The role of physics in keeping alpacas


Physics is around us every day and can make our lives keeping alpacas easier or more difficult. Take note of how you do things and adjust as necessary.

Safe handling techniques for picking up and carrying loads are well known but often ignored. Here are some basic principles to keep in mind.

A typical bag of feed is 20Kg in weight, you don’t want to carry it too far but how do you go about picking it up?

If it is safe to do so while you are listening to the podcast, try closing your eyes and visualising – what is your technique?

  • under the arm?
  • a bear hug, / holding it to your chest?
  • hoisting it to your shoulder?

We do a lot of this so should be good at it – but maybe, actually, we don’t do enough of it and do it without thinking, or reflecting.

What kind of things do you pick up regularly?

  • bags of feed
  • fence posts
  • water containers
  • hurdles
  • shovels

You get the idea and could easily add your own particular ‘loads’ to the list


  1. Know your limits – if it is too heavy, it really is too heavy – a quick lift doesn’t make it lighter
  2. Picking something up and putting it down are the risky times
  3. Moving while carrying something heavy adds to the potential hazards – ideally you should still be able to see your feet but regularly you can’t. Clear the path before picking your item up.
  4. Straight backs are less vulnerable – bend your knees and stand up straight – think about how to get the pull of gravity to be straight down rather than at an angle.
  5. A shared load can be lighter but also difficult to manage – “to me – to you” are useful, along with “putting it down on three” and “can we stop I’m about to drop it!” – we have all been there haven’t we?
  6. Definitely get someone to help you with the bigger, heavier things and agree in advance how you will communicate / especially if it is a volunteer or someone you don’t often do this with.
  7. Use equipment to help you – wheel barrow, sack barrow, or a box on a tractor, or quad.
  8. Pick things up near their centre of gravity – it requires less effort if you find that place of balance rather than strain yourself.

That is gravity and picking up dead weight – what about mucking out with a shovel.

I like to use a plastic shovel that is often called a grain shovel – it is fairly light and has a broad flat mouth – it is not for digging so much as scooping of a flat surface.

As you move towards the pile of alpaca beans neatly brushed into a circle, or better yet an oblong about 2/3 the width of the shovel, you push and start to get under the pile and it’s weight.

If the pile is too wide, it spreads outside of what you can contain on the shovel and you have to make multiple passes. Don’t overload it but work out your best personal loading-weight. I am sure like me, you will get plenty of practice.

Now just before you lift the loaded shovel slide your left hand ( reverse if you are not right-handed ) down the long handle-shaft and as close as possible to the blade or scoop – then lift. Next time you do this – practice with a half-loaded shovel and repeatedly try lifting it with your left hand progressively closer to the scoop end.

This is physics at work – fulcrum and levers at work. The longer the lever is (your right hand) from the fulcrum point (your left hand) the easier it is to apply lift to the load on the other side of the fulcrum (the shovel scoop).

I am sure I have completely lost you by now – this is perhaps more suited to a video. Another project for the back burner.

My plea is to notice what you are doing next time you pick something up, or muck out, or do something with a wheelbarrow – notice and see if subtle changes in technique or positioning or the kind of tool could make a difference. As a last word at this point – do yourself a favour and invest in a two-wheeled wheelbarrow – much easier to keep your balance.

Take aways

  • 1. Use physics for you rather than against you
  • 2. Notice how you do things
  • 3. Don’t just have a try anyway when your head is screaming don’t do it – stay safe

Down on the farm

The geese have left so things are quieter and the alpacas don’t have as much competition for the grazing in their field!. Listen to hear the story of the great escape.

Topical Tips

  • Keep a look-out for wounds or collections of flies on the alpacas which could suggest potential fly-strike prevention is 100x better than cure afterwards
  • Walk your boundary and check the posts are still secure and not rotted at the base – alpacas don’t challenge fences, much, but better to know of potential escape points that their curiosity will lead them to explore.

Have a good week and if you can go spend some time with an alpaca.

megan ballet pose

Come join the Alpaca Tribe at our Facebook Group

Leave a comment