By Michelle Mantor, PetTalk Editor
Our third and final day of Camelid training arrived with an overcast, seemingly about-to-storm morning as we traversed the winding, curvy mountain roads of Banner Elk, NC to our seminar destination at Apple Hill Farm. The alpacas and llamas that we had been working with on days 1 and 2 (all female; males were separated and in another part of the farm), seemed to be ready and waiting at the gate to the barn (see photo gallery). Maybe they were getting used to us two-loggers being around? If so, that’s definitely an accomplishment to begin gaining the trust of one of the most skittish species I’ve encountered. I have learned a great deal from our Camelid expert, Marty McGee Bennett, but the one thing that I came to recognize quickly that I didn’t expect, is that these guys really just want us to go away – UNLESS you develop a strong relationship of respect and trust – which is what I am essentially here to learn how to do. I’m not looking for fiber animals to start a hobby farm; I’m looking for a pet. I also learned two other things that, although disappointing is EXTREMELY important to know, changed things up dramatically for me: 1. Llamas cannot be in the pasture with horses, otherwise, you risk the safety of the llama because one weighs 300 pounds and one weighs 1000 and even in play, accidents can happen. 2. You can’t have just one camelid. they absolutely must have one buddy or more for their well-being based on their herd behavior. Definitely two bits of info I was not too happy to hear but I can understand it and live with it if I decide to go forward with getting llamas.
Today’s lesson did a recap of our “dance” to catch and halter the animals in a way that gives them an “escape”, therefore calming them before they get into a panic. We learned what a proper fitting halter looks like. I was surprised by the visual aids Marty handed out that showed a number of websites selling halters and showing photos of halters that didn’t fit at all! If you want to find a way to irritate and animals (which eventually they get blamed for), it’s to put an ill-fitting halter on and then jerk them around a pasture! To make the point, Marty had each of us “wear” a llama halter and our partner got to hang a HEAVY rope on us and yank us around, demonstrating the weight we carry in our arms and hands that we don’t even realizes (see photo gallery).
We also practiced a technique of catching alpacas in catch pen without the rope and halter (typically might be used to give injections). It was a humane way of catching and calming the animals but took some finesse. My first attempt was an epic fail. I was in the 9×9 catch pen with 5 alpacas and couldn’t humanely catch one. I moved on to a pen that had an alpaca that was notorious among our group as being so easy we thought he was an animatronic – I caught him easily and felt better about my skills LOL!
The day ended with the BEST exercise – we learned clicker training and we got to use our skills in a pasture full of llamas and alpaca (see the video) who had not heard a clicker used before nor had they been offered treats in a frisbee dish. That was A LOT of new stimuli for a shy species! It was, once again, much harder than it looked but once you get the hang of clicker training (on any species), it’s so fun and you can teach them to do anything! It’s all in the timing so practice is essential.
All in all, I loved this adventure but I’m surprised that it didn’t “cement” my desire for a pet llama, which proves it was the right thing to do; learn, learn, learn before you get any animal. I think there is a 70% chance I will end up with two llamas but I’m going to let this valuable few days of learning sink in a bit before making any decisions. But if I do, you know I will be sharing lots of photos and videos with our readers!