- When it comes to handling alpacas, it is better if they will accept our touch to ease any stress, to understand what we want and to develop confidence and trust in us. This acceptance also enables us to halter train at a young age. You should never intervene unnecessarily between a mother and cria during the birth process or for several hours afterwards, as this time is important for the bonding process and for the establishment of successful feeding. However, you can start handling on the day of birth, but only do so if all is going well and mum and cria have established a correct relationship.
- Firstly, the halter design and fitting is of utmost importance. There are many different halters available on the market and some are far better than others. The halter should be of sufficient size and designed so that it fits high on the bony part of the alpaca's nose just in front of the eyes. This is to avoid pressure on the cartilage and soft tissue part of the nose which can lead to animal distress and behavioural problems. The strap around the back of the alpacas head should fit around the back of the head, behind the ears and not be able to slip down to the back of the neck. A fixed lead ring under the alpacas jaw is recommended to provide a safe, secure place to attach a lead that will not slip or constrict the noseband, as can happen with a moveable lead ring on halter that has overlapping straps under the jaw. The diagram below shows a correctly fitting halter.
- All alpacas should be halter trained - the process of teaching them how to walk on a lead. This is so important for their safety and for our safety. We need to walk them on a lead to take them to the vet, to move them from pens, to do herd health, and if desired to take them to an alpaca show or event. I have seen extremes either way, of farms that do not halter train and their alpacas are difficult to work with. I have also seen the opposite extreme where alpacas are treated almost as animals that do tricks. We try to keep a balance ~ allow them to still be alpacas with their herd, but also know that was can halter and lead them somewhere safely whenever needed. Our goal is for them all of them to safely walk on lead.
- I am always surprised at how many times I get asked, “Why do you halter train them?” For the same reasons horses and dogs are trained on a lead – to safely and effectively interact with them. If they are going to a show, going to be weighed on a scale, examined by a vet, being bred or anything else, you need to be able to work with your alpaca. Alpaca training and halter training is surprising easy, as long as you approach it in the right manner.
- I had a helper today - someone who had never trained an animal before. Of course, I had to train my helper first, before we could train the babies. While explaining the process I realized that the best advice I ever got for training alpacas came from a Special Ed teacher. She said that working with special ed kids requires you to think really hard about all the steps in the process of whatever skill you are trying to teach. "Chunk it down" is how she phrased it. It is a perfect motto for training animals.