Alpacas — Handling

Handling

Fences, gateways, gates and all facilities used to handle alpacas must be constructed and maintained to reduce the risk of injury.

 

Approved Activities Category
Observation of animal behaviour  1
Observation of particular animal behaviours, e.g. oestrus, parturition  2

 

As with all livestock, alpacas have a flight zone. This flight zone is the area around the animal, that if penetrated, the animal will attempt to move away.  Each individual animal’s flight zone will influence how the animal can be handled and how they will react to a handler and groups of students. Alpacas will have a decreased flight zone after extensive handling when they feel comfortable around the handler and in handling facilities.

In areas where alpacas are handled, illumination should be uniform and shadows and bright spots minimised. Objects or items such as clothing hanging on a race may stop animal movement.

Alpaca behaviour

 

Mustering, drafting, capture and handling of alpacas

Approved Activities Category
Mustering, drafting (in crush or bail head), capture, restraint and handling of non-free-living domesticated animals (leading or riding an appropriately trained animal).  3
 Familiarisation  2

 

Alpacas should always be handled calmly and patiently using a soft voice. Alpacas are very trainable animals and will easily respond to food reward, coming up to a feeding pen when called or at a routine feeding time. Alpacas can also be trained to lead with a halter however they do not enjoy being cuddled or touched around the head. Halter training is used when showing them and handling them to perform maintenance tasks such as nail trimming, vaccinating and worming. Alpacas usually herd easily if approached and should be herded slowly and quietly. This reduces stress and danger to both animal and handler.

Alpacas will need to be handled for husbandry tasks such as vaccinating, nail trimming, worming, teeth trimming and shearing. A well-constructed handling system is essential in order to allow efficient handling, safety and minimal stress to the animal and handler.

Alpacas in a school system can be herded using a number of people, spread in a line across a paddock to herd the animals into a small yard or section of a paddock.  Alternatively, a rope can be stretched in between 2 handlers across a paddock to guide the animals into a specific area. The animals can then be caught and restrained if necessary.

Extra care should be taken when handling pregnant hembras, crias, lame alpacas, machos or isolated alpacas. Always ensure that an alpaca has one or more alpacas in close proximity or view to avoid them becoming stressed and possibly dangerous to the handler.

Avoid penning animals for long periods of time and return them to feed and water as soon as possible after handling and yarding. Due to alpaca’s susceptibility to heat stress, if penned on a hot day, sprinklers can be used to cool the area and settle dust.

 

Catching an Alpaca

To catch an alpaca a small herd or group of animals should be moved into a yard, small paddock or pen. Capture is easiest with the handlers arm low down around the alpaca’s neck. Most alpacas will be comfortable in the position while a halter is fitted. Before attempting these tasks, students should be familiar with alpaca behaviour and always approach and handle then calmly and quietly.

An alpaca can be restrained by holding the animals head and neck firmly to the handler’s chest with the other hand resting over the withers. If necessary, another handler can be used to pin the back end of the animal firmly against the side of the pen, taking care to ensure the alpaca cannot get its legs caught in the fencing.

Alpacas can then be further restrained by tying a loop of soft rope with about 15cm of slack around the body just in front of the pelvis. The rear legs can then be lifted and the feet placed into the loop under the abdomen. If the animal needs to be laid down, use two people standing on one side of the animal. Both lean across the animals back and grasp the animal’s legs closest to the handlers. Carefully flip the animal over with the front handler supporting the head and neck. This process should only be performed by, or under the guidance of an experienced handler. Incorrect handling can result in injury and stress to both animal and handler.

The way that alpacas behave during handling is a result of:

    • the amount of handling they have had
    • the quality of that handling
    • their genetics
    • their production status, pregnant or lactating
    • their gender and age.

 

Training animals

Alpacas should be trained to make working with them more efficient and safer for them and the handlers. Training alpacas is typically used for better outcomes in a variety of situations and for different purposes. These include:

    • for showing and preparation
    • transportation
    • movement between paddocks and facilities
    • routine husbandry procedures
    • matings.

Routines are extremely important when training animals. Older, well-trained animals can be used to guide younger or newly acquired animals into good habits and help reduce the time taken in training. Alpacas are very easy to train and learn to walk on a halter with ease. They also respond to food reward well and an easy way of familiarising young or new alpacas to handlers and groups of students is to feed them in one place at a regular time each day. The alpacas will usually come up for feeding when called or when they hear the food, especially once they are in a routine. Placing new or young alpacas with existing alpacas that are familiar with the routine will aid the familiarisation process.

 

Showing alpacas

Approved Activities Category
Familiarisation  2
Training/gentling  3
Training for competition or showing  3
Tethering/restraining for shows  3
Coat care and grooming  2
Coat/fleece clipping  3
Hoof paring: sheep & goats & alpacas  3
Loading and unloading animals onto transporters  3
Showing animals at school and away  3

 

Time and effort needs to be put into training animals for the show ring. Training is best done slowly from a young age. Alpacas suitable for showing need to be specially selected based on their fleece quality, age, colour temperament as well as their conformation.

All alpacas in schools should be halter trained. They are easily trained to a halter however need to be introduced to the halter slowly and patiently once they are accustomed to be surrounded by a group of students.

Halter training can begin when the alpaca is about 3-8 months old and should take place in a small pen. Care must be taken to ensure the halter is correctly fitted and not low over the bridge of the nose as they are obligate breathers, meaning they breathe entirely through their nose.

It is important to have the alpaca very familiar with the handler and groups of students before attempting to lead it with a halter. The calmer the animal is with being in close proximity to the handler, the easier the training process will be. It is also preferable to have another alpaca close by, as individual alpacas can get very stressed if they cannot see their mates.

Once the animal is familiar and comfortable with a handler and its halter, a lead can be attached. The handler should stand in front of the animal and increase pressure on the lead, gently pulling the animal forwards. As soon as the animal makes a forward movement, pressure should be released immediately as the reward. It is important to speak softly and calmly but to be firm and definite with all actions when handling. Continue the pressure and release steps until the animal is walking behind the handler. The handler can then begin to walk beside the animal.

When training begins with a very young animal the handler can walk beside them and place a hand on the withers for reassurance. Young alpacas will happily follow another animal. This can be used when training them to lead by leading a young animal behind a well-trained alpaca. This aids in the ease and speed of training.

Animals that will be used for showing need to become comfortable with being groomed and having their bonnet’s trimmed.

Halter training alpacas

Good advice for preparing for shows: To show or not to show