (pdf)
Showing Off (pdf)
Restraint Free Handling (pdf)
Top Training Tips (pdf)
Using Alpacas as Therapy Animals (pdf)
Accidental Imprinting (pdf)
What to do with Berserk Males (pdf) - published in Alpaca World Magazine
What to do with Berserk Males - Part 2 (pdf)
Taking the Predator out of You (pdf)
What is Camelidynamics?
By Julie Taylor-Browne
Camelidynamics is a proven and effective method of training and handling llamas and alpacas that saves you time, frustration and energy. The system uses knowledge of animal behaviour to teach owners and handlers simple ways to work with their animals. These including body position, barn and facilities design, Tellington Touch (Ttouch) and different and more effective ways of teaching animals to be haltered and led. Camelidynamics has as its central principles that working with alpacas and llamas should be:
• Efficient and;
We don’t believe that it is necessary to ‘wrestle’ with your camelid or force it to do anything but believe instead that it is possible to handle your animals in a way that builds trust and respect on both sides. Certainly it has been my experience that this happens and that, at last, you can enjoy working with your animals, raise well adjusted babies without fear of Beserk Camelid Syndrome, and have a mutually respectful relationship (and that little cuddle!) with them that you always wanted.
I discovered Camelidynamics about three years after I bought my first alpacas. At that point I loved my animals and they would come up and take carrots from me - but handling them to toenail trim, halter train or inject was a struggle. I had initially been shown a sort of ‘grab and wrestle’ method of dealing with them which normally involved two people - one to hold and one to do whatever unpleasant task (for the alpacas and for me) needed doing. I rarely had the luxury of two people and my friends started to be mysteriously absent when I wanted their help for husbandry tasks. Eventually I had both a bad back and a sneaking dread of handling them - they didn’t like it and nor did I. This wasn’t the relationship I had dreamed of having with my beautiful animals.
Fortunately at that point I read an article by Marty McGee Bennett which made sense to me about how to begin to change the way I dealt with my animals - also fortunately she was giving a course in the UK that autumn, in 2003, on alpaca and llama training and handling. The simple and sensible things she showed us, the tools she used and the magical and effective Tellington Touch she taught us had a profound influence on me and over the next five years I changed my life so that I could find out more about how to build a trusting relationship with alpacas, llamas, horses and companion animals such as dogs and cats. Tellington Touch is a simple and gentle massage method that gives you a way to calm nervous animals and forges an immediate bond that enhances both the training process and the relationship you have with your animal. I’ve been teaching these methods for five years now and have had a complete change in the way my animals - and other people’s - relate to me and develop trust in me. This makes handling, training and husbandry tasks so much easier that I can’t believe I used to do it the ‘hard’ way before I learnt these methods.
Demonstrating on animals that don’t move at a Camelidynamics workshop!
I took my initial course with Marty in the UK and immediately wanted to find out more about Tellington Touch and these methods. Fortunately there is a Tellington Touch Training centre at Tilley Farm near Bath. I started to attend courses there to learn about working with cats, dogs, small mammals, reptiles, birds and horses. Tellington Touch and the TTEAM way of working with animals was developed by Linda Tellington-Jones in the USA. Linda has been working in this field for over 35 years and is one of the top, if not the top, animal trainer in the world. Marty developed the TTEAM work for camelids in the 1980s. Through training at Tilley Farm and in the US I also qualified as a TTEAM practitioner in horses.
Marty McGee Bennett now runs a Practitioner course in Camelidynamics and after three years of training with Marty, primarily in the USA, I was one of the first two people to graduate. Shortly after starting training with Marty I bought my first llama from Paul Rose so that I could learn about them. Since then I have been given and have trained a considerable number of llamas with ‘challenging’ behaviours! I enjoy working with llamas because they have less of a tendency to panic than alpacas, they are very, very bright and are very responsive to the techniques. I have enjoyed raising nicely behaved llama babies and teaching my older ones to stand still whilst I hand shear, inject and train them to wear a pack.
Skater – one of my llamas and his first time out in his training pack.
I now teach all over the United Kingdom, in Scandinavia and in Europe. I do private and small group work and teach larger one and two day clinics and do many demonstrations at shows and events. Most people I teach about llamas and alpacas don’t have very much large animal experience prior to acquiring them and fall prey to advice from people who have. Unfortunately handling camelids is not really like handling horses or dogs – and it is my job to teach people how to understand them and work with them from that point of understanding. Watching people grow in skill, confidence and enjoyment when working with their animals is one of the joys of this work – as well as watching alpacas and llamas changing their challenging behaviour for cooperation and trust.
Training llamas in Oregon
Principles of Camelidynamics
Most people agree that the most important thing your animal can do is to stand still and do nothing. It will only do this if it feels safe. We teach methods for halter training, injecting, leading, toenail trimming and most of the other things you would ever want to do to your camelid which help you understand how to make a camelid feel safe. If it feels safe it doesn’t kick, spit, runaway or struggle. There are a number of important ways we teach you how to make your camelid feel safe. One of these is to handle it in such a way as to help it stay in balance - once you throw it off balance it starts to panic and ceases to listen to you. Another way is to give it an escape route; obviously we don’t want it to actually escape, but we mean by this that it needs to feel that if it needed to it could move to safety. Simple things like not standing directly in front of your animal blocking its escape route but standing alongside it next to its eye will make it feel less inclined to move.
Use containment not restraint with your camelids. Work with them in a small area - a pen about 2 metres by 2 metres will accommodate 2-4 alpacas, allowing them to move round, but not so quickly you are unable to work with them. A pen about 3 metres by 3 metres will accommodate 3-4 llamas.
Demonstration in a catch pen
These simple things can help you take some of the stress out of handling your animals, but Camelidynamics teaches many more techniques including those for;
- Haltering - which make it easy to retrain difficult to halter animals and make haltering easy and simple from the start;
- Leading - which teach the camelid a signal which once they understand takes all the ‘flightiness’ out of leading;
- Medical management – how to perform routine injecting, worming, drenching easily and without restraining the animal;
- Toenail trimming – how to work with the alpaca or llama to help it stay in balance and lift its own feet and how to trim toenails simply, easily and safely on the ground
- Working with cria – how to raise well adjusted, easy to handle babies.
Many people genuinely want to have an affectionate and mutually respectful relationship with their animals. When they attend a Camelidynamics course, most are sceptical that this can be achieved. However all leave with the understanding that by learning a few skills and changing a few details of their handling facilities this is genuinely and easily attainable.
All Camelidynamics workshops cover both alpaca and llama training and both species are welcome at any clinic. We believe that ‘cross-training’ i.e. working with a species you don’t own is very good for camelid handlers. However I will be running two primarily llama clinics this year in April and May 2009. You may also be interested to know that Marty McGee Bennett will be running an advanced clinic in the UK this year, open to any one who has attended a two day workshop previously. All details are on my website: www.carthveanalpacas.com/training.
My website with details of my courses and books, dvds and equipment is www.carthveanalpacas.com
Marty’s website is: www.camelidynamics.com
Details of Ttouch and Tteam training in the UK is : www.tilleyfarm.co.uk
Details of Linda Tellington-Jones and Ttouch and Tteam training worldwide is: www.ttouch.com
Haltering Alpacas for the First Time – seven easy steps
Why worry about how to put a halter on an alpaca? Why not just grab the alpaca round the neck, try to hold it relatively still, approximately in the position you need it to be and then put the halter on as quickly as possible before it moves?
The aim of this article is to try and persuade you that haltering your alpaca for the first time in a slow, controlled and balanced manner can save you a lot of trouble later and improve your relationship with your alpacas. In the short run, i.e. the first few times it could admittedly take you a few minutes longer, but in the long run, e.g. over the lifetime of the animal it can save you hours of anxiety, frustration and what I call ‘alpaca wrestling’. The minority of alpacas will tolerate pretty much whatever you do to them and learn to put up with it, but about the vast majority dislike being cornered, grabbed and haltered whilst being pulled off balance to the extent that some will learn skilled evasion techniques which can include kushing, ducking, weaving, pulling away, running away, rearing, spitting, screaming and other not-so-desirable habits. Either way, they don’t learn to trust you and like being handled by you very much.
To halter an alpaca for the first time in the least stressful way for both you and the alpaca I would suggest the following steps.
Step one. Work with your chosen trainee and one or two other alpacas in a small catch pen. 6’x 6’ to 8’x 8’ is ideal for alpacas. I like to put another catch pen next to my camelid trainee with another two or three alpacas in it to keep the anxiety level for all concerned very low. (Fig. 1). Work in a small catch pen.
Step two. Catch your trainee with the catch rope or wand slowly and carefully. Clip the catchrope round the neck of the alpaca nice and high below the ears and just tight enough so that it doesn’t slip down. (Fig. 2) I am going to assume that you are going to halter from the left hand side of the animal. Most of us are right handed, most of us lead from our right hand and consequently most halters fasten from the left*. Catch using a wand and catch rope.
Step three. Use the catch rope to help you keep the alpaca in balance. This will prevent it from moving its head or whole body away from you. We use a pre-emptive signal which is a very effective, but subtle way to prevent movement. Use Ttouch to get the alpaca used to pleasant contact from humans as well as preparing them for the sensation of the halter. Ttouch involves a one and a quarter circles in a clockwise direction of the skin. Use Ttouch everywhere the halter is going to touch i.e. over the bridge of the nose, under the chin, and round the back of the head. Ttouch everywhere the halter will touch.
A key point to remember here is not to put your right hand over to the other side of the alpaca over the head. Instead pass your left hand underneath the head. In this way you won’t through the alpaca off balance, nor will it think you are going to grab and wrestle it!
Step four: Make putting on the halter as easy as possible for the alpaca by making a very large ‘noseband’ on your halter. Fasten the crown piece (that is the bit that goes round the back of the head). Bring this slowly and gently towards its nose that it can see it coming. Place this over the bridge of the nose. Use your catch rope to steady the alpaca as you do this with gentle ‘ratchet’ signals – do not use a steady pull or it will use this pressure to pull in the opposite direction or will move off. Keep your fingers to the side of the halter e.g. under the rings on the cheek piece and when you offer it to the alpaca’s nose have it turned through 90 deg. This simple step keeps it open and stops it collapsing. Make a large ‘noseband’.
Once on the nose turn it towards you once again so that it sits on the nose. When you take it off – take it off slowly and gently in an ‘up and over’ movement so that the halter doesn’t drag on the nose.
Step five. Once the alpaca is happy about having the very wide ‘noseband’ put on and off it is time to put on the halter. Make sure you have the noseband set on its widest aperture. Ideally you will have a very adjustable halter (such as the Zephyr halter) which can then be adjusted to the correct tightness once on the alpaca. In putting the halter on, turn it 90 deg away from you so that the wide part of the noseband stays wide and the crown piece is pointing down towards the ground. Putting your thumb under the ring on the side also helps to keep it open. Slowly and gently bring the halter up over the nose.
Now concentrate – this is the hard part!
- Turn it towards you 90 deg. once it is on the nose, ideally right up by the eye
- Put the buckle in your right hand
- Pass your hand under the chin and pass the crown piece to yourself, picking it up with the fingers of your right hand.
- Fasten the two parts of the crown piece.
- Tighten up the crown piece so that you can only get one finger between the head and the halter
- Fasten the noseband – leave enough room for the alpaca to chew and eat comfortably.
Pass your hand under the head to pass the crown piece to your right hand
Step six. Once your alpaca is happy to be caught with the catch rope and wand you can progress to catching with the midline catch and then putting on the Halter Helper, which is shorter webbing version and helps you balance the alpaca in a similar way to the catch rope. It is unwise to train them to stand still and then put on a halter without a catchrope or halter helper as it is a step backwards for them in terms of handling, and one which usually leads to the alpaca or you (or both) being off balance and moving off.
Using the midline catch to put on the halter helper
Step seven. Taking the halter off. For the same reasons that putting the halter on correctly helps the alpaca stay calm, quiet and cooperative; taking the halter off in the correct way ensures that the alpaca stays in balance and doesn’t move off until we are ready for it to do so. In this way you don’t end up with alpacas who snatch their heads out of the head collar and run – or worse, run whilst the head collar is half off and run in a panic stricken manner round the field with head collar and lead hanging off them.
To take the halter off: Concentrate again!
- Unbuckle the two ends of the crown piece
- Put the buckle and the long end of the crown piece in your right hand
- Slide your left hand forward to the foremost ring on the nose band
- Let go of the buckle but keep the right hand holding the long part of the crown piece
- Pick up the catch rope or halter helper with your right hand
- Slide the noseband up and over the nose but keep holding with both parts to balance the alpaca.
- Let go of the crown piece, whilst using the catchrope or halterhelper to balance the alpaca and stop it
Make sure you don’t drag the halter down over the nose as you take it off
So there you have in seven easy steps the painless way to train your alpacas to stand quietly every time you put a halter on. To make it easier for yourself you can work with your babies for 5 minutes a week, catching them with a catch rope, asking them for a balanced halt with it and doing Ttouch over their noses. When you come to halter (and I do this when the alpaca is about 5-6 months old) it is ridiculously easy.
Balance the alpaca with both ends of the halter before releasing the crown piece with your right hand whilst holding on to the catch rope or halter helper.
*We make a Zephyr (Second Chance halter) halter that is put on and fastens from the right hand side. This can work wonders with alpacas that are very resistant to being haltered.
For more information about training alpacas and Camelidynamics methods, courses, halters and equipment have a look at www.carthveanalpacas.com or e-mail me on firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright: J. Taylor-Browne
Why do obstacles?
By Julie Taylor-Browne
Wallking in/under and through obstacles is known as ground work, an integral part of Camelidynamics (for camelids) and Tteam (for horses) training developed by Marty McGee Bennett and Linda Tellington-Jones respectively. For people who are new to alpacas this can seem a little strange and perhaps unnecessary; ‘dressage for alpacas’ is one somewhat derogatory comment I have heard. In this article I’d like to describe what we do and explain why we do it.
The first point I would like to make is that ground work is not ‘advanced’ training. Over the course of the last three years training as a Camelidynamics and Tteam practitioner I’ve seen obstacles used to train an alpaca to lead on its very first time out on a head collar right through to animals who are impossible for their owners to handle. Nearly all the animals I have seen have benefited from working with obstacles.
Why Do Obstacles?
I believe there are at least six reasons why we should teach our alpacas to do obstacles.
- To facilitate learning. For a young or previously untrained alpaca, being haltered and led the first time can be a bit of an overwhelming experience. They may be tempted to leap or to run past you and to go back to their friends. Walking them through obstacles gives them an opportunity to focus on something else. Whilst they are doing this they are learning to ‘listen’ to the signals you are giving through the lead rope. Alpacas are intelligent animals who enjoy stimulation and learning new things. Use this to your advantage to streamline teaching them to lead.
- To develop trust and communication between alpaca and handler. The concept of leading implies that the handler has to be in front. You cannot lead from beside the head and definitely not when the alpaca is in front of you! Your job is to get in front and show the alpaca where to go. If you want it to go under a washing line, you will have to go in front and bend down to get under the line and then ask it to lower its head and walk underneath. It is your job to be very clear where you want the alpaca to go, and not be heavy handed in giving your signals. When we teach these methods we get people to lead each other to experience how light the signals can be. Once the alpaca understands your role, it will start to listen to your signals and respond to you in a very rewarding way.
- To correct bad habits. Alpacas can be readily retrained out of bad habits such as rushing forward past you, walking too closely to you and being easily distracted with a ‘scattered’ focus.
- To encourage coordination, balance and self-carriage. Some alpacas look awful when they are being lead. They lower their heads or raise them prior to bolting and/or they shy away from the handler. Obstacles teach them to carry their own weight and take responsibility for their own balance. It is the handlers responsibility not to give too strong signals, to give steady pulls or to get too close to the head. Alpacas trained and handled using these methods are much more like to move freely around the show ring with a flowing gait.
- To develop confidence and self-possession. Obstacles are invaluable for giving nervous alpacas confidence. Overcoming scary and difficult challenges is what makes them – and us! – more successful in life by giving us the confidence that we can overcome the next challenge as well. Scary trailers, running children, barking dogs, noisy crowds, shows and all manner of new situations can be handled by them with greater equanimity and confidence.
- It is fun for them and us. I am constantly surprised at how brave alpacas can be when faced with new situations and challenges, as well as by their capacity for enjoyment. This summer the West Cornwall Camelid Association organised a fun day for alpacas and llamas, 20 animals and 30 humans participated, the vast majority of the animals had never done an obstacle and some had only just learned how to lead. Nearly every animal completed the course and thoroughly enjoyed themselves. Camelids are intelligent and enjoy stimulation and fun. Doing obstacles and competing is a fabulous use for our geldings and younger animals, and, I believe an area we should be developing.
West Cornwall Camelid Association Fun Day, September 2006
What are the obstacles?
1. Cavalletti or ground poles. The very simplest and most basic are a set of three or more poles (you can use horse jump poles or pvc pipes) at least 6 ft long on the ground at least three ft apart. The alpaca is asked to walk over these in a straight line. As described in my last article for this magazine, ideally this would be done with the aid of the lead rope being fastened on the side of the halter which enables the handler to give much clearer and lighter signals and a wand to show the alpaca where you want them to go and for you to use to support the stop command.
2. The Labyrinth. You can use six of poles to construct the labyrinth to lead your animal through and asking them for a balanced stop at the end of each long section. This enables you to regroup and reposition yourself using the lead and the wand for the tricky right hand turn whilst asking your alpacas to stand quietly and wait for your command to walk on and turn. The Tteam wand is ideal here for showing them the
3. The Star or fan: raise one end of three to five poles on tyres, bale, milk crate or feed bucket etc. The ends of the poles resting on the ground are usually placed about four feet apart. Adjust this distance as necessary so the alpaca can successfully negotiate the poles. You may need to make the distance wider, lower the poles at the raised end, or place every other pole flat on the ground in the beginning. (Make sure you are on the outside of the star unless you have very long legs…..)
4. Pick up sticks. Place (or drop) the poles on the ground so that they lie over each other in a random way. Encouraging an alpaca to carefully pick its way through prepares them for unexpected ground hazards such as new surfaces or fallen branches.
5. Jumps. Start with poles on the ground, progress to raising one end with one end on the ground then both ends on a support or hay bale. Great exercise for handler as well…….
6. Other obstacles. These include whatever you have to hand! In previous clinics I have run we have utilised many different obstacles for training purposes these have included leading alpacas:
- under washing lines.
- around children’s climbing frames,
- between raised vegetable beds
- up and down mounds of earth,
- round enclosures of chickens, ducks and other livestock not previously encountered
- between trees, and
- through ornamental gardens including under pergolas and over bridges.
At my farm where I take ‘difficult’ animals for retraining, the animals graduate when they will walk happily in and out of a trailer and accompany me on a walk through our woods where they have to cross a bridge over a river, walk alongside the river and jump over fallen trees all without refusing or panicking.
Using the Tteam wand
Tips for Success
Chunking things down. In order to develop coordination, trust and cooperation between you and your alpaca it is vital that each training session is a success. Don’t work for too long, half an hour is plenty when they are first new to this as they are learning a lot, very quickly. More importantly, don’t force an animal to do anything they are frightened of; if you do you will just teach them that they can’t trust you and they were right to be frightened! For example if they are frightened of the washing line you can try a) taking the washing off, b) raising the height of the washing line c) walking the alpaca up to it and alongside it a few times.
Give them time. Allow your alpaca time to look at the obstacle and decide that they are going to do it. Let them look down at the ramp and than up at the roof of a trailer and chances are that they will decide it is safe and proceed up the ramp (covering the ramp with straw can also make it seem a lot less threatening).
Finding out more
Obstacles and ground work are an integral part of all Camelidynamics and Tteam training; we always include them when teaching an animal to lead for the first time. At Camelidynamics advanced training courses in the US, we invite a range of ‘difficult’ alpacas and llamas to participate and the ground work is a vital part of their rehabilitation. There are a range of books available on training camelids, horses and dogs using these methods. In the UK I run courses throughout the year and am usually available to answer training queries on e-mail.
Marty McGee Bennett: www.camelidynamics.com
The Camelid Companion by Marty McGee Bennett
Linda Tellington-Jones and Tteam: www.tteam-ttouch.com
‘A Playground for Higher Learning’ by Robyn Hood. www.tteam-ttouch.com
A Tale of Two Handlers – A case study in Containment not Restraint!
By Julie Taylor-Browne
On Camelidynamics Courses we teach how to handle alpacas and llamas in such a way that they stand still for us. We do this by making them feel safe and a key element in this is by not restraining them but containing them. That means working in a small area where they are free to move if they need to, but not so much that it is makes our job too hard. We aim to keep them in balance, because a camelid out of balance is a worried - and therefore more difficult to handle- camelid. When they are restrained in the usual arm wrapped round the neck ‘hold’, we invariably throw them (and ourselves) out of balance and end up doing what I call – ‘alpaca wrestling’. I have noticed a tendency amongst people whose animals do not behave in the way they would like to use adjectives such as ‘wilful’ and ‘stubborn’. Yet the more I work with animals, particularly camelids I have come to appreciate that prey animals such as camelids react in ways we don’t want, simply because of fear, pain or fear of pain and that it is our job as owners to reduce these in any way we are able. One such ‘difficult’ alpaca was Murphy……
Murphy is a fully grown, gelded male, owned by very nice, caring alpaca owner and was bred by a well known and well respected breeder. I had met this male on a previous occasion because he was very resistant to having his legs picked up to have his toenails trimmed and would struggle and leap about. In the words of his owner – ‘when restrained he just goes ballistic!’ His owner and her husband are retired, and frankly, this boy was too strong for them and he knew it. I had shown them how to balance Murphy in a Camelidynamics technique known as the Bracelet and had trimmed Murphy’s toenails whilst they were on the ground, an approach that was much safer for all concerned. The Bracelet is not a hold or grip, simply a balance and when combined with a ratchet signal, a way of helping the alpaca stay still.
The owner had called out the vet to examine Murphy who had a jaw abscess, a common enough occurrence in animals of this age. The owner held him quietly in the Bracelet and he stood nicely waiting for the vet to examine him. Unfortunately when the vet took over she handled him in a way which threw him off balance and she then restrained him tightly to examine and then inject him. The alpaca struggled and she called for backup in the form of the owner’s husband. At this point in the drama Murphy managed to rear and throw the husband onto the ground, he also cracked the back of his head on an upright post and was lucky not to sustain a worse injury. The vet managed to inject him anyway and left muttering that she had never encountered such a strong wilful alpaca and that huge bulls were easier to handle. Her recommendation was to build a crush or chute in which to handle him.
The owner contacted me to get my comments on some plans she had seen on the internet for handling chutes that could be made at home. However, the plans offered no advice on how to entice the animal into it and how to stop it struggling once in there. The proposed chute looked dangerous to me – with plenty of opportunities for the animal to catch its leg and break it. Equally, I have heard of similar wooden chutes being destroyed in a matter of seconds by scared camelids!
In the meantime matters had gone from bad to worse, the first vet went on holiday and another vet arrived. 6’2” and a rugby player he felt confident that Murphy wouldn’t be a problem – unfortunately Murphy, who conveniently has his centre of gravity a lot lower than a tall vet, struggled and resisted and was generally very difficult. This vet advised the owner that a) the abscess could be very bad and therefore very expensive possibly necessitating a visit to the surgery and then possibly to the veterinary school (with added sedation costs, of course) and then b) that Murphy was such a dangerous animal euthanasia should be considered. Fortunately the caring owner wanted time to think and didn’t let the vet do the deed there and then. I spoke to her the morning of Murphy’s fatal appointment.
I take animals for retraining when they are too difficult for the owners to handle. Rearing is, to an alpaca, a successful way to stop their handler doing something they are frightened of or which hurts. A rearing alpaca is a scary thing as they are taller than us and are better able to knock us off our balance. In at least two cases I know of, the owners have found them too difficult and before remedial help came in the form of Camelidynamics, the alpacas also faced an uncertain future.
I told the owner to hold off the execution and that we would sort something out. Since Marty McGee ran her first Advanced Clinic in the UK last September we now have a number of skilled and talented Camelidynamics Handlers in the UK. I was very grateful to be offered help immediately by both Helen MacDonald and Jay Holland who were both within an hour’s travelling time. Jay, who has the Handler Seal, was able to drive over to Murphy, halter, load and resettle him on his farm almost immediately. Twenty four hours later, Murphy was being handled safely and successfully and his abscess was being treated. The first photo shows Murphy being contained calmly and effectively whilst being injected.
I use the bracelet for nearly all routine husbandry tasks in my herd, including injecting, drawing blood, scanning and I recently used it to hold a 4 year old male during a 20 minute operation on his eye. No sedation was needed, although the vet and I were prepared to do this if needed. Where animals are too frightened to have this much contact with handlers, we have a number of other ‘tools’ we can use. All of these follow the principles of keeping the animal in balance, containing them and not restraining them.
The second photo shows another method for toenail trimming and injecting. We have simply made a small catch pen under which you can reach to trim nails on the ground. A client of mine has taken this concept even further and has taken out the bottom bar to make access easier and has put down paving slabs to make a solid surface. I tempt my animals into the normal sized catch pen where I feed them everyday and then simply introduce another hurdle once they are in to make it smaller. I can also inject in the same configuration. To help alpacas feel safe there are also other alpacas around them and next to them in catch pens. I would never separate a single alpaca off to do any routine husbandry task.
I hope that this article has helped to show that camelids don’t need to be restrained – and that handling them with respect and understanding by learning a few new skills can make your life and theirs much easier, more pleasant – and in some cases, perhaps even longer….
If you would like to find out more about Camelidynamics, including courses, training, equipment and Handlers, please go to www.carthveanalpacas.com or e-mail Julie at email@example.com
Preparing your alpaca for showing.
By Julie Taylor-Browne
When we take our alpacas to a show we are probably asking the most we are ever likely to ask from them. They are often hurriedly halter trained, separated from their friends in the herd, loaded onto a trailer for what can be the first time, taken to an unfamiliar location, confined in a pen for up to three days with no opportunity to graze or exercise, taken out of their pen on their own, led into a show ring (sometimes with an unfamiliar and inexperienced handler) where they have their teeth, top knot, neck, tail, fleece and, if they are a male, testicles examined by a judge who has another 250 alpacas still to examine. The show ring (and the path to it) is thronged with small children with helium balloons or candy floss, barking dogs, people trying to stroke them and, to top it all, a loud tannoy will be issuing forth loud shrieks of feedback noise (oh yes, and the ring will probably be near the show jumping ring, backfiring steam engine display and/or fairground).
Throughout this we want them to be calm, quiet, move with grace and presence round the ring and not rear, run, cush, struggle or spit at anyone during the whole experience.
It is a testimony to the alpaca as a species that any of them do manage to achieve the above and some actually enjoy the whole show experience. Sadly, not all do and there are many alpacas who would do well in shows but are 'too difficult' to handle in the ring and who stay at home. There are also many, many owners who would like to show but have little idea how to prepare their alpacas successfully for the show ring.
I hope to give you some ideas in this article on how you might go about this and to share with you some of the steps I take when doing 'show prep’. All my work is grounded in Camelidynamics methods developed by Marty McGee Bennett for camelids and in TTEAM, the comprehensive horse and animal training methods developed by Linda Tellington-Jones and to them and to the other TTEAM instructors I am eternally grateful.
It is not possible to talk about preparing alpacas successfully without explaining that showing for me is the culmination of the whole system of Camelidynamics which starts from the very first time we work with a cria in its first week or month, and also encompasses how we ask an animal to stand still, how we develop its trust in us when we handle it and work with it when we halter and teach it to lead. We do all of these steps with kindness and respect for the animal and aim never to distress them or for them to lose their trust in us. Handling an animal well is a skill that can be learnt and like any skill, one that improves with practice.
Without the space to describe in detail all the above, although this is all covered (and more!) in the Camelid Companion by Marty McGee Bennett I would like to run through a few key steps for preparing your alpaca for showing.
- Handle and train your alpacas in a catch pen. Working in a small area so that your alpaca is contained and not restrained is one of the most important features of Camelidynamics work. Catch pens are normally square pens made of alpaca/llama hurdles about 6ft x 6ft up to 8ft by 8ft and hold 2-3 animals in a pen. If you can catch and balance your alpaca and help it to stand still whilst not restraining it you have already covered a huge amount of preparation for the ring. We teach our alpacas to halter and the leading signal in the catch pen. The catch pen is the place to prepare your alpaca for teeth/fleece/testicle examinations. If they can’t stand still in a pen and have their fleece examined they really aren’t going to do it in a show ring! The Camelidynamics methods use Ttouches or Tellington Touches, which the animals thoroughly enjoy, the ones we use on either side of the backbone, starting at the withers are called Abalones, a one and a quarter circle in a clockwise direction using the whole of your hand, with your fingers together. From here, you can start to part and lift the fleece. Later, practice this with one person holding the animals head, either in a technique we call the bracelet, or with a catch rope, or on a halter. You can move your abalones down towards the hips, do some circles around the tail and even circle the tail, a technique which reduces tension, before moving your circles down to the testicles.
If there any judges reading this please be gentle when examining testicles! For animals that haven’t had this sort of preparation examining the testicles in a too hasty or heavy handed fashion can lead to some challenging behaviours later in the show ring! We also use the Ttouches for preparing the face and lips for teeth checking. To practice showing the teeth, move the fingers of your right hand down so that you can use the tips of your fingers just inside the bottom part of the nose band to balance the head and then just slide your left hand up from the bracelet position to the lips and ‘scissor’ the lips apart with the index and middle fingers of your left hand. This way you don't have to wrap your arm around the neck, losing the ability to keep your body away from the animal and preserve the ability to take a step in any direction to keep the animal in balance. There are also a lot of animals that react when you put your arm around the neck no matter how carefully you do it.
Don’t expect your alpaca to be able to do all of this all at once! Build up to it slowly and ideally work with your cria a few times a month to get them used to this and to the idea of standing still with you near to them. If you are working with an adult that is new to you, five minutes two to three times a week is ample for pen work. Build on success rather than practice misbehaviour. If you restrain your alpaca whilst trying to do this work - it will simply learn new evasion techniques!
Tail circles in catch pen
- Halter Fit. The first, and probably the most crucial, step is to have a well-fitting halter. The nose band should be well back towards the eye, the crown piece (the bit that goes round the back of the head) should be pretty tight (you should be able to get one finger underneath) as this is the part of the halter that holds the nose band in place. The chinpiece should be snug but not tight so that the noseband and chin piece should make contact all around the face. Before you put the halter on – open the noseband up fully to its widest extent, put it on, and then fasten it at the crown piece.
Then tighten up the chin piece. The noseband should be situated on the bony part of the nose and there should be no possibility of it slipping forward onto the cartilage. If it does this can make the alpaca panic in the ring! Five to ten minutes after you have haltered the animal – check the fit again. The heat generated by the animal, and/or the heat of the sun will cause the halter to expand and it will have loosened and you will probably need to tighten it again at the crown piece.
Correctly fitting headcollar with lead on side ring
- Leading. I recommend that you clip the lead rope to the side of the halter (on the front part of the forward most ring). This gives you much better control over the animal’s movements with much smaller signals from you. These signals become imperceptible to onlookers because you are able to pre-empt any unwanted behaviour before it happens. On our courses, we give our participants the opportunity to feel the difference between a lead rope clipped at the bottom of the halter and on the side. Both ‘handler’ and ‘animal’ are always surprised at the much larger scale of the signals needed when the lead is clipped on the bottom ring and the amount of pressure experienced by the animal on the back of the head. This makes them much more inclined to pull back to reduce the pressure on the head which is the exact opposite response of the one we want!
I teach alpacas to lead on a long line and with a wand. The benefit of the long line is that I can be a good distance in front of them and therefore they are more inclined to move when I ask them. If I am too close they are reluctant to move forward. The combination of the long line and the wand also prevents them from rushing past me. Horse leads are too short for this exercise.
Once I have taught the alpaca to lead we shorten up the lead a little and go out for an interesting walk. I always take my alpacas on an interesting and challenging (but not scary!) first outing because I want them to listen to my signals and learn to trust me. At my farm I use a field with trees that we weave in and out of, I have also used my stable yard, my lane, my smallholding area and my garden. I never halter them in the field they live in and then lead them straight out into that field. It is too familiar to them and they are too keen to get back to it!
||If possible I enlist some help and take two or three handlers with two or three alpacas. When the animals are walking reasonably and confidently we practice ‘going away and coming back,’ that is the majority of the group stays in one place whilst one is lead away on a little detour. The single animal has to practice moving away from the group and then walking back to them with self control. The handler has to practice resisting the temptation to pull back on the lead rope and making sure they stay in front, using their wand to make sure the alpaca moves slowly back to the group. I always do this exercise on the enjoyable walk section of the training when the animals are very relaxed. I’m sure I don’t need to tell you how very herd-focussed alpacas are. Some have never been separated from their friends since the day they are born so asking them to start doing this on show day can be too, too much!
Out for an interesting walk
If possible I enlist some help and take two or three handlers with two or three alpacas. When the animals are walking reasonably and confidently we practice ‘going away and coming back,’ that is the majority of the group stays in one place whilst one is lead away on a little detour. The single animal has to practice moving away from the group and then walking back to them with self control. The handler has to practice resisting the temptation to pull back on the lead rope and making sure they stay in front, using their wand to make sure the alpaca moves slowly back to the group. I always do this exercise on the enjoyable walk section of the training when the animals are very relaxed. I’m sure I don’t need to tell you how very herd-focussed alpacas are. Some have never been separated from their friends since the day they are born so asking them to start doing this on show day can be too, too much!
- Work your alpacas through some obstacles including a mock show ring. We set up an obstacle course in a field. Most of it is permanently set up so that I can train new arrivals, alpacas here for retraining and cria. The obstacles include a labyrinth, weaving poles, cavalletti or ground poles, a set up for asking animals to ‘limbo dance’ under different heights of tape and a number of other obstacles. Details of these can be found in a previous article*. For show prep I also set up a simple square made out of white plastic horse tape poles and some white horse tape. We take the animals though all the obstacles and then into the show ring, asking them to practice going round the outside, going across it diagonally, lining up beside each other, and then having their handler practice touching fleece, and showing teeth. When they are happy with this, the mock judge approaches and the handler handles whilst the judge judges. This is the hardest part for the animals so make sure you aren’t rushing the final step. Make sure your animals are happy to be handled by you in the ring first. Food can be a great distraction, I don’t use it to train, but it does have its uses for helping animals relax when the ‘judge’ approaches.
A balanced halt in the labyrinth
- Train yourself! The next point on training your animal to behave in the ring is to train yourself! Don’t tug or drag the animal along. Alpacas are very good at lowering their centre of mass by extending their neck, widening their feet and shifting their weight to the rear in response to steady pressure on the head. If they plant you need to ease off on the lead rope completely, relax, take a deep breath and then give it the signal you have taught them when you ‘ask’ them to move. We teach a gentle ‘ratchet’ signal on our courses. Once they are walking – don’t put steady pressure on the rope, aim to have a slight ‘belly’ in the line, this will encourage them to have self-carriage and step out nicely. The second you put pressure on the line, you are throwing them off balance and affecting their gait. Next time you are at show; watch the other handlers and their lead ropes and see this for yourself!
When asking your alpaca to stand quietly in the ring – this is another opportunity for you to watch yourself, you will need to hold the lead rope quite close to the halter, but again, watch there is no steady pressure, and there is a small amount of slack in the lead rope. If you are bored or nervous or surreptitiously communicating with your colleagues outside the ring be careful that you don’t a) jiggle the line annoyingly b) be heavy handed and drag the animals head down and c) put pressure in the line, pulling the alpaca into you. If you pull their heads toward you – the law of equal and opposite forces mean that their bottoms will swing out and you will have one of those circling alpacas that we see all too often.
It is very amusing for the public to watch alpacas leap into the air when the judge comes to look at the fleece, but it is less amusing for the alpaca, the handler, the ring steward and the judge. Some pointers may help here:
If you know your animal is likely to do this, you may become heavier handed and put steady pressure on the lead rope or try to hold the animal down. Because both of these encourage the animals to leap up, counter-intuitively the handler needs to lighten up at this point.
You may get nervous when the judge approaches. Try to breath. Better still, when you exhale, exhale slowly and audibly (to the alpaca). This makes a big difference to both of you. Your level of tension, your tendency to heavy handedness and your body language will all be affected, and will in turn affect your alpaca. As you already know, alpacas are sensitive and in tune with what you are feeling.
Make a virtual catch pen in the ring. This can be achieved if the handler stands about a foot in front of the alpaca, the judge stands on one side and leans over to check the fleece and the ring steward stands on the opposite side from the judge. The handler can have one hand on the lead rope and one on the alpaca’s neck and is able to rebalance the alpaca should it start to shift its weight just before making an unwanted move.
Finally some tips for helping your alpaca relax at a show.
- Practice loading and unloading your alpacas before the show. Put straw on the ramp to make it seem safer. Give hay in the trailer to eat.
- Make sure they have hay to eat in the pen, as chewing relaxes them.
- Take their halters off between classes to ensure proper eating, drinking and ruminating. Improper digestion can lead to diarrhea.
- Make sure there are some pellets of dropping in the pen when you first put your animals in their pens. They hate to go on clean straw and will get stressed ‘holding it in.’ If you don’t give them the opportunity to let them go in the pen by putting in a few droppings they invariably either walk very strangely around the ring or even worse go to the toilet in the middle of it. Put droppings in your trailer as well otherwise they will have a very uncomfortable journey.
- If you know ttouch, do this in the collecting ring, particularly mouth work.
- Smile...........and enjoy yourself.
References and links
* Why do Obstacles? Alpaca Magazine. Winter 206/07 pp. 41-45.
You can find out more about Julie Taylor-Browne and Camelidynamics including courses, The Camelid Companion, DVDs and equipment on: www.carthveanalpacas.com,
Find Marty McGee Bennett and the Camelidynamics Guild on www.camelidynamics.com
and Linda Tellington-Jones and TTEAM on www.tteam-ttouch.com
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Alpaca Husbandry and Handling, the Camelidynamics way.
My topic for this article is how to work with our animals in the calm, quiet, organized and straightforward way we always hoped it would be. I recently read the following quote by Michael Friedman. ‘The scientific name for an animal that neither runs from or fights its enemies is lunch’. I think it is worth bearing this in mind when we wonder why our animals don’t stand still when we want them to or behave in a calm, cooperative way. Because of the way they are typically handled we have caused them to think we are the enemies and they are potentially lunch.
When I bought my first alpacas in 2000 I bought them, like many of us do, standing in a field. They looked very calm and restful and I looked forward to interacting with them. Well, it turned out that there was nothing calm or restful about handling them (apart from feeding them) and I very quickly learnt that grab and wrestle (or as one of my students described it ‘smash and grab’) was never going to do it for me or them. I’m 5’10, quite strong and reasonably fit and they outran and outmaneuvered me nearly every time. On the times I did win, they often cushed, screamed, spat, leapt or just trembled with fear. I won’t ennumerate the ways I tried to round up/herd/contain and restrain my alpacas – but suffice it to say whatever bad experiences you have had with your animals – I have been there and done that and I now have a different tee-shirt. None of us were having any fun at this point – and then, thank goodness, I discovered Marty McGee Bennett and Camelidynamics. The first article I read by her was called ‘Let your facilities do your training and handling for you’. I felt that this was the first sensible thing I had read about alpaca handling and by implementing some of its recommendations things began to improve immediately.
Facilities and Techniques
I now also have a permanent indoor set up, and that is my camelid handling facility, but even this has the flexibility to be used for weighing fat ponies, lambing sheep, being a maternity unit, an isolation ward and a shearing shed – oh yes and I give courses in it as well.
The first thing I did was to make a series of 6’x6’ catch pens along the side of my alpaca pastures and feed my animals in there. I would shut them in while they were feeding and then when they had finished eating I would handle them and do whatever husbandry tasks needed doing. Back then there were only short sheep hurdles (now there are taller llama/alpaca hurdles) and to be sure we had some nervous animals leap out. Interestingly, however, I noticed that as I became a better handler, the less there was of leaping out. Soon, no one leapt at all, except animals coming from other owners who were very nervous of being handled at first. I began training llamas shortly afterwards and even though they could step over these hurdles, they just didn’t because I had learnt how to make them not see me as the ‘enemy’.
Fig 1. Youngsters in their catch pens
I work mostly on my own when I train and handle my own camelids and have found that they prefer this as they know me and what to expect. I asked my shearer and my vet to respect the way that I handle my animals and if they didn’t agree I would find another shearer or vet. It doesn’t take any longer doing it my way, in most cases it is far more efficient, and in all cases the animals are much, much calmer and quieter.
There are two aspects to respectful and efficient handling. The first is your facilities. The second is your techniques. If you come on a Camelidynamics course you will learn many of the techniques that we are unable to go into in this article.
I’m going to cover facilities first because I could have the best techniques in the world and still not be able to handle my camelid properly because I lack a few basic tools. When a client asks me to do private work I stipulate that I will need
one or more catch pens (depending on the number of animals). People often tell me that they have a field shelter and won’t that do? Without going into too much detail, it won’t because there is no escape route and the camelid feels trapped in a scary dark cave with a predator (who has normally chased them round the field to get them in there and is standing in the doorway waving their arms up and down) and yes - you’ve guessed it – feels as though they will shortly be lunch. Perhaps it is not surprising they aren’t calm at this point. Field shelters are also too big for alpaca handling. For more information on escape routes and penning please have a look at Marty’s excellent book, the Camelid Companion.
Fig. 2 Tape providing a temporary field division
The other thing that often happens is that I arrive at a farm to do my client work and the alpacas are up on a hillside in a ten acre field (often with a stand of trees in the middle). It is total luxury for the alpacas – but I have wasted a lot of training time getting the alpacas in – because guess what? the owner tells me that they always come in for food but they won’t today for some reason…… A shearer I know has what he calls ‘drivebys’, he arrives at a farm to shear their alpacas but the owner can’t get them in – so he drives off to the next appointment...
Fig. 3 Herding using herding tape and herding wands
The point of this is that you need to have a 100% reliable way of getting your camelids where you want them, when you want them there, which doesn’t depend on having other people to help. Being able to divide the field into smaller sections – even on a temporary basis using plastic posts and tape is going to make your life so much easier. If you leave the posts up all the time, the alpacas will quickly learn that they are very flimsy and trample on through them. Just put them up when you need them.
By using simple tools such as herding wands and tape there is no need to charge round the field trying to round up your alpacas and get cross and frustrated. A bucket of food works wonders when they are doing something routine and expected but I swear my alpacas can smell the vet or the shearer from about five miles away and will not come into my barn for food on the day they are due!
As your herd gets bigger or you just want an easier life you will probably build laneways. Mine are conveniently the width of my outstretched arms holding two herding wand. Laneways do not need to be permanent and again, can be put up and taken down as needed.
Fig. 4 Herding animals down laneways
Laneways can lead to a series of catch pens or a handling facility. The idea of handling facilities is that you can achieve a smooth throughput of animals, keeping them as calm as possible and working with a minimum of effort on the part of the handler. Ideally, they are set up so that just one person should be able to do everything required. These can be bought, at a price, or made much more cheaply. The scale of what you need depends on how many animals you have or how many you plan to have in the future. If you have three pet animals, I recommend you just buy four alpaca/llama hurdles.
You don’t need to spend a fortune on catch pens. If you plan on putting 2-3 alpacas per 6’ by 6’ catch pen and work out how many you plan to pen at a time, that will give you an indication as to how many you need. If you have a herd of more than 100, you are going to need a variation on this handling system in a yard or a barn down runways or laneways. Catch pens don’t need to be made from metal, although the hurdles are convenient as they can be broken down and moved to another area. However many hurdles I have, I could always use more as I am always moving them from one place to another. Currently I am using them to train a little rescued mule in my horse field and four reindeer in one of my barns.
Fig. 5 Purpose built facility
We shear in my shed, where a fields worth of animals are calmly brought in at a time. They all watch the shearing and they are moved through a small gate from the adjacent pen to the pen with the mats and the shearer. Whilst they don’t particularly like the experience, they have a less stressful one because there is no chasing or grabbing or dragging. It is this that makes shearing stressful, not the actual shearing. If the handler or the shearer is stressed this will transmit itself to the animal, so organize your facilities well in advance, practice bringing the animals in and have the Bach Flower Rescue Remedy to hand….
The routine husbandry procedures on healthy animals are injecting, drenching and cutting toenails. You may also microchip, tag ears, scan and need your alpaca to stand still for veterinary examinations, and with the problems of bald feet you may also need to put on some kind of potion. To learn the techniques for handling your animals really well once you have got them in their catch pens, I’m afraid you are going to have to come on a Camelidynamics Course, read the Camelid Companion and/or watch some of Marty’s DVDs. We teach the husbandry part of the course on the second day because people have spent day one learning some of the techniques and honing their skills including how to consider their body position when in the pen. For example, if you face the same way as the alpaca, and stand level with the eye they will relax much more in the pen. The Camelidynamics way is not the way many people handle their animals because we find, for example, that grabbing them by the neck often makes them struggle. Once we have given them some basic training (the Camelidynamics way) for routine handling we use three incredibly useful technique for catching and holding them in balance, called the midline catch, the bracelet and a simple piece of equipment called a halter helper.
We use the midline catch and bracelet instead of the ‘grab and grip’. To catch using the midline catch, stand in the centre of the pen and wait until the alpaca is lined up with the side of the pen. Smoothly and slowly bring you hand up the neck until just under the ears. Put your thumb on first – on the side closest to you then put your fingers lightly around the other side. It is called the midline catch because the ‘V’ between your thumb and fingers should be on the midline.
Fig. 6 The Midline Catch
To then go into the bracelet bring your other hand up until it is just under the bottom lip where there is a groove for your fingers to slide along. There are three things to remember:
1) The idea of the bracelet is to keep the alpaca in balance so make sure its neck is in line with its spine and between its front legs.
2) Keep your elbows up to stop your hands dropping, and
3) Don’t grip! This is more of a balance rather than a grip. If your fingers close tightly on their necks – they will struggle. If you know TTouch – you can also use this to help the alpaca relax and enjoy standing still.
Fig. 7 The Bracelet
If I am handling animals for the vet or the scanner I will catch then with the midline catch and then hold them in the Bracelet. However, if I am helping someone with husbandry tasks, who doesn’t know how to catch, bracelet and balance his or her alpacas. I will catch the alpaca with the midline catch and put the halter helper on. This is a simple piece of equipment with a clip at one end and two rings in the middle that enables it to be adjusted to a snug fit around the neck. I will then ask them to hold the animal using the halter helper. Usually the handling helper plus the containment provided by the catch pen helps the alpaca not move around too much. We normally work with at least two animals in the catch pen so the others take up space as well and limit the alpaca’s options for movement.
Fig. 8 The Halter Helper
To put the handling helper on, I estimate the size of the alpaca’s neck and adjust the rings so that it will go round the alpacas neck easily. I then pass it to myself, clip it and adjust it so that it is as high on the neck as possible and tighten it so that I can only get one finger underneath. This enables the person at its head to ask the alpaca to stand still by giving a ratchet signal to preempt its movement.
Injecting. The Camelidynamics way to inject is to lean over and inject on the opposite side from you. This way if the alpaca moves away from the needle, it moves in towards you. If you are on your own, put a number of animals in the pen to make a bit of a squash and move amongst them doing the same thing. It really doesn’t matter if they move slightly as you are able to go with them and they can’t move too far because of the others in the pen. We always inject in the loose skin just above the shoulder joint, just down from the withers.
Fig. 9 Injecting using the Bracelet technique
Toenail Trimming. On a Camelidynamics Course we show you how to balance and hold your camelid so that they can remain in balance whilst letting you lift the feet to hold for toenail trimming. Much of the difficulty in trimming arises simply because of the way the foot is grabbed and the alpaca thrown off balance. However, an alternative method is to trim their toenails whilst the foot is on the ground using the following steps.
- Have a person at the head using either the bracelet or the halter helper to help the alpaca remain in balance. They should try not to stand directly in front of the alpaca but slightly to the side.
- Both of you should work on the same side as alpacas hate to be an alpaca sandwich.
- Have the toenail trimmer face the rear of the alpaca and position themselves as far forward as possible. This will keep you safer from kicking legs.
- The trimmer shouldn’t touch or hold the alpaca anywhere.
- Stroke the ground in front of the nail you are going to trim, the stroke the nail with the nippers. If your alpaca is comfortable and doesn’t move then open up the nippers, keep them parallel to the ground and nip the nail off from the side.
- When you change sides to do the opposite legs, the person at the head should also change sides.
Fig 10 Toenail Trimming
If your alpaca is still unhappy at being held for toenail nipping, considering doing it from outside the pen whilst the alpacas is in a mini catch pen.
In this article I have described a number of things that I do to make handling my animals easier and more fun for me. Nearly everyone will have a different set up from me e.g. more animals, or fewer animals or more help or even guanacos….. I hope that these ideas have given you some ‘tools’ from Camelidynamics that can be adapted to your own herd and facilities. There is much, much more to Camelidynamics than the pointers contained in this article and I hope it encourages you to find out more. All Camelidynamics workshops cover both alpaca and llama training and both species are welcome at any clinic. We believe that ‘cross-training’ i.e. working with a species you don’t own is very good for camelid handlers. You may also be interested to know that Marty McGee Bennett will be running an advanced clinic in the UK this year, open to anyone who has attended a two day workshop previously. All details are on my website:
My website with details of my courses and books, dvds and equipment is
Marty’s website is: www.camelidynamics.com
I think we all aspire to having alpaca cria who are calm and quiet with us, easy to catch, and a dream to handle and train. So is it possible to attain this ideal? I believe it is, but unfortunately the two patterns I have seen over the years is either too much handling or too little!
The first can lead to over-friendly animals bordering on the ‘berserk’ and the second tends to leave to that sort of oh-oh feeling when you think about handling or training them. So is there a middle way? I have been teaching and using Camelidynamics methods for nearly seven years. Compared to how they were before I started using Camelidynamics methods, my alpaca and llama cria are calm when handled and much, much easier and quicker to train when it comes to halter training after weaning. The small amount of time invested at an early stage is going to make handling easier and more pleasant for all concerned for the duration of an alpaca’s life, which can be up to twenty years. Easy, well handleable alpacas are quicker to sell and have a much more pleasant life with less welfare issues than ones who are not. Owners of alpacas are often retired or in a second career, and would rather not be wrestling with difficult alpacas when they are 70!
Avoiding Berserk Alpaca Syndrome
Before I go on to working with babies I would like to discuss ‘Berserk’ alpacas. These tend to be those initially very friendly (usually male, and usually entire) alpacas that suddenly knock you down one day when you enter the field to feed or poo pick. After a very recent clinic, one of the participants told me she thought she recognised my description. Her two year old entire male nibbled at her clothing, rested his head on her shoulder and first sniffed, then tugged on her hair! I advised her to geld him as soon as possible as this over-friendliness was a simple lack of respect and can escalate. If this happens you may find that if you are lucky, when the alpaca has chest butted you to the ground he may just kick you, if unlucky, they will kick you and then try to mate you. Marty McGee Bennett has renamed this Novice Handler Syndrome for good reason. There is much that has been written on this subject (e.g. in the Camelid Companion) and I don’t want to go too much into it in this article. Suffice it to say that berserk alpacas are usually created by unaware people who over-handle their cria. The cria may have had medical issues when very young, may have been orphaned or who have been made a pet of by members of the family. Cria who have been deliberately imprinted by humans at birth may also develop challenging behaviours and I would strongly warn against this practice. For whatever reason, at a crucial stage of their development berserk alpacas become unable to discriminate properly between the alpaca and human species. The boundaries of appropriate behaviour become blurred for them and they react to humans in ‘inappropriate’ ways such as not moving out of your way, tugging at your clothes, bumping into you, clucking at you and as they reach adulthood and sexual maturity; the aforementioned sneak attack from behind. Please note that females can also be berserk, but it is less common and that some over friendly camelids are just born (and not made) that way.
I teach owners and camelids at workshops and in private work and sadly, I am seeing an increasing number of berserk and borderline berserk males. My number one recommendation is to geld the male as soon as possible after 18 months of age, and possibly earlier if the behaviour is very aberrant. Even if they are much older gelding will normally improve the behaviour to some extent. We also teach ways to stop or manage the existing behaviour.
Gelding adult males
I would like to add in a plea here that all males, not being used for stud work should be gelded at approximately eighteen months. I am often contacted by novice owners of three young boys who have been assured by the breeders that if they aren’t kept near females ‘they won’t be any trouble’ and there is no need to geld them. By the time the owners come to my clinics, the boys are generally over two years old and have started to fight with each other. Even if the males are not kept near females they still have testosterone coursing through their veins which will make them more aggressive to each other and more difficult for the owners to handle. Gelding them prevents this behaviour, keeps the boys sweet and amenable and prevents nasty injuries to each others testicles, ears and eyes. In addition, if there are any tendencies for males to become berserk, it will nip this in the bud as well, so as to speak....
Raising well adjusted babies
Because some people have heard about Berserk Alpaca Syndrome, they veer the other way, and are too hands off because they are worried about their cria developing this behaviour. Others are too hands off because they don’t know what to do or they think they don’t have time (this is particularly true of the big breeders who may have hundreds of babies a year!). I’m going to describe a way of working with cria babies for a maximum of about 30 seconds two to three times a week which will make a significant difference to their behaviour with you. If you only have this time to spare once a week or even once a month, it will still make a difference. As anyone who knows me will tell you, I travel a lot and do not spend nearly as much time as I would like working with my animals yet I still manage to raise easy babies (with the minimum of effort!) by using these methods.
When to start work
The earliest I start training my babies when the mothers bring them into the catch pen to feed. This is normally at about 3-4 days, but I would use the methods described below for babies up to about 2 months. After then I would probably use a wand and a catch rope for the initial contact.
Lesson 1. Work in a catch pen. Catch pens are normally sized between 5ft by 5ft to 8ft by 8ft. Catch pens are a must, if you work in a larger area you will have to chase or corner the cria and then grab it to work with it, thus teaching it to be afraid of you! Let the cria stand next to its mother so that neither of them are stressed. If possible you will have worked with the mother in the past so that she knows what you are doing and is not worried by it.
Stand by the cria’s side, facing the same way it is, and drop a catch rope (I like to use them doubled up for extra feeling of support for the cria) or a webbing lead rope over its head so that you are able to form a line over its chest. You can use a line to give a whoa signal. We teach a very gentle, but effective, ‘ratchet’ signal which helps the cria keep in balance and stand still. Once you have it in balance and standing still, start to touch it gently on the neck with the backs of your fingers.
Working in a catch pen
Asking your cria to stand
On the workshops we teach the Tellington Touch or TTouch which has an extremely calming influence on the cria. The initial TTouches we use for training alpacas are circular movements with our fingers or backs of our fingers, pushing the skin gently around an imaginary clock face in a one and a quarter circle, beginning at six o’clock, in a clockwise direction. These light touches are believed to cause the release of neurotransmitters such as serotonin which calms the alpaca. If they are calm and in balance and not frightened, they can learn what you are trying to teach them about standing still and doing nothing.....
Some cria are very nervous and I like to use a body wrap for these. They look really odd, but work very well for calming nervous animals and work in a similar way to the TTouches. A body wrap is a long, stretchy bandage applied in a figure eight around the cria’s lower neck and thighs with a couple of twists over the withers. They remain on only as long as the cria is being worked with. Put them on and take them off whilst facing the back of the cria because even a kick from a baby can be unpleasant!
Cria in body wrap
Having started touching the cria on the neck work up to the face and do some touches over the nose, under the chin round the back of the head and on the lips. Please try not to put your hand over the midline. Your hand holding the lead or catch rope is all you need to keep the cria in balance and you should never need to grab them round the neck to restrain them. Then release your baby. This was lesson one and took no more than 30 seconds to one minute. In this lesson the baby learned; to stand still and do nothing next to a human being, that humans could be trusted not to grab and restrain them and it was also prepared for having something put over its nose and round the back of its head in future, i.e. a halter. This work also prepares them for teeth checking and drenching. Sounds good for 30 seconds work doesn’t it?
Face work with cria
I don’t work with my cria every day, but this not only because I don’t have time but because they need time to ‘process’ the lesson and to lay down what they have learnt. The maximum you should work with them would be two to three times a week for only a few minutes at time or until they become restless. If you can’t work until the next week or even the next month, they won’t forget the last lesson you gave them. If the only time you have available is when you weigh them, give them injections or tag them, try to incorporate some of these lessons at that stage.
Lesson 2. Your next lesson will begin in the same way as the first. Repeat the first steps and then this time do some flat hand circular touches along their flanks. If you work on the opposite side from you, you will be able to stay in balance and so will they. This prepares them for fleece checking, an exercise they will probably have to endure for their entire lives. It also prepares for being touched on the injection site around the triceps muscle. If at any time your cria leaps or squirms when you touch part of its body, back up to where they were comfortable with you touching them and continue at a slower pace. This can mean ending the lesson there and starting again another day. One of the maxims of Tellington Touch work is that ‘less is more’.
Working along the flank
Lesson three. On my next lesson with my cria I am going to start preparing them for toenail trimming and lifting of their legs by doing my Ttouches down their legs, but only to the knee or hock. This is because when we lift their legs we should do this only from above this joint, using a lateral movement to help them keep their balance, rather than the more tradition grab the foot and lift vertically which often causes them to lose their balance and then struggle. At this stage of the baby’s training, however, we are only training them to stand still whilst we touch their legs. Later when the cria is perfectly happy to let us touch all four legs down to the knee or hocks, we can start to give them a little ratchet signal behind the front leg and in front of the hind, to lift their legs. Again, the lessons should last no longer than two or three minutes, although as they get older you can work up to five minutes at time.
Working down the leg
Progressing with training
After the first three or four sessions I change the catch rope to the handling helper (shown above) which is fastened at the top of the neck. This is what I use with adult animals and is preferable to fastening the catch rope around their necks. This is simply a short piece of webbing with a clip and two rings enabling it to be ‘snugged’ up around the neck. When my babies are happy with all the above and are content to stand quietly, doing nothing, I progress to doing TTouches around the tail, then gently lifting the tail and doing some TTouches on the upper thighs. If my young males progress to become stud males, they will undoubtedly have their testicles examined. It is well worth teaching your young females to accept touch under their bellies and round the udder area, in preparation for future scanning and udder examination.
As they grow and are happy to stand for longer periods I progress to teaching them to accept a halter and lifting their legs. Camelidynamics do this in specific ways aimed a not throwing the alpaca off balance and not alarming them in any way. To find out more, you may have to come on a course!
I don’t teach my cria to lead until they are weaned, I don’t find they have the emotional maturity to do so and there is no point at all in trying to lead them away from their mothers as it upsets both of them. Similarly, I don’t try leading them whilst leading their mothers as I am not really leading them, they are simply following their mothers and not me.
Ref: The Camelid Companion by Marty McGee Bennett.
To find out more about training and handling your alpacas visit: www.carthveanalpacas.com or e-mail Julie on firstname.lastname@example.org
To Geld or not to Geld...that is the question.
Camelidynamics Practitioner 2
During my work as an alpaca and llama trainer, I teach a fair number of one and two day courses, carry out private visits, undertake rehabilitation and welfare work at my farm and answer many email and telephone enquiries. Besides questions on camelid health which are the most frequent questions, there is one other issue which comes up often - the thorny question of to geld or not to geld.
The typical way in which this issue arises is that a caring, well meaning couple have bought three boys at six months to a year old as lawnmowers or field pets. The breeder they have bought them from has not given them very much information about gelding and they arrive on my course because by now the boys are much more difficult to handle. From about 18 months onward, their sweet, amenable alpacas started to fight with each other, they cover each other with green spit and they scream when they fight, which bothers the neighbours. They have also got, stronger, more difficult to handle and have ‘attitude.' The owners are generally astonished when I explain that from about 18 months old, there has been an increased amount of testosterone flowing through their boys’ veins creating new urges relating to a) sex and b) aggression.
The author with some of her boys
All young male camelids playfight by jumping on each other, and indulge in neck wrestling, but there becomes a point when ‘playing’ becomes ‘fighting’ and this stops being cute/entertaining/fun to watch when actual injuries to ears, eyes and testicles can occur and the vet’s bills start to arrive. There is also a welfare aspect to this, many boys are bought by retired people who don’t really want to wrestle with their pets. If an alpaca is quiet and easy to handle it will usually be handled and cared for. If it is stroppy and difficult, it will tend not to be and may be sold on or given away to many homes.
For the wild ancestors of alpacas, testosterone served a useful purpose because it helped a dominant male retain control of his harem of females by using his aggression to drive off younger males capable of mating, thus ensure the perpetuation of his genes. Today, however, as with most domesticated animals, this surfeit of testerone is unwanted and uneeded in a non-working (i.e. not a stud) male. Only a few responsible dog owners keep their pets entire, and few equine owners can manage one or more stallions, yet there doesn’t seem to have been a similar understanding in camelids. Partly this is because the majority of camelid owners have not previously owned large animals or livestock and cannot therefore recognise the undesirable traits which accompany sexual maturity.
Regrettably, there is also a lack of information and advice which should accompany the sale of young, male camelids and in some cases there is distinct ‘misinformation’ being passed on to new owners. Examples of these I have heard too many times now are that: ‘The breeder doesn’t believe in gelding '; ‘the person we bought them from says if we geld them we will change their personality’ and finally; ‘the breeder told us that as long as we didn’t keep them near females they would be fine.' I suspect that some of these statements are made so as not to frighten buyers away because of the potential costs of gelding, or because the breeder doesn’t want to incur the costs themselves. I believe it is both irresponsible and very short-termist to conceal the truths and the benefits of gelding. If people have happy, quiet boys, they are likely to buy more, for example one of my clients started off with three geldings and now has nine! Furthermore, peaceful, easy to handle boys are going to sell themselves and their owners are going to recommend them to others.
Geldings should be performed on alpacas at about 18 months which conveniently means that it will happen outside the fly season to prevent fly strike; this means November to March in most areas. Castrations should always be performed under sedation. Using only restraint and a local anaesthetic is too terrifying for the animal and can seriously damage the trust they have in humans. I prefer the castration to be performed under standing sedation. If your vet is unsure of the drugs or dosages to use, they should ask a member of the British Veterinary Camelid Society or better still, join the Society and post a query in their discussion group at www.camelidvets.org. Gelding later than 18 months can and should also be undertaken. I once took on a very difficult, aggressive entire male about whom I had an open mind about whether to euthanise, however gelding and training turned him around completely and he now works on an animal assisted therapy project so reliable is his temperament.
The procedure is safe, quick, easy and well worth the cost. As alpacas can live up to twenty years I hope I have persuaded you that making the years ahead with your boys the most happy and harmonious possible is surely the best way forward.
You can find out more about Camelidynamics on www.carthveanalpacas.com
or contact Julie on email@example.com.
When the vet comes to call.......
I donʼt know about you, but I think my alpacas can sense the exact moment my vet leaves the surgery, gets into his car and starts his drive to my farm. My normally friendly, cooperative herd take themselves off to the furthest field and resist all attempts to tempt them closer to the barn where I need them to be.....(they also know what day shearing has been booked into the calendar and can be seen doing a surreptitious rain dance the day before).
We have been keeping alpacas and llamas for nearly 10 years now and have had our share of incidents - some very trivial - for example from what was in hindsight a nasty tummy ache to the downright life threatening and obscure. Some we have lost, some we have saved but all of them have contributed to the magnificent new Carthvean Alpacas endowed wing at our veterinary surgery. As a consequence I have had a fair amount of experience in getting animals in and handling them for the vet. As I am sure everyone who keeps camelids knows, vets charge by the minute. So having things ready for their visit coupled with efficient handling and correct facilities make a significant difference to the emotional, physical and financial stress levels experienced by both us and the animals. When I teach Camelidynamics methods to groups, alpaca health is always a huge topic of conversation and the animal husbandry section is always lively and informative. I rarely give a workshop without learning something myself and we are always trying to improve the way we do things. I aim in this article to share with you some of the methods we use to keep ill and injured animals calm and quiet for veterinary attention, and the not so ill cooperative for routine examinations such as veterinary health certificates. The aim of Camelidynamics is to help you to have calm, stress free handling of your alpacas and this is never more important than when your animals are ill.
Examining the alpaca. When one of your animals is ill, it will stay with the herd trying to appear normal for as long as possible and only when it is seriously ill or injured will it either separate itself or be unable to keep up with them. The 30-40 camelids at my farm graze over about 30 acres so if I spot one on its own in a field I am immediately suspicious that all is not well. If you keep your animals on more restricted grazing, this separation may be less easy to spot.
Unwell as they feel, these animals will still do their utmost to avoid being examined by you (unless of course they are very ill and canʼt get up), and will run to the other side of the field leaving you wondering if you were imagining it all. I had a beloved old girl who died at 15 of a liver tumour and although it was obvious that there was something very wrong with her, I still wouldnʼt have been able to catch her in the field until about an hour before the vet arrived to put her to sleep.
To handle, examine or treat my animals on a routine basis, I usually use a system of catch pens in the field. I feed my animals in them and then close them up if I wish to handle them that day. Unfortunately an animal feeling unwell is unlikely to be tempted in by food.
Therefore if I suspect an alpaca is ill or injured I have to make sure I can get them into a smaller, enclosed area for the vet to examine. It is no use leading the vet into the field and expecting them to make a diagnosis without getting his or her hands on the animal. Alternatively getting them to help you chase the animal, cornering it and grabbing it is not going to give genuine readings of temperature, heart rate and respiration rate!
You need to get the alpaca into small contained area before the vet comes if possible. Try to give yourself plenty of time to do this so that you are as unstressed and as unflustered as possible. I recommend you use a herding tape or long rope (illustrated in the last issue of Alpaca World). It is usually best not to try to move just the ill animal, if necessary, bring the whole field full of animals in at the same time and then pop your patient into a catch pen with a friend or family member and release the others. Sometimes individuals are happy to walk in by themselves but this isnʼt normally the case, although old girl I mentioned before spent at least part of most winters in the barn in her later years and trotted happily down there as she considered it a great treat.
When I talk about using a smaller area for examining ill animals, Iʼm talking about an area usually made by hurdles of about 6ft by 6ft (approx 2 m x 2 m) to 8ft x 8ft (approx 2.5 m x 2.5 m). It should be under cover and ideally away from the rest of the herd (except any pen companions). I am conscious that if you suspect they may have something contagious e.g. the dreaded TB then isolating your animal will be the best thing to do, but it may become more stressed as a consequence. The reason they should not be in view of the herd is that they will want to be with them and may try to get over or under the pen to be with them. This is one of the reasons why I am not keen on the field shelter becoming the sick bay, but if it is all you have then you donʼt have a choice.
It may be necessary to bring cria into the barn, for example if it is hypothermic and/or dysmature. Ideally, bring the mother in with it. Even if the mother is unable, or unwilling, to let it suckle, unless the mother is physically aggressive to the cria, keep them together. I have known not very maternal mothers finally understand what it is they need to do and to start feeding their babies at two weeks after birth. Separating mother and baby can lead to behavioural problems in the cria later, as can overhandling, fussing or letting young children play with orphan or ill cria.
Housing ill alpacas. The small catch pen will allow you to catch, control and examine your alpaca in the short term, without you and/or the vet chasing the alpaca round a bigger area and stressing it further. For longer stays, however, they will need to move round more and you will need to allow for a feeding, watering and dunging area. This can obviously be achieved by adding more hurdles or letting them into a bigger area, whilst being able to move them into the smaller one for treatment or examination. Recently whilst training some reindeer I put a catch pen in their barn and fed and trained them in there, letting
them out after each training session. Initially I removed the hurdles each time as I was afraid they would catch their antlers between the bars, but I soon realised that they liked their smaller area as I noticed that they chose to sleep in it as well as feed there.
Catch pen within a barn
Very ill animals may need to be carried in to the barn and if this ill may collapse onto their sides. To help their stomachs continue working properly it is normally helpful to move them into sternal recumbency and support them in this position using hay or straw bales. I was able to predict the full recovery of one my alpacas (from barley poisoning) when she weakly turned her head on the hay bale supporting it and began nibbling it...... .
Who does what? I call my vet out for acute cases, castrations and for veterinary certificates of health. Some vets are also working with owners on Herd Health plans, a move I thoroughly endorse, and which aim to be proactive and preventative rather than reactive. Like most alpaca owners I aim to deal with all routine injections, tagging, microchipping, drenching, toenails and minor injuries myself. When the shearer comes we also polish off remaining toenails, trimming of the front teeth and taking the tips off fighting teeth of adult males. Because I regularly work with my herd for all the above they are used to the way I handle then and are reasonably happy to have me control them in the pen whilst the vet examines and treats them. I would be reluctant to have a vetʼs assistant handle my animal, just as I prefer to assist the shearer during shearing rather than leave it to their assistant should they have one.
I have quite strong feelings about injection sites for my camelids, and ask the vet to use them. Many vets will choose the large muscles around the hindquarters without being completely clear about where the sciatic nerve runs. There have been a number of cases of this nerve being temporarily affected and of alpacas with a pronounced limp. From a behavioural point of view an injection in the backside tends to make the alpaca move forward (or rear if you are trying to restrain them) and can lead to them kicking. Repeated injections in this area, can make the odd kick develop into a serious and unpleasant kicking habit. I recommend that for subcutaneous injections you use the area of skin around or just above the triceps (shoulder) muscle. The vast majority of injections you will give your alpaca can be subcutaneous. Very, very few will be intramuscular but these can be given into the triceps muscle. When you give the injections lean over the alpaca and
give it in the opposite side from you, thus should the alpaca move away from the needle they will move towards, not away from you.
You donʼt need to see the skin to do the injection just pull out the fleece away from the animals side and inject down directly into the skin. If you are on your own put a number of animals in the pen with you or make the pen smaller so that the alpaca cannot move too far or too fast while you are trying to do the injection. It is simple to walk with them to do the injection.
Restraint free injections
If your vet suspects an infection, they may leave you with a course of antibiotics with which to treat the sick animal after their visit, often with a long needle. My recommendation is to drop these immediately, unused, into your sharps box and substitute your own, much shorter ones. I use 19 gauge 1/2” needles and 1/2” 21 gauge needles for thicker liquids. 1/4” can also be used for cria. The beauty of using a shorter needle is that you donʼt run the risk of going in one side of the skin and coming out of the other as well as reducing the risk of jabbing yourself in the finger or thumb. Some things we inject into our alpacas can cause serious problems if we jab ourselves, and you also donʼt want to risk catching a zoonotic (transmissable to humans) disease.
On a Camelidynamics clinic one of the exercises we learn about is the importance of body position. I have seen numerous people (and vets) cause their camelid patients to move when they would much rather they stood still, simply by blocking their escape route. For a prey animal, having the option to move into an escape route is of supreme importance and if you stand too close, stand in front of them or stand with your body turned too much into them you can cause them to move and turn to try to regain an escape route. It may seem counterintuitive, but often giving them an escape route can make them feel safe and this will encourage them to stand still. I had a very docile and easy to handle animal who became really quite difficult while the vet tried to examine her teeth for her veterinary certificate of health. He insisted on standing right in front of her and getting very close and opening her mouth himself. I could have easily stood to one side of her, opened her lips to show him the teeth which he could have seen at a respectful distance thus letting her maintain her escape route.
Techniques for medical interventions. Two of the central themes of Camelidynamics work are those of ʻcontainment not restraintʼ and ʻbalanceʼ. I find that alpacas and llamas are surprisingly tolerant of the things we need to do to them such as injecting and drenching. What makes them behave in ways which make them seem ʻdifficultʼ is when we grab them and restrain them - often with the old hold around the neck. This hold usually causes the alpaca to fall out of balance which increases their sense of panic even further. For a prey animal being grabbed around the neck and thrown out of balance normally means that they are about to become a predatorʼs lunch so if we can find another way to work with them for routine medical jobs we will make life a lot easier for ourselves and for our camelids!
The Midline Catch
An example of this is drenching; because I have trained myself not to let my hand cross the alpacaʼs midline (in order not to throw it off balance), I donʼt like to put my hand round the back of the head to insert the syringe or drenching gun. I have found that using a drenching syringe with a long nozzle I can do this easily using a halter helper, which is a short piece of webbing with a clip that fastens to a ring to secure it around the alpacas neck. We use these to balance the animal.
I also use this now to show the vet the animalʼs teeth!
Showing the teeth
A point to remember is that wherever possible both handler and vet should both work on the same side of the alpaca as camelids hate to be a ʻcamelid sandwichʼ, they feel trapped and often exhibit undesirable behaviours.
There will always be some animals, and some procedures where a sedative will be necessary and I fully support the use of sedatives in these cases. May I also make a huge plea on welfare grounds at this point to all owners and all vets to perform castrations under sedation. It is too terrifying for alpacas to be restrained and castrated without and they often lose their trust in people and become more difficult to handle subsequent to the operation.
In previous articles I have illustrated my favourite tools which are the catch pen, the bracelet and halter helper. For medical examinations, the vet, the animal and I are all in the catch pen and I catch my animal using the midline catch, a slow and gentle way of catching them. I then hold my alpacas in the bracelet whilst they are being examined. If I need to let them go and then catch then again, I will put on a halter helper. I donʼt bother to halter an animal for an examination, because the bracelet and halter helper gives me as much control as I need. The exception here is if I want to drench my llamas, when I use the llamaʼs halter to give me more control over their larger head! TTouch is another invaluable tool for helping to relax an alpaca and to persuade it to stand still. We also use TTouch to prepare and support animals for examinations under the tail e.g. rectal, vaginal or testicular.
The Body Wrap
If I have a particularly nervous animal I may also use a body wrap or a set of ropes called a taming the tiger rope. We also use an excellent technique developed by David Anderson, (former head of camelid medicine at Ohio State University) known as the Buckeye Blood Draw for asking camelids to lower their heads for blood taking or intravenous injections. You can learn these techniques by coming on a workshop and/or through Marty McGee Bennettʼs excellent book; the Camelid Companion and her camelid handling DVDs.
I hope you have found these pointers useful, if you wish to find out more about Camelidynamics, courses, books, equipment and DVDs see www.carthveanalpacas.com or email Julie Taylor-Browne: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Camelidynamics for larger breeders
In my travels around the world giving Camelidynamics Handling and Husbandry courses I have sometimes (over)heard larger breeders turn to one another whilst I am giving a course or a demonstration and mutter ʻwell it is all very well if you have two or three animals - but when you are as big as we are - you just donʼt have the time to do all this!ʼ. By larger breeders I find that this tends to mean more than about 50 animals, although some have many hundreds of animals. In this article I would like to describe some ways in which every breeder can:
• Make handling animals easier
• Raise easy to handle stock
• Streamline handling tasks
• Prepare for showing well in advance of the show season
• Keep on top of routine husbandry tasks
Why Change? There is a natural tendency for all organisations to resist change, and they only tend to make the necessary efforts to change when they need to produce a better product and or to save money and/or time. When they donʼt need to do any of these, there is no real incentive to change. However, all markets evolve and normally become both more sophisticated and competitive. Each breeder has to show that they have more to offer than the others in their area. Smaller and medium sized breeders will compete by offering ʻsomething betterʼ than the big breeders. Easy to handle, placid alpacas, and packages of halter trained geldings are examples of a competitive edge which is increasingly attractive to purchasers.
Working in a safe, efficient, systematic and structured way with your animals also means that efficiency savings can be made and injuries to staff and animals will be fewer, so costs in time and money everywhere are lowered. You can also cope when that treasured stock person leaves, as you have methods and facilities that can easily be adopted by their replacement.
Professional v Amateur. Like many alpaca and llama owners I live in a rural area. The area around me is predominantly concerned with beef and suckler herds. Most routine husbandry tasks are usually undertaken by one person, the farmer, who is often well past retirement age. I am now going to state the obvious and say that cattle are much, much heavier than camelids and being kicked or headbutted by a cow, with or without horns, is something to avoid. Yet, on the whole, farmers manage to handle them on their own, whilst raising good, healthy stock and turning a modest profit. Cornish farmers I talk to about alpacas, politely smile at me and then go and laugh uproariously about alpaca owners later in the pub or whilst leaning on the pens at market, being careful to speak only in such broad accents that we have no hope of understanding what they are saying. In short, I fear, it is ʻbunch of amateurs - what the bleeding heck do they know?ʼ (Language censured here for those of a delicate disposition......).
I suspect that about 95% of camelid owners do not come from a farming background and have never had any animals larger than a dog. Some of the bigger, successful breeders however, do come from farming backgrounds and have set up their enterprises accordingly with an eye firmly on the economics and efficiency of their operation. The rest of us I suspect, saw these cuddly animals in a field or show, bought our initial three, and then woke up one day to find that we had 50 or more of them. We modified our fields and fencing somewhat to incorporate our growing herd, and perhaps have had to build a barn to incorporate the growing plethora of things we now need (hay, feed, poopicker, tractor, medicine store, as well as somewhere to bring the animals into in bad weather), but for many the standard operating procedure for handling the animals has not changed in nature. It tends to be:
Step one: Realise with a sinking feeling that the next round of worming/A,D and E/anti-clostridial jabs are due.
Step two: Blackmail, bribe, threaten or cajole visitors, children, spouses into helping round up your animals. Herd a field full of animals into barn. Apologise to visitors/spouse/children for shouting, loss of temper and bad language during herding.
Step three: Roll up sleeves and dive into midst of leaping/spitting/kicking/panicking animals to grab an animal and wrestle it into submission. Perform husbandry task.
Step four: Apologise once more to spouse/visitors/children for profanities issued when animal got away/needle went through skin and came out other side/you injected yourself with anti-clostridial by accident when animal struggled/you did your back in when lifting animalʼs legs to do toenails/you were kicked in a very sensitive place.
Step five: Release animals. Limp back to house. Have several stiff drinks. Offer prayer of thanks that you donʼt have to do this for at least another three months!
I have seen this method too many times to recall. Yet, where breeders and owners have changed their facilities and handling techniques to those we teach on Camelidynamics Workshops, even I have been amazed by the improvement in the behaviour of their
The serious side to the above scenario is that given basic human nature, which is that we all prefer a quiet life, animals may not get the routine husbandry they need, if help isnʼt available, if we have a bad back or if we simply canʼt face it, we wonʼt be doing tasks such as weighing, injecting, body scoring or handling our cria correctly to ensure that they will grow up to be easily managed adults. Another suspicion I have about camelid owners is that most of us are on a second career, are retired or semi retired or trying to combine it with another job. To put it delicately, none of us are getting any younger and we would prefer our stock wrangling days to be over. In the light of these facts, doesnʼt it make sense to put a bit of effort in terms of handling and facilities to make husbandry much, much easier for the 20 years of a camelids life?
Finding a way to handle any livestock in a calm, quiet way doesnʼt only benefit our blood pressure but will make our animals less frightened of us. If they are less frightened they will be more appealing to purchasers, exhibit less behavioural challenges such as kicking, spitting, cushing and rearing and will make us much more likely to perform the husbandry tasks that I have described above. When handling and husbandry becomes easy, we do more of it and can take the opportunity to incorporate elements of training at the same time. Trained, quiet and easy animals, as I am sure I donʼt need to point out are also easier to sell. Marty McGee Bennett has introduced the Camelidynamics Handler Seal as a way of breeders being able assure customers that their animals have been handled in a sensitive and calm manner.
There is a big difference between livestock farms and camelid breeders. Most farmers when they are breeding and handling their animals are not selling live animals to the purchaser. They are raising livestock primarily for meat. Whilst they would like their animals to be quiet and calm when handled, if one is a bit ʻteasyʼ as they say here in the West Country, there is the option of sending it to market early. I donʼt eat meat, but if I did I would be happily sending to the abattoir two aggressive rams I own. However, Iʼm very happy to say there is no significant meat market for camelids in the UK at present, and whilst there is an emerging fibre market, there are not many herds kept purely for fleece.Camelids are kept for pleasure and for profit. To maximise both of these - they should be easy to handle and it should be easy to perform husbandry tasks on them. No camelid has ever died from overlong toenails but plenty have died from clostridial infection and parasites such as worm burdens and liver fluke. Both are largely preventable and prevention and treatment, I would argue, has not taken place in many cases, because of both lack of knowledge and skill in handling camelids. Breeders selling animals need to take at least some responsibility for raising easy to handle animals. To compare this with the horse world about which I know a little as I also work as a TTeam (equine) practitioner, any youngster or more mature horse which had had little or no handling or training would command a much lower price than one which had had some work done on it to prepare it for handling, being led, loading or having the farrier visit.
The role of educating potential owners about the husbandry tasks needed by camelids falls to us all; to the potential owners, the potential sellers, the breed societies and publications such as this. Compared to the horse world, the camelid world is a much more approachable, friendly and helpful one and the advice and information is out there and available - all anyone needs to do is ask and then, ideally, pass on that information to others.
Raising ʻEasy Careʼ Alpacas. So what steps can bigger breeders take to help themselves and their clients to raise ʻeasy-careʼ animals?
Conduct a stress review. Are there any elements of your operation that the animals dislike more than others? Alpacas show obvious signs of stress including running, spitting and humming. One possibility might be herding: Does this happen too fast? Does it involve any temporary help running/shouting/chasing or otherwise stressing the animals? This might also involve dogs or quad bikes. Both methods can work well if conducted quietly and calmly, but I have seen animals that are difficult to bring in and subsequently handle
because the methods of herding are stressful. Laneways or runways are essential unless you have a huge amount of help. Once at the barn or handling facility is there any jostling or crowding at a bottle neck where for example mummies get separated from babies or there is an opportunity for a ʻspit-a-thonʼ?
Funnelling animals gently and slowly in from wider to narrower and having plenty of pens for them to go into will relieve this stress. These stock movements happen frequently and the animals can be trained to move in calmly and easily if you provide the conditions for them to do so. I recommend you use a herding tape or rope to move them in from the fields and wands for when you are in a narrower space, i.e when putting them into smaller pens or when sorting them e.g. non pregnant and pregnant girls. Using the wands gives you wonderfully longer ʻarmsʼ with which to direct them, and also give your hands something to do so that you arenʼt tempted to grab them round the neck or push them with your hands on their hindquarters thus encouraging them to kick.
Fig. 1. Herding with wands down
Are they reasonably content in the facilities you have for them? For example, can they see an escape route? The more open your barn and pens are, the happier they will be. So those that are light (e.g. they have clear panels in the roof) and that have openings at both ends (and even each side). If you donʼt have the ideal barn, consider setting up your handling facilities outside and get some decent waterproof clothing! Are your pens small enough? Whilst the ideal training pens for alpacas are five foot high and six foot by six foot or seven foot by seven foot, handling pens can be shorter as long as your animals are staying calm and are not being stressed which might make them jump over the pens. I currently have 25 visiting alpacas on my farm and because of the methods I use to handle them they are perfectly content behind 3.5 ft high sheep hurdles. You can also use gates or wood to construct your facility.
Fig 2. Herding into pens using wands
As you move your animals round the facility (that is if you are not using the ʻjust launch yourself-into-the-middle-of-great-mass-of-themʼ method....) are they moving towards other
animals or are you expecting them to move towards a solid wall? Releasing the ones you
have jabbed/weighed/toenailed isnʼt the best method as it will stress the ones remaining in
your facility. Alpacas have such a strong herd instinct that they like other alpacas more
than anything else and donʼt like to leave the ones still penned anyway....So use this tendency to your advantage and move animals towards another group within your handling area. Put a big acrylic mirror on the end of the barn they donʼt like to go towards and watch them rush towards it to admire themselves.....
Fig. 3 Barn with haynets, mirror, small pens and clear panels in roof.
To reduce stress further whilst they are waiting for their turn, give them a treat! If I know the animals will be in my facility for a while I will make sure they have hay nets to occupy them. A llama farm I visited recently had the large mineral licks with holes in suspended from the roof, the animals loved the opportunity to play with these and lick them.
Consider how you handle them. I have written extensively on why camelids struggle when we restrain them. Putting our arms around their necks and holding them is a form of restraint which throws them off balance. Using a different method of asking them to stand still will result in increased cooperation and trust on their part and will make your job much easier. On our courses we teach people about the importance of body position and how to use the midline catch and the bracelet for routine tasks.
I have also written about alternative ways of lifting alpacas legs and cutting their toenails. Teaching them to stand in balance and lifting their legs from the knee or hock results in calmer, easier toenailing. Where animals persistently kush to protect their legs, change to cutting their toenails on the ground rather than pulling their legs out from underneath them when they are kushed. Inject in the skin over the triceps muscle on the opposite side of the animal from you rather than near the hindquarters. This prevents both kicking and moving off.
Stop wrestling difficult animals! Using strength with animals simply teaches them new evasion tactics. The definition of insanity is to repeat the same thing over and over whilst expecting a different result. Tellington Touch teaches if something isnʼt working - find another way. Alpacas are often heavier than their owners, they are always faster (when healthy) and their centre of mass is lower than ours so they are able to get away from us with relative ease. A bigger breeder may have the manpower to deal with these animals, but an unwary purchaser may land themselves with an animal they canʼt manage. Find a way to make your difficult animal less stressed and work with them in that way. This is often by a mini catch pen where you can work from outside the pen whilst giving them some food or using a Taming the Tiger rope (a Camelidynamics technique). Often they become difficult because of the toenail issue, so once again, think about cutting these on the ground. I once had an alpaca who would tolerate having one toenail cut a month (on the ground) any more than this and she would become very difficult - if you stuck with this regime, however she was tolerant and well behaved.
Fig. 4. Cutting toenails in a small pen within a pen.
Install a handling system. The design of this is going to vary depending on the size and shape of your operation. A system
can be very robust and expensive or very cheap and flexible. For a long time I relied on working in my 7.5ft by 7.5ft pens and using a couple of hurdles and some bailer twine to make a small area to weigh and do hands off interventions such as scanning and on the ground toenailing. Key features of your handling system will be the narrow penned area and some collecting areas. As previously mentioned work in a way which allows your animals to move towards other alpacas. Suggestions on Barn Design are included in the excellent Camelid Companion by Marty McGee Bennett.
Work with your babies. Cria need various routine interventions from a very early age. Some breeders weigh them a number of times and they normally need several injections. I am not a huge fan of A, D and E paste and prefer to inject, as using the paste every month can make babies very head shy unless you are very light with them when applying it! Also try not to lift your babies up, it can make them very wary of humans.
Take these opportunities to do mindful handling which will train your youngsters at the same time:
- Keep them in balance; you can use the midline catch and bracelet or the halter helper. Let them stand next to friends or mothers at this stage.
- Ideally use TTouch, and touch round the face, over the nose and round the back of the head.
- Once they will stand quietly in balance whilst you touch them on the face, hold them in balance under their chin with one hand and touch them along their flanks to get them used to fleece checking and injections.
- On subsequent interactions stroke down the legs to the knee or hock only! Donʼt try to lift legs, at this stage.
Work for about 30 seconds at a time - a minute at the most. Cria, like toddlers, donʼt have a very long attention span.....This is not labour intensive and will make a huge difference to the time you will save later on.
Geld all animals at 18 months who are not potential studs. This will be cheaper for the bigger breeder as you can have a batch done at the same time and will make your boys more attractive to purchasers as they will be more docile and easier to handle.
Prepare your show string for showing every time you handle them.
Besides teaching them to lead (the subject of a different article!) prepare your animals for showing by:
- Ttouching where they are going to be touched at a show: Doing flat handed circular touches along the flank from shoulder to hip to prepare them for fleece checking.
- Stroke them down the neck with the back of your hand first, then the front of your hand. Do circular touches on the neck below the ears and then between the ears, then work your way to the topknot.
- Do flat handed touches from below the withers along the flank. When at the hip do some circles at the base of the tail, gently lift the tail by the fleece and circle it gently in one direction and then the other. Make circles under the tail on and around the testicles.
Any change you make to your set up and the way you deal with your animals will make a significant difference to your efficiency and the enjoyability of handling your animals for you and your clients. It will involve a small investment of time in establishing a new routine.
Subsequently, the approach both reduces the effort and time required, and produces calmer and better behaved animals. You donʼt have to change everything to the Camelidynamics way for any of the elements to work. The two day course I give is not about the fact that handling the animals takes more time, it is about training the people. The animals change their behaviour directly in response to the way we changed ours and it is us that have to learn how to change.......
For more information you can contact Julie on email@example.com or via www.carthveanalpacas.com.
Six Easy Steps for Teaching Leading.
Before I learnt Camelidynamics techniques I used to find teaching weanlings and fully grown camelids to lead quite stressful. The animals didn’t understand why they were suddenly unable to go where they wanted, they were confused and stressed themselves and the older animals would try to use their speed and strength to get away. I found that most methods I was shown, including the ‘inner tube’, ‘don’t let go!’ and ‘how good are you at waterskiing?’ ones, didn’t tick my boxes for being 100% fun, kind, respectful, effective and safe. I put time and effort into working with my camelids in a way which builds trust and communication between us and I don’t want to betray that trust when it comes to teaching them to lead. So it was with some relief that I found that Camelidynamics teaches a simple, safe, straightforward and stress-free way to train camelids.
As described in previous articles, I work with my cria so that they are happy to stand still next to me and to accept a headcollar by the time they are weaned. I think most people would agree that this is a prerequisite for any camelid of any age before teaching them to lead. I wait until weaning before teaching them to lead because if they are not weaned they and the mother either suffer extra stress as you lead them away from each other or alternatively walk together in which case the cria is only following the mother, not you. However, I like to train a group of weanlings together because all camelids are happier with other camelids around. If I can find help to actually walk them out together, so much the better, but if you only have one to train, and/or you only have you, then these methods will still work. I don’t think that any camelid is too old to be taught to lead or to do some remedial leading work. Providing they feel calm and safe, they can, and do, learn quickly and easily.
On the two day Camelidynamics Handling and Husbandry courses I teach leading on the afternoon of the second day because at this stage the alpaca is comfortable having the halter off and on and has learnt to stand quietly next to us in the pen. Both human and alpaca students have also learnt and practiced the ‘ratchet’ signal. Marty McGee Bennett has a very good stab at explaining this signal in her book ‘the Camelid Companion’ so I refer you to this or advise you to come onto the course to learn this useful and effective signal.
Stage one. Using the correct halter and lead rope
As with most things in life, having the right tools for the job makes any job much, much easier. The first step is to ensure the halter fits correctly. When you are teaching your alpaca to lead this is of critical importance. If it doesn’t fit correctly and it slips forwards onto the soft part of the nose, the camelid will panic and struggle to avoid the sensation (or reality!) of suffocation. The nose band should be as close as possible to the eye with the crown piece of the halter doing the work of stopping it slipping forward. Normally I recommend that you should only be able to fit one finger underneath the crown piece. The chin piece does not need to be tight, merely tight enough so that the alpaca can feel your signals. If your halter doesn’t go back far enough towards the eye and you are having to resort to tightening the chin piece to stop it slipping forward.....it is time to buy a correctly fitting halter.
Fig 1. Correctly fitting Zephyr halter and training lead
In terms of lead ropes I don’t use:
- lead ropes that if they slip through your fingers will burn you (making you more likely to drop the rope),
- heavy horse leads which put too much weight on the alpaca’s head and makes learning to lead more unpleasant than it needs to be. They are also too thick and look too frightening, particularly for weanlings and
- short lead ropes which make you have to be too close to your animals.
I use Zephyr training leads as my default lead for everyday leading of my animals, they have a section of rope between the animal which carries the webbing away from the eye, and the main part of the lead which is made of a long length of webbing. For teaching a ‘newbie’ to lead, however, I use a Zephyr ultimate lead because it has an extra length of lead line on to give myself distance from my camelid student to make it feel safe enough to walk towards me.
Stage two: Teaching the leading signal.
What often goes wrong with leading is that the alpaca or llama just doesn’t have a clue what you want from it and simply doesn’t understand why you have suddenly taken to hauling on its head. The more you insist, the worse the situation gets with the camelid often rearing, kushing or ‘planting’. Sometimes we get totally frustrated with the ‘stupidity’ of the animal and end up using more force than we want to and find that we dread the whole experience. To avoid this Camelidynamics adds an initial stage which teaches the camelid a signal for what we want from them, which is to take a step.
To teach the leading signal put your camelid student in a catch pen 6ft to 8ft square with at least one camelid companion. Halter your student and if you think they are particular nervous, put a body wrap on them to help them stay calm.
Clip your lead rope onto the foremost side of the ring on the noseband (see above). This may seem unusual but Camelidynamics and Tteam (the well-regarded horse training method from which Camelidynamics evolved) both use the side of the halter to lead an animal. On our clinics we give humans the opportunity to ‘wear‘ a halter and to experience the difference between being lead from the side and being lead from the ring under the head collar. All clinic participants report on how much easier and more pleasant it is to be lead from the side ring as there is far less pressure on the back of the head and it is much easier to feel the direction in which the handler wants you. Simple logic will also show us why this is the case. A lead rope clipped to the ring underneath the halter is going to put pressure on the back of the camelid’s head. To release the pressure, a camelid is going to lift its head, thereby moving its weight backwards and becoming ‘heavier’ on the lead and more difficult to shift. If you clip on the side, the pressure needed to give a signal is much lighter and much more directive. Try this in the privacy of your own home.......
Once you have clipped on to the front most part of the foremost ring you need to stand at 90 degrees or greater to the alpaca’s head and as far away from the alpaca as the pen permits in order give it as much space as possible into which to move.
Fig. 2 Stand at the edge of the pen at 90 degrees to the alpaca
Once you are at 90 degrees or greater to your alpaca student, use the ratchet signal until the alpaca takes or step or even just moves one leg. Immediately it does, take any pressure out of the lead so that there is some slack, but not so much that the alpaca feels that you are no longer connected to them. This ‘contact’ position is our means of communicating with them. See if you can hold the leadrope between your thumb and index finger, once your whole hand closes on it, there will be too much pressure. Once the alpaca has regained his or her balance, you will need to reposition yourself again to give them the space to move into. You have to keep moving backwards and out of their way to give them an escape route. The important thing to notice here is that you are not asking them to move in a straight line towards you, rather you are acting as the hub of the wheel with the lead as a spoke and the alpaca as the rim.
Fig 3. Getting myself out of the way and making space for Bilberry.
The first time you give the signal and they move a leg or two, they have no idea you are teaching them a signal, after three or four times a little lightbulb begins to glow. Before moving onto the next stage your student should ideally be able to do a compete ‘circuit’ of your pen around you.
Stage three: Asking your alpaca to come towards you.
Once you have been round the pen at least once you are ready to bring your alpaca into a long, narrow aisle way. This can be easily made alongside your pens using some tape (I use two herding tapes) and some plastic posts for electric fencing. This is taken down at the end of the lesson.
Fig. 4. The (temporary) long narrow aisle way.
This is my fair weather set up. In the winter or foul weather, I use my barn, which has a passage way between two rows of pens. At one end is a large mirror and at the other the gate leading to the great outdoors. When I lead the alpacas I stand as far away as possible from them and give them the ratchet signal. I use the ultimate lead to give me the extra distance I need to make them feel safe about coming forward. I will go up and down a couple of times keeping myself at the same distance from the alpaca student. At this stage I tend to introduce the voice commands of walk on and whoa, but I suspect that they aren’t really necessary and alpacas understand perfectly well what we want them to do!
Fig. 5. At this stage Kira is not being asked to go away from the herd, only alongside them.
Stage four: Using the wand
If you have previously tried to teach your alpacas to lead without the long, narrow aisle way as shown above, you may have experienced leading your alpaca student away from the herd and then try desperately to slow them down as they return to them in a hurry. The way to lead alpacas with both brakes and a steering wheel is to introduce the wand.
Fig. 6 Introducing the stop signal
As you can see by the look of surprise on Kira’s face this is the first time I have used this signal with her. However she quickly becomes happy to follow it and for me to work closer to her.
Please note I never fall behind her eye or ever let the hand holding the lead (normally my right hand) even get level with her face. At this stage of their training, dropping back to the same level as the alpaca tends to make them run past you. If you let your hand fall behind the eye and you try to pull them back - you will end up with them pulling past you as it is the equivalent of putting your foot on the accelerator.
Fig. 7 Working closer to Kira who is now leading nicely.
Stage five: Outside the long narrow aisle way.
I set up a simple labyrinth, made from white plastic poles at the end of my long narrow aisle way. When the alpaca and I have been up and down a couple of times using the wand and in control, I undo the end of the aisle way, and then lead them straight into the labyrinth.
Fig. 8. Navigating the labyrinth.
At each ‘end’ I ask the alpaca for a stop before I negotiate the turn. This set up teaches them a right hand and a left hand turn, under your control. Please note the alpaca shouldn’t step outside the poles whereas you can and should to give them space.
Fig. 8. ‘Listening’ to my signals, interested, relaxed and alert.
I like this series of photos because it shows Aster learning and responding to very minimal signals from the lead and wand. I don’t need to have any pressure in the lead rope, as the wand is showing her all she needs to know about turning and stopping.
How long does this process take? I teach my weanlings to lead over three days, usually in the winter, in my barn. On the first day, I teach them the leading signal, which takes five minutes maximum each. On the second we reprise the leading signal then go up and down in the aisle way in the barn again for about 5 to 10 minutes each, on the third we go up and down a real narrow lane which leads from my barn to their field a couple of times, and do the labyrinth at the end of it, about 10-15 minutes. This is half an hour in total per animal.
Problem solving strategies:
- Sometimes alpacas can jump when first given the leading signal. This is your cue to keep hold of the rope, but not follow our instinctive response which is to hold on tighter. As every action has an equal and opposite reaction, pulling tighter means that the alpaca will pull harder in the opposite direction. You need to override your instinct and give with the lead rope to create that dip in the lead once more, so you are back to the contact point.
- Alpacas can also rear, which in my experience is because there the lead rope is often being held too tightly whilst they are doing what you want and walking.
- Confusion gets the better of them sometimes and they may kush. I have found two things which help a lot here, the first is facework, which is a Tellington Touch technique we teach on courses and the second is backing away from the alpaca to the very end of the lead rope and being patient.
- An attempt to bolt once out of the aisle way is another possible response and this is another advantage of the long lead. If you look at the way I am holding the lead and its folds, my wand and the folds of rope are in my left hand and I am using my right hand to give the signals. If the alpaca bolts I can immediately let go with my right hand and pay out all the rope in my left hand, just closing my hand on the knot at the end of the rope. By the time the alpaca has got away this far they have stopped running and you can walk up to them as you refold your rope, and you carry on with the lesson. It is very important that you fold the rope over your left fingers, and not coil it. Normally, if you have to drop the end of the lead the alpaca will come to a standstill and you can walk up to the end of the rope, put your foot on it and regroup. This is probably best not done on or near a road.
Step six: What next?
I teach all of my alpacas and llamas to lead and to load because it is the easiest way for me to move just one around. For most of them, getting to the labyrinth stage is enough for them and for me to know that they won’t forget they know how to lead should the need arise. I don’t need to keep refreshing or working with them, as they don’t forget. I recently purchased a seven year old alpaca who I had bred and taught to lead as a weanling, and then sold. She had been led perhaps once or twice a year for a couple of years and then just used for breeding. A journalist wanted to use her to take pictures for an article on me and Tteam training, to my surprise she remembered everything including how to do all the obstacles perfectly and even did new obstacles that I had invented since she had left.
Usually however, after they have navigated the labyrinth, I take my camelid students for a walk around the field, and around some other interesting area on the farm they may never have been before, this exposes them to new experiences and builds their trust in me. For the first time I take the long ultimate lead and the wand, thereafter I dispense with first the extension on the lead, and then the wand. There are others that love working, learning and interacting and for fun I will take them through an obstacle course. If you would like to learn more about this, have a look on my website www.carthveanalpacas.com/articles.html, or look at the Camelid Companion by Marty McGee Bennett. Others in the herd will be shown and have to have a bit more training at ‘show school’. You can see the process I use for this on the same webpage.
If you would like to find out more about Camelidynamics training, halters, equipment, books and courses, or if you are interested in hosting a course, please see my website: www.carthveanalpacas.com or email me on firstname.lastname@example.org