Episode 9 – Moving experiences with alpacas

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This week I wanted to share some thoughts about moving your alpacas from one place to another. Mostly this is straightforward but you would be amazed at the complications that can arise if you don’t keep your wits about you. 

Here are some basic principles that will help you get started

  1. Alpacas are herd animals and like to stay together as a group (mostly) therefore, it is easier to treat them as one and move the whole group whenever possible.
  2. They respond to herding pressure – as you move towards them they will tend to move away.
  3. When they understand what you want of them they are more likely to cooperate – new situations or changes to the usual arrangements will produce hesitancy. 
  4. Slow and steady is better than fast and furious – keeping calm and quiet will achieve better results than rushing and shouting – unless the barn is on fire! And even then… 

If you are able to make the alpacas do what you want but have them think it was their idea you were getting somewhere.

Push or Pull (this is not meant to be a doctor Dolittle reference but it could be!)

There is a time and place for both approaches. Sometimes you will need to be behind them – push, pushing – as mentioned in the introduction this is best done in a gentle manner rather than loud and pushy. There needs to be a space in front that they can move into. The opposite is pull – which is more to do with calling them, or leading them. This requires familiarity – they have to know and trust you and usually they need a good reason to cooperate, such as their being fed. 

Find a call or whistle and use it routinely – they will soon get the idea. The sound of food being shaken in the bucket would also fit into this category, as would noisily dropping the metal food trough which can be effective – even when they are at the far end of the valley. Of course routines that include feeding them at the same time also help.

Make it easy for them to do what you want them to do

Lane ways and single option routes make life simpler for the push approach. If you have a  fenced corridor running between gates that you can open, there is only one way that they can go and they can even be left to take as long as they like grazing the path as they go, knowing that they’re not going to escape. If you need to hurry them to the new position, you can always apply some herding pressure from behind – slow and steady.

A word of warning – always, always open or close the gate or gates you need to before you start trying to move them. Think, plan ahead and prepare. If there is an alternative route they are likely to take it. Numbers of times I have not remembered to do this and experienced the frustration of encouraging them to come down into the stable, only to find that they turn the corner and go back from where I just collected them rather than entering the stable. They do know when you are trying to do something that they will probably not enjoy.

Females with cria at foot

I think I have made mentioned before about the challenge of moving females with newborn or young cria at foot. This requires a different herding technique because the babies do not understand the rules and if they don’t move the mothers will not move. It is something I wish I had been told before my first cria were born but I soon learned my lesson and found a new strategy to achieve herding with cria. This inevitably takes more time than usual.

Fences are your friends

By which I mean that it is possible to apply herding pressure so that the group of Alpacas move across the field until they reach the fence and then you move them along the fence to the necessary opening, usually a gate. This is part of the thinking you need to do in advance about your field layout. This will include creating laneways and putting gates in the right place, to allow you to work the alpacas along the fence. Designing carefully in the first place can save you so much time in the long run.

Arms and Wands

In general, using your arms Extended is sufficient to make you significantly ‘wider’ in your reach and to apply gentle herding pressure. You don’t have to wave them around or do anything in a hurry, just extending your arms and moving towards the alpacas is enough. You can also use extensions to your arms. In my case, I use fibreglass wands which are around a metre long, and which are part of the Camelid Dynamics approach to handling alpacas. I don’t use them all the time but when you need to move a group, particularly separating some from the rest of the herd, it is useful to have the additional arm extension to control the alpacas. I also make great use of them in the stable in order to sort and select particular animals to be released or held back for treatment, examination, or weighing.

Along similar lines you can use herding tape or ropes to extend between two or more people and move a large group of animals quite easily.

Timing and patience

I have come to realise that you can’t hurry children, technology or alpacas. Regularly you need to let them have a look and think about what is in front of them. When they are facing the right way, press up behind them but don’t try to push them too hard when they’re facing towards you, otherwise you are likely to produce both spitting and splintering of the group. If you have some breakaway groups you need to stop and start again – collect them back into one group and try again, slowly.

Plan and practice

When trying something new for the first time it is important to plan and practice it – do it again, have a dry run. For example moving animals through the barn or stable in order to weigh them – run them through this before doing it for real so they are familiar and recognise that there is no threat.

Haltering

Using a halter and lead for animals, particularly if you’re moving only a few can be very helpful and halter training is desirable wherever possible. A large number of animals makes this more difficult but it is still worth the investment of time and effort. If you have to move animals between fields and they are not familiar with being halted and lead, they will often opt out by sitting down so you may have to move them “freestyle”.

Some of my experience

Youngsters with mildly challenging behaviour. 

In our first winter, I was returning a group of animals from one field to their home base, however, the 5-month-old youngsters had become more exploratory and adventurous and managed to break through my temporary barricade fence –  half of the adults also followed suit and I judged it was better to allow them to be all together rather than persisting with trying to move some of them down the original path. So I opened the fence and let them all through  – along the side of the lake and down to the car park. It was a hard winter that year and part of the lake was frozen. Rushing ahead, I opened the gate into the field to allow them to come in and when I turned around I discovered one of the alpacas had ventured out onto the ice – it was the well-frozen end but nevertheless… Just going dark, all of the curtains in the house were already drawn and there was no one with me.  It was Hermione out on the ice, our best female – who did a wonderful Bambi impression and then promptly sat down and cushed, because she found it so difficult trying to stand up. My rescue involved gently edging myself out onto the ice lying down, until I could reach her. I took hold of two handfuls of fleece and slid her across the ice and back onto solid ground – we all survived and I certainly learnt some lessons. Expect the unexpected and have a plan B and even C.

Millie is a leader 

I think I have told you about Millie before – ever since she first arrived she has led the rest of the group, even when she doesn’t know where she’s going. The first time we opened the gate after she arrived, she led everyone down the path like she knew where she was going. Ever since she has had to be at the front or the rest of the group become uncertain about what to do. Having reached the gate they hesitate unless Millie is at the front leading the way. Know your animals and their positions as we talked about last time and you can take advantage of making sure that your Millie equivalent is there to lead the way in the right direction, rather than take them off to the wrong place.

LINKS

Camelid Dynamics

Wands and herding tape and other equipment – in UK

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