Training alpacas

I have a couple of great books for alpaca owners:  (a) The Camelid Companion, Handling and Training your Alpacas & Llamas, by Marty McGee Bennett, and (b) Caring for Llamas and Alpacas, A Health and Management Guide, by Clare Hoffman, DVM, and Ingrid Asmus.

There are other books recommended as well, but these are what I chose to start with.

Our new little cria will need some training in order to learn to accept a halter and lead and how to walk on a lead, as well as learning how to behave in a show ring. The Camelid Companion book is perfect for this.  Once you see an untrained animal being cornered and unwillingly haltered, or being herded in a most haphazard and illogical manner, you will see why this book is a must read for any alpaca owner. 

Some of our adult alpacas behave well on lead and others not so much.  We are trying to work with the adults as we can.  The baby will be important to start her early on so she is comfortable being handled, lead, and hopefully shown in the ring. 

The other important aspect of alpaca ownership is organizing the pastures so that herding them into a catch pen or barn can be done easily using a lane or alley way that is created either permanently or with temporary fencing like snow fence that is portable and can be moved as needed.  I did lots and lots of research on fencing for all types of animals, finding other peoples designs on the internet, how they move their animals around (pigs, goats, etc) to understand the needs.  I also read what they would have done differently to improve their design.  I spent a LOT of time researching before we sat down and sketched.  I kept all of our sketches.  We went through lots of transformations.  Think of  all   the pros and cons of your design, such as access to water, shade, barn or loading/unloading trailers, or access for emergency vehicles, such as the vet, or a tractor to carry hay or feed, and mowing.  We made sure there was no access into pastures from the public road that runs by our house. All the 3 exterior pasture gates are double wide and on our property easily visible to us, with locks.  The interior pasture gates are either double wide or singles depending on our pre-determined needs. And of course we installed electric top and bottom wires around the perimeter.

Also take time to plan for herd growth and pasture expansion or divisions.  This is just as important as the initial fencing because you cannot  expand from point A to point B without knowing how you plan to get there.  We put gates in some places that don’t do much for us now and just act as fencing, but when we sub-divide some of our pastures later, they will be entries into alley ways we have already designed and planned for future use.  Our fence guy said it is easier to install them now than have to reconfigure the fence later and add gates because it involves putting in posts and bracing that is easier to do when the fence goes in rather than cut into it later.

 The next important feature of herding is to  make sure one person can do it easily.  In case of any emergency, getting all the animals where you want them to go should be easily accomplished by one person.  Practicing regularly gives you confidence and they will be less skittery and nervous. 

I have seen alpacas herded without alleys and you cannot believe how long it takes, how many people it involves and how frantic the alpacas become.  That farm’s pastures were not well planned and no alleys were installed, although they could have added some with temporary snow fence but chose not to.  I even suggested it when I was one of several herders trying to round up skittery alpacas.  Oh well.  I’m glad it’s not my problem.   Having gone through that experience made us extra vigilant in getting our pastures configured in a more organized way.  I have been able to get the animals herded into the space I want them by myself, using wands to extend my arm length. My next purchase soon will be herding tape. usually 40′ or so of 1″ twill type tape.  The alpacas usually will not challenge what they perceive as a visual boundary line  and the tape can extend the area I can move around them and still move them where I want them to go. 

 The importance of gates cannot be stressed enough either.  The additional  gates at strategic holding areas enables us to get them from point A to B to C to D,or keep them in a small area if we need to sort them out and only move one or two animals into the next area and separated from the others.  Design alleys so that the width will fit the width of gates you want.  We have some alleys that are the width of one gate and some alleys the width of two gates to allow vehicle access.  It just depends on what you need to use the space for.

Take as much time as you need in order to get your pastures designed correctly. If fencing is already in place, you can work out some design improvements and make your life easier.  The key is making it easy so one person can get the herding done themselves and practicing  regularly with the animals.  Give them treats or a food reward when they get to where you want them.

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