Want to halter train your alpacas but not sure where to begin? Here's our guide on how to do it...
Alpaca Handling Basics
If you wish to walk your herd, we suggest selecting male alpacas who have a friendly temperament, are already halter trained, or are young enough to be trained (around 5 - 12 months of age). If you are intending to breed your alpacas, selecting females that are used to being handled and are halter trained will likely be of great help to you, as they will be easier to manage when working with them.
Patience is key when handling and halter training your herd. Even if you have purchased well-behaved alpacas, they need time to trust you as their new owner in their new surroundings. Be patient and focus on growing a positive bond with your alpacas – this will make moving and handling them so much easier for everyone involved. So, take time to just sit and hang out with your alpacas. Let them come up and sniff you and, if they allow you to, rub their neck or shoulder. Do not touch the top of their heads as most alpacas do not like this! It’s important to keep in mind that some alpacas may never be confident or ‘cuddly’, and that’s perfectly okay.
How to Catch Alpacas
Here's our tips on how to catch your alpacas:
Make sure the space where they will be penned into is set up and ready to go and block any gaps to avoid escapees!
Always catch your alpacas as a group - trying to catch a single alpaca will result in panic and chaos and most likely them running in the opposite direction to you and it being even harder to catch them second time around, now they are suspicious of your intentions!
If your alpacas follow a routine and come to the pen at a particular time for feed or when called, plan to catch them during this time to make the process easier
If #3 is not possible, you can quietly herd your alpacas from behind using a lightweight rope or tape to fill gaps, which can be tied to poles and fence posts to cover larger gaps and use fence lines and hedges to your advantage to funnel the alpacas into the penned area
Always remain calm and gentle
How to Safely Restrain an Alpaca
If regularly carried out from a young age in a calm and gentle manner, restraining should become a normal part of your alpaca’s life, making it much easier when needed for husbandry tasks. Follow the below steps to safely restrain your alpacas:
Once your alpacas have been penned, using the methods mentioned above, remove any obstacles that could cause injury - a strong alpaca could throw you or themselves into something, such as a protruding hayrack.
Quietly and slowly approach your alpacas from the side, before gently placing your hand on their rump - this usually causes them to stand still for a moment, but be aware that they can kick outwards and backwards.
Slide your hand up to the base of their neck whilst stepping closer, before bringing your other hand around the neck and carefully holding the back of their head.
Ensure you have good footing and maintain one hand on the shoulders, at the base of the neck to prevent rearing.
Get a second person to carry out the necessary procedure.
There is another method known as the ‘bracelet hold’, which involves playing one hand at the back of their ears and sliding the index finger and thumb on your other hand along the grooves either side of their mouth. This is particularly useful when examining the head, face, or teeth.
Fitting an Alpaca Halter
Use specific alpaca halters to ensure they fit correctly as alpacas are semi-obligate nasal breathers, which means they must be able to breathe through their nose, and an incorrectly fitting halter can affect their ability to do this. If your alpaca is misbehaving on a headcollar, ensure that the fitting is right because they may actually be struggling to breathe properly. Don’t forget that you may need 2 different sizes of halter for the same alpaca before and after shearing, as their fleece thickness can make a huge difference! Halters can be purchased from Homestead Farm Supplies.
Here is a typical sizing guide:
Small is suitable for cria aged 6 - 12 months
Medium will fit most adults
Large fits large males or females
How to Halter Train an Alpaca
Halter training an alpaca is most effective when started from 5 – 6 months of age, whilst they are being weaned and it is best to train 2 or 3 alpacas together (you will need a second person to help you) as alpacas are very social animals and get stressed when separated from their group. Be patient and build the training up gradually. Always respect an alpaca’s space and tolerances. Some alpacas enjoy being on a halter, whereas others simply aren’t cut out for it. If you plan on walking your alpacas, castrated males are often the best candidates due to their calm and docile nature (as well as being cheaper to purchase than females).
10 steps to halter train your alpaca:
Pen your alpacas into an enclosed area.
Put the headcollar over your left arm for easy access in a moment.
Quietly & slowly approach your alpacas from the left hand side - gently placing your right hand on their rear may help as this usually causes them to stand still for just a moment, but be aware that they can kick!
Slide your right hand up the right side of their neck whilst stepping closer on their left side (as this is the side the headcollar will fasten).
Make sure you are now stood side by side with your alpaca, with your right arm around their neck, holding them gently but firmly.
Slip the headcollar down your arm so you have the buckle/snap fastening in your left hand and the strap in your right.
Gently put the nose hole over their muzzle - when they are used to the process, they may put their nose in for you!
Bring the strap round the back of the neck, close to the base of the ears, and fasten. Make sure the headcollar fits properly and is not squashing the nose.
Clip on the lead rope to the main ring underneath the jaw.
Stand with your alpaca for a couple of minutes - expect tantrum like behaviour (throwing themselves around, lying down and refusing to move, rolling about) in the first few sessions, as it is a brand new experience for them (that could be likened to a puppy getting a new collar that they try to scratch off). Repeat this regularly and, when they're ready, progress to feeding them from your hand or a scoop when they have the headcollar on and begin gradually introducing a couple of steps at a time between getting food and increase the amount of steps each session.
Learn how to look after alpacas
This 95 page E-Guide is packed full of information for new and prospective alpaca keepers, covering Alpaca 101, Requirements, Diet & Pasture Management, Husbandry Tasks, Disease & Parasites and an Introduction to Breeding & Cria Care. Download upon purchase so you can dive straight in! For the full contents list and to get your copy, click the image below.