What a beautiful Sunday morning in Ohio…started out cloudy after rain during the night…then blue skies, sunshine, and a very pleasant temperature. I decided to do some work with our babies this morning before it got too hot.
They are not so much babies anymore, still young though, at nine and ten months old.
I really don’t like separating moms and babies at weaning time because it is such a sad time for them. Sometimes we have reason to wean them such as moms not keeping their weight on because of a cria that is demanding too much from her. Sometimes we wean them because they have been sold or are going to a show. We want to be sure our little ones are eating on their own, gaining weight like they should, and adjusting to life on their own without mom.
What I do enjoy very much about weaning time, is that these precious, now very needy babies, become interested in bonding with us! This is when we begin halter training and through halter training they learn to trust us and to feel safe. A herd that feels safe and trusts us is so much more enjoyable than one that doesn’t. Our alpacas are much calmer and I believe, happier, because of how they are handled. If their stress level is minimal, they also produce a lovelier fleece, and because they are fiber animals this is important!
I am always amazed at how quickly alpacas learn. I just take baby steps with them. The first day I just put on the halter, then off again, then on and off, several times. The next day they wear the halter while they eat. On another day I add the lead. I always work in a small square pen, standing back behind the alpaca allowing them to initiate movement, and leaving an opening ahead of them so they don’t feel trapped. I add a few more minutes to our training session each day and always have a buddy in the pen so the alpaca in training is not alone.
They then graduate out of the pen to a small pasture, or narrow runway if there is one available.
I use a very long lead, giving them plenty of distance from me. Miss Miami is very fearful and with head down and feet planted, she refuses to move. Rather like a stubborn child, wouldn’t you say?
Slightly tugging and then releasing, tug and release, tug and release, tug and release, she learns that what I’m asking her to do isn’t so bad.
Finally, she is able to pick her head up off the ground …
… and stand up!
If you ever have a chance to attend a Camelidynamics Clinic, they are very worthwhile and actually make owning alpacas much more fun! Marty McGee Bennett has been to our farm twice now presenting clinics. She travels all over the world teaching alpaca owners how to train and handle their alpacas, and she has a sense of humor! She has written a book called The Camelid Companion that I highly recommend, and also has a website with lots of helpful information.
Her advice is very practical…it makes sense…and it works!
I worked with Aurora and Miss Miami this morning, Miami being my biggest challenge. I could see how fearful she was, understandably so, both she and Aurora lost their mothers in the dog attack on our farm this Spring. I knew I had my work cut out for me with her.
I decided to take them out of the pasture. I hooked the two of them together on one lead, which meant they had to figure out how to walk together.
They were very hesitant in the beginning. It wasn’t long before they wanted to be right next to me, now trusting that I would keep them safe.
We walked through the backyard…
…down a path through the field…
I offered them some blackberries, but neither were at all interested. They took in the sights and the sounds, but were very much on their guard.
We walked next to the hay field and then through the hay field, stopping to let them eat, but again they had no interest.
Everything was too new, too scary.
I suspect that eventually they will indulge in such treats, and then our walks will be like going on a picnic!
It was a successful outing and I felt like I made progress with these two!
I enjoy the training and gaining their trust. When I feel like they are at ease with the halter and with me, I will put them back in with the rest of the herd and they will reunite with their family and friends, having gained more of a sense of calmness about their world around them.