The biggest and most important advice we could give you when it comes to handling alpacas would be to have patience. Your alpacas must be allowed time to learn to trust you. And you need to get to know them, their personalities, likes and dislikes. Being patient will allow you to grow a bond with your alpacas and make moving them and handling them a much easier and happier task. Allow time to just sit and hang out with your alpacas so they can come up to you at their own pace and talk to them. Do not touch the top of their heads - most alpacas do not like this - rub their neck or shoulder instead, if they let you. Some alpacas may never be 'cuddly' or overly confident and that's ok. Our first group of alpacas took about 12 months to learn to trust us enough to eat from our hands and let us trim their feet calmly. And, after spending all that time with them, it was my Mum (a stranger to them) who actually got the privilege of the first feed from them! The logic sometimes goes amiss but persevere and it will pay off.
Catching your alpacas
To catch your alpacas for treatment, health checks, handling, movement etc it is important to prepare first. Make sure the space is ready where they will be penned and block any gateways or gaps to avoid escapee alpacas! You can catch your alpacas in a set up area with either of the following techniques. Remain calm and gentle in whichever approach you choose.
Get your alpacas used to coming to the handling set up by feeding them in or near the handling space. Eventually, they will come when they see you or with a call which is good practice and incredibly useful in an emergency, particularly if on your own.
If it's not possible to do the above, you can quietly herd them from behind and utilise a length of lightweight rope to fill larger gaps which can be tied to poles and fence posts to maximise coverage if the space is large or you are alone.
Halter training is best started from 5 - 6 months of age at weaning time. Using food and feeding your alpacas whilst on the halter is a great way to get them used to wearing the halter. Be patient and build slowly... Start with showing them the halter, putting the halter on and taking it off, then a couple of steps and so on...
When using a halter, make sure it fits snuggly just underneath the eyes - if it is too far down it can cause suffocation as it squeezes the soft part of the nose. If you find an alpaca 'plays up' or is 'naughty' on a headcollar, check the fitting is right because the naughtiness could actually be them struggling to breathe properly.
Restraining your alpacas
If it is necessary to restrain your alpacas, here's how you can do it:
Get them into a catchment area with one of the aforementioned methods.
Once penned, quietly and slowly approach them side on, bringing your hand to gently place on their rear this usually causes your alpaca to stand still BUT be mindful that they can kick outwards and backwards!
Slide your hand up to the base of their neck whilst stepping closer to bring the other hand around the neck.
Move in close to your alpaca and maintain your hand on the shoulders at the base of the neck - this will prevent rearing.
If done calmly and regularly from a young age for routine checks and handling, this should become a normal part of your alpacas life, making it much easier when needed for husbandry tasks. Be mindful of obstacles around you in case a strong alpaca throws you into something - such as a protruding hayrack!
If you plan on transporting your alpacas regularly (such as for showing), getting them used to their mode of transport is a good idea. Horse boxes, standard stock boxes or specially adapted vans are the ideal options. Having them already halter trained makes this a lot easier. Walk them near to the transport so they get used to seeing it and build it up by getting closer next time, then walking around and then walking in and out of it. Alpacas will sit when the transport is moving. Use straw to cover the base of the box/adapted van for your alpacas to lay on. Leaving their headcollars on during transit is a good idea in case they need to be quickly clipped back to a lead rope in an emergency. Likewise, be prepared by taking water/feed with you in case of a breakdown. Alpacas do not require movement forms like sheep and cows, but keeping a record of movements is useful.
If you are interested in keeping alpacas, we recommend visiting a few alpaca keepers (covid-19 restrictions permitting) in order to discover first-hand how herds are managed and cared for. We offer valuable guidance and support to individuals considering keeping alpacas; just contact us for further information.