A Taste of Life at Windrush Alpacas

September 24, 2008

So Why Are Your Alpacas So Friendly?

 

That’s a question we are often asked by other alpaca breeders.  To people who have not been around alpacas much they actually appear a little distant.  Much of the national marketing of alpacas has talked about “the huggable investment” and so people expect them to want to be hugged and petted.  While alpacas are beautifully soft most of them are not really keen on being hugged and petted, that’s just not normal alpaca behavior.

 

To those that have been around alpacas our alpacas apparently seem quite friendly.  I think part of it is just the natural curiosity of the alpacas, but I feel the biggest part of their behavior towards humans is based on trust. 

 

From the day that a cria is born, or the day that an alpaca arrives at the farm we work to ensure that they feel safe and comfortable.  With crias we make sure that they are well bonded with their dam before being turned out into the herd and any movements or interaction with them is slow, gentle and calm.  No grabbing, wrestling or forceful movements on our part.   As they grow, we continue to make an effort to use gently movements around them.  When we start to teach them to pick up their feet, we are confident with our movements and make sure that they are in balance once we raise a foot up.  If we are hesitant they will sense it and wonder what there is to be unsure of, by keeping the cria in balance they feel more secure about having a foot picked up and don’t feel as if they are going to topple over when the foot is lifted.

 

When an adult alpaca arrives at the farm we make a point of giving him or her several days when we only do the basic chores around them such as feeding and watering.  Unless it is medically necessary we don’t do any other tasks such as trimming toenails, giving shots etc.  During their first few days here we like to observe them and gauge their personality and I am sure they are doing the same to us too.

 

While some alpacas do enjoy a scratch under the chin or an ear rub, for the most part alpacas prefer to be hands off and perhaps one of the biggest break throughs for me during our first years of owning alpacas was when I learnt to stop trying to touch them all the time!  Like many new alpaca owners I was so proud of them and wanted to feel their fleece, take a look at it, pick bits of hay off their blanket area or perhaps remove a piece of hay that was dangling from a top knot.  Then I learnt that to an alpaca that sort of behavior is just plain irritating, so I trained myself to stop doing that and low and behold the alpacas started to get more comfortable around me. 

 

One thing that Ric mentions to small children who visit us is that once we enter the pasture their arms need to stay down, their hands need to stay by their side or in their pockets and absolutely no running or chasing.  Ric explains to the children that if they watch the alpacas, they will notice that the alpacas walk most of the time and they never reach out to touch each other with a front leg (the alpacas equivalent of our arms), so when people reach out to touch an alpaca the alpaca wonders what on earth they are doing. Ric explains that alpacas greet each other by sniffing and that if the children behave quietly, without reaching out, the alpacas will come over and sniff them. Ric’s talk to the children works well and they are soon thrilled when the alpacas come over and sniff them.

 

Obviously there are times when we have to do things to the alpacas that they are not to thrilled about.  Some of our breeding males take exception to having the toe nails on their hind feet being trimmed, we are too near to their “business end” for their liking, but it has to be done.    But when we have a task to do that we know the alpacas are not keen on we make the effort to do it gently and with confidence in order to make it easy for all involved. We use the lightest hold or restraint possible in order to do the task safely.

 

Take the time to observe your alpacas, watch their movements and how they interact with each other and then think about how you interact with them and how you can make that better.  Be conscience of your movements when you are with your herd, and if necessary take the time to retrain yourself.  You will learn a lot about alpacas in the process and you will learn a lot about yourself too.  It really pays off dividends to have your alpacas trust you, herd management is so much easier for both handler and alpacas with calm, relaxed alpacas not to mention how much healthier it is for all involved too.

 

Rosemary

2 Comments »

  1. You’ve done a nice explanation of how to introduce people to alpacas that aren’t all that interested in being “hugged.” A few of my mini-llamas enjoy being petted, but all but 1 of the alpacas prefer “hands-off,” and I have 30+ animals. Both the alpacas and the llamas like to hang out with me, as I feed them and water their bellies. But they like to be just beyond my arm’s reach. I know that it’s best to respect their space

    Comment by Alpaca Ranching — September 24, 2008 @ 9:45 pm

  2. I totally understand what you are saying and have a hard time keeping my hands off the crias, but you are right. I have found if I don’t pressure them, they will come to me. We have one cria that just loves his chin scratched, and he is very curious if you are in his pasture with a camera. He comes right over, nose in camera lens — what a ham. 🙂

    Comment by Kelly L — October 1, 2008 @ 6:57 pm


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