Category Archives: Archive

Plans for a Restraining Chute

Chute plansHE0One of the most important tools you could have for your llamas or alpacas is a restraining chute.  It can makes tough jobs like medical work, shearing, trimming toes and grooming a lot easier – especially when dealing with nervous animals.

While most commercial chutes  are great, they can be quite expensive. Here are plans for building your own.

Click here:  chuteplans  (pdf)

Halter Training

by Jim and Amy Logan

Haltering is a basic behavior that should be taught to every llama in your herd. Happily, by following a few simple concepts easy haltering can be an attainable goal for everyone.  Here we cover one of the most traditional ways to halter your llama.

How Beats When

Effective haltering skills can be taught at any age.  Fortunately, when you train is not nearly as important as where and how to train, so if you haven’t made it out there right at weaning time, don’t worry.  First, set up a reliable, consistent training area.  Make your schoolroom easy to herd your llamas in and out of.  Allow your llama to settle in by himself, and once he is comfortable, you can begin.  Talking to your llama is very important not only for bonding and trust building, but also for the future use of  verbal commands

Start in a small catch pen around 10’ x 10’. Stand quietly in the pen with your llama until he is comfortable with you being in the pen with him. When he accepts your presence as “no big deal,” then start moving closer.  If he moves, then stop, immediately give him the command “stand.”  The llama must associate verbal cues with physical actions.  Llamas don’t know what “stand” means; so in early training when the llama is standing, you say “stand.”

One of the most common mistakes owners make is to say the word “stand” while the llama is still moving. This makes the llama associate the behavior of moving around with the cue to “stand.”  Work on getting closer to your llama, then begin the next step of slowly reaching out to him and stroking him on the neck while he stands. Then practice putting your right arm around his neck while he is standing, as if you were going to halter him.  Your goal is to put your right arm around your llama’s neck without him pulling away from you. If he does, concentrate on releasing the pressure, because the more you pull, the more he will pull.  Note – don’t forget to use your verbal rewards and praises.  Once your llama stands, talk to him while petting him on the neck and then release him.  Always try to release when the llama is not pulling away from you. Remember: to instill good catching habits you must show your llama that being caught is no big deal.

Short Sessions

The age of the llama is important when considering how long to make each  lesson. Younger llamas have shorter attention spans;  10 to 15-minute lessons are fairly basic when teaching catch and halter.

Try to catch your llama as described for several days in a row. By doing consecutive training sessions, the llama becomes more comfortable because  he knows what to expect. After several days, this will create a more relaxed atmosphere.  Each to the vet or for doing toenail trimming, shots, etc. In the beginning it is important to just catch and release.  If you put a halter on and go to the vet  every time you catch your llama, he may associate negative activities with being caught.  Remember, you may know what you are going to do with your llama and where you are going, but he doesn’t!

Fits is Important

     After your llama is easy to catch, you can start desensitizing the nose for haltering.  Put your right arm around the llama’s neck and run your left hand up the neck to the cheek and slowly drift your fingers over the bridge of the nose. How far and fast you progress depends on the llama’s reaction as you do this.  Most llamas will sier.  Do this three or four times and end the lesson.

        When you are ready to halter, be sure to choose a halter that is plenty big enough for your llama.  You don’t want to get to the haltering and then find out you can’t even fit it over his nose!  First, smoothly catch your llama just as you have been practicing previously.  Stand with your right hip into your llama’s left shoulder, facing the same way that your llama is facing.  Hold the halter in your left hand.  Then put your right arm around the llama’s neck with very little pressure on the neck.  Raise your left hand, (holding the halter) with deliberate speed upwards, parallel with the neck, just under the chin.  Grasp the unbuckled strap on the halter with your right hand. Now you are holding the halter with both hands, this allows you to position the nose band so that it is upright and wide enough for your llama’s nose.

Trust Building

Move the halter from beneath the chin all the way up on the nose. Then take it off just as easily as you put it on.  Depending on the llama’s reaction, it’s usually good practice to repeat the above procedure, including catching, haltering, and releasing three or four times before you buckle the halter.  Save the buckling for another lesson.  In the first session or two, we are just showing the llama that the approach, catch, halter, and release are no big deal.  As soon as your llama accepts this procedure, do the approach and halter and then add the buckling.

When you do buckle it, you may leave it on for a 5 – 7 minutes, so that the llama can get used to how it feels.  A proper fitting halter will not squash the llama’s  nose or work up into his eyes. After the halter has been on for a few minutes, approach and release the llama.

When working with your llama, be sure to avoid the chase game. This inevitably  causes more stress, making it more difficult to create a positive learning atmosphere.  Limit your llama’s mobility.  Smaller pens allow for more intimate interaction.  If you are using ropes, bribes, or extra accessories, remember!  There is nothing wrong with finding different ways to get the desired results. But all of these helpers must eventually be faded away in order to get your finished behavior, stress-free haltering.

The more you use a crutch or a bribe, the harder it will be to get rid of it later.

Keep safety in mind. While it may be easy for you to use force when working with the younger llama, physical force with an adult llama is a different story.  Llamas of any age are extremely strong, it is better to use your head instead of depending on your muscles!  It is important that you put in your time percur during the process.

They Have Their Reasons

This building of trust will only help you in future training, particularly when introducing new and potentially scary things.  The llama with haltering problems has a reason for his behavior. His behaviors are in place today because they have worked well for him in the past. Raising a nose up high in the air to avoid the halter, flinging the halter off and running away as soon as the halter is unbuckled, or running away from you as soon as he even sees a halter, have all been effective behaviors for him to avoid unpleasant situations in his previous life.  It is your job to teach him that haltering can be fast, easy, and tolerable, if not pleasant.

Again, use your environment to your advantage.  Don’t get into trtable with you, and realizes that raising the nose is no longer effective, you can lower your step stool object and height until you are eventually catching a normal llama at a normal height.  It just takes a little time and patience to gradually reach the desired behavior.

Use Slow Hands

For those halter-flinging llamas who love to fling their heads and run away the moment you are even thinking of releasing the halter,  take it slow. Be prepared for what you have experienced in the past, you can sense and feel the muscles changing in the llama’s neck and face before he flings his head. Keep adequate pressure on while releasing the halter, and release it as quickly as possible, retaining control of the llama for just a moment after unbuckling, and before removing the halter.  You know what is coming, so just start slowly, accepting a millisecond of control after unbuckling, and slowly increase the amount of time you retain control after unbuckling.  Eventually, you’ll be able to release your llama and retain control for several moments after removing the halter.

So how long does all this take?  The speed of your progress is directly related to your approach and how your llama responds.  Most llamas can learnroaching, catching and haltering and get it down and very familiar before you progress to adding a lead rope, or going for a walk. You don’t have to put up with poor haltering habits.  Show your llama that there is always a better way!

This article originally appeared in Llama Life II Issue No. 53, Spring 2000.

Barn Maintenence: Using Litter Boxes

It’s no secret to llama owners that llamas use communal dung piles – often multiple piles – but communal just the same. However, many are surprised to learn that llamas will use litter boxes. Most don’t believe it until they see it.

Training your llamas to use a litter box not only helps keep your barn clean, it can also reduce the amount of time and energy you use to keep it that way. Our llamas have been using litter boxes for about 15 years. And, with 100 llamas, this poop manage ment tool is a life saver.

Freshly cleaned litter box with fresh pine saw dust.
Freshly cleaned litter box with fresh pine saw dust.

IMG_2389The Birth of the Litter Box

For the first three years we owned llamas – back when we had about a dozen – we tried everything to manage the manure in the barn. Coming from a horse background, the thing that made the most sense was shavings but we were afraid of the mess it would make in the llamas’ coats. So we tried straw and hay to soak up the urine, but found it inefficient and tended to produce a worse odor than the urine alone. Then we tried sand… which produced yet a bigger mess. Although sand was nice in the summer because you can wet it down to cool off the llamas, it was backbreaking to move and managed to get deep into the llamas’ coats. Eventually, we broke down and decided to try pine shavings/sawdust.

It worked great! It soaked up the urine, was lighter to shovel and the pine made the barn smell good. (I’ve always loved the smell of a freshly bedded horse barn.) But the llamas were kicking and tracking the litter all over. So we kept sweeping the loose litter into a corner but found that the llamas followed the pile. So we installed a retaining rail to keep the litter in the corner and thus created our first “litter box.”

How To Train Your Llamas

Start by spreading pine saw dust or fine shavings over their dung pile area. This will soak up the urine. Sweep the tracked litter back into place. Replace with fresh shavings after each cleaning. If the llamas continue to use the same dung pile with the shavings/sawdust and you’re satisfied with the location, construct retaining “walls” with 4” x 4” wooden boards (or two 4” x 4” securely nailed on top of one another to create your “wall”). Then fill the area 4” deep with shavings/saw dust. The smallest box we use has an area of 3’ x 6’ – this has worked well with small groups of llamas (one to four). Our largest litter box is 8’ x 8’ and takes two wheelbarrows full of sawdust (or two bales of shavings) to fill. There can be as many as four llamas using this box at one time (including babies who quickly emulate their mamas’ toilet habits).

After you’ve been using shavings for a while you’ll find that your llamas will associate the smell of shavings with their dung pile. This makes it very easy to assign the location of the litter box in new barns.IMG_2317 IMG_2318

Our barn was a six-stall, center-aisle stable. The llamas were using the stalls to poop and kept the aisle clean. So the litter boxes were located in the stalls. When we added a 30’ x 30’ extension on the barn (about 14 years ago) we put an 8’ x 8’ litter box in the corner and filled it with saw dust. The llamas instantly knew what it was for and promptly christened it. While we have the occasional “miss” just outside the boxes, the rest of the barn has remained poop free ever since.

Labor Saver

We now have a herd of 100 and spend less time cleaning than we did when we had twelve. Our main barn houses about 60 females using two large litter boxes. Four of the six stalls are assigned to herd sires each having a pasture and a private smaller litter box. The boys’ boxes usually require cleaning once a week or less. When the weather is nice, the girls’ boxes get cleaned out one to two times a week. In hot or rainy weather, the barn gets cleaned out as often as every other day.

We use a front end bucket on our tractor to clean out the litter boxes. The bucket gets dumped into a manure spreader. The stripped stalls then get sprinkled with Sweet PDZ Stall Freshener® and then filled with fresh pine sawdust. A full barn cleaning takes about two hours.

A dump truck full of fresh pine sawdust is delivered from a local mill about twice a year. The “dust” is relatively coarse and very fragrant. Bagged kiln-dried shavings are used in a pinch – and is kept in store during the winter “just in case.” While bagged pine shavings are usually absorbent and light, the quality can be inconsistent ranging from really fine powdery sawdust, to curled shavings, to wood chips. The powdery dust will turn to a paste; the curls get caught in the llamas’ coats; and the wood chips offer little absorbency. We prefer to stick with the fresh sawdust.

Now that you have your llamas litter-box-trained you should have a cleaner barn, fewer flies and more time to play with your critters. On the down side, your llamas may now see sawdust-covered show rings as a giant litter box. A small price to pay for a clean barn.

Archive: This article originally appeared in Llama Life II, Issue No. 71.

18 Things a New Owner Should Know

by Jo Ann McGrath

We have placed no copyright protection on this list. Please feel free to copy it, circulate it, publish it and, above all, heed it. If you wish to download it from the Internet, it is a mainstay on our web site

  1. Don’t buy ‘bottle babies’. Unweaned crias (baby lamas) are not suitable pets. If you have inadvertently obtained one, bottlefeed it 20 percent of its weight daily with plain homogenized Vitamin D milk (reinforced with nutrients if it doesn’t gain daily) and don’t cuddle it. Offer it a coarse sweet feed and free choice quality hay at an early age. It will start to nibble when it is ready. Naturally raised crias, not normally weaned until six months, should gain a half to a full pound daily. Provide it with another animal for company – preferably a lama – but keep physical human contact to a minimum. An adult lama bonded to a human from near-birth without proper herd socialization can be a danger when the animal treats the human as another lama. Seek information from knowledgeable reputable breeders or veterinarians. A reputable breeder will not sell you a cria under four or five months of age. Bottle fed babies/hand raised SHOULD/MUST be gelded (lamas and alpacas) sooner rather than later. ‘
  2. Lamas left haltered are in peril. Because many owners don’t train their animals to haltering, or provide a catch-pen or stall for doing so, they leave the halters on all the time. This results in abscesses, ulcers, unsightly calluses….and, if the halter is caught on something, a broken neck. And because haltering has not been mastered, some owners leave the SAME halter on a growing animal. Some have been found with the flesh growing around the nose band or with malformation of the nasal passages.
  3. Lamas should not be tied to trees or posts unattended. Don’t leave your lama tied to any ungiving object. Some have tried to accustom their animals to a halter by leaving them tied to a tree. The too-often result has been a broken neck when they have tossed their heads to break free. Use a bungee or other elastic extension, firmly secured, if you must tie an untended lama.
  4. Deworming and vaccination. Lamas need to be on a regular schedule of deworming. Panacur™ or Safeguard™ paste and Ivermectin™ subcutaneous shots or pour-on liquid have been the recommended dewormers. Ivermectin™ will not take care of tapeworms – use Panacur™ or Safeguard™ paste. Yearly vaccinations (CDT and killed rabies vaccine) are standard. Babies are vaccinated before weaning at five to six months. Young animals are more susceptible to coccidia infestations than older ones; diarrhea is a symptom. Coccidiosis presents a danger of dehydration as well as debilitation that can lead to death. Treat with Corrid. (See Llama Life II, Issue No. 43).                                  *Update (10/5/15):  While deworming is still a very important part of husbandry, resistant parasites can become a bigger problem.  It is now recommended using dewormers “as needed”. Where you live, and the size of your herd, will greatly affect how often you’ll need to deworm. Checking fecal samples is a great way to monitor parasite loads. Newer deworming products are also available.  Check with your vet.
  5. Lamas frequently choke on concentrated pellets. Not every one of them will choke, but if you feed straight pellets to your lamas, ultimately you are likely to have a case of choke – particularly when animals are in competition for food. A coarse feed, even mixed with pellets, is preferable. In an emergency, acute episodes of choke may be r=esolved by passing a tube into the side of the mouth and gently feeding the length of it down the throat to clear obstruction. Examination by vet should follow any emergency treatment and an antibiotic administered to ward off pneumonia in the event partially masticated pellets are sucked into the lungs. If the airways are totally closed, time is short. Check with your vet and have a first aid plan as a contingency. Numbers of lamas have died from asphyxiation from spectacular clogging of their airways by saliva-swollen pellets.
  6. If you do feed pellets: To discourage choke, spread pellets in a wide pan or put large smooth rocks in their bowl so they must “lip” around them. This will keep them from gobbling too fast. Non-breeding lamas fare very well on free choice hay, adequate pasture, fresh water and free choice loose minerals. If they are breeding, underweight or lactating, supplement them with a feed formulated for lamas. Goat or cow formulated feed can be used – even horse feed has been used. They CANNOT be fed rabbit pellets even though the pellets may look like other pelleted feeds.
  7. They need a source of minerals/salt. Whether or not you feed grain or pellets, do be sure they have free access to a source of salt and minerals–including extra selenium if you are in a selenium-deficient area. Check with your Extension Agent to learn the selenium level in your state or county. Your agent can take a core sample of your hay to assess its nutritional content.
  8. Heat and Humidity: Lamas, native to the dry thin air of the South American altiplano, do not handle heat and humidity well. They need to be sheared in the spring and cooled by hosing their bellies and under their tails when the heat is oppressive. They must have shelter from direct sun and some kind of air movement if their shelter enclosed.
  9. Open-mouthed breathing can be dire. In the heat of summer, never ignore an animal that is breathing with an open mouth. While they will do this if they were recently spat upon, it is an extremely abnormal way to breathe. Conclude that they are in heat stress and cool them IMMEDIATELY and thoroughly. Males in heat stress will have swollen testicles. A normal adult temperature is 100 to 101 degrees….sometimes 102 can be normal for your animal. 103 and higher is trouble. lamas should be sheared in the spring. (See Llama Life II, No. 38 for detailed heat stress information.)
  10. Poison plants and trees: Lamas are browsers – they like to eat a variety of things. A number of those things can be lethal: Rhododendron and wilted cherry are among the most well-known examples of vegetation that have proved lethal. There is a list available of toxic plants and trees – check with any one of the associations devoted to camelids, or your Extension Agent – who is a good resource and whose services are paid for with your taxes….use him!
  11. Lamas don’t like to be alone. Even responsible purchasers, who have listened to responsible owners and bought a pair of lamas, can run into trouble. As long as the two are together….they are content. If you choose to take one of them for a walk, expect the one remaining to become extremely agitated. So agitated that he may jump the fence or do damage to himself in an attempt to join you. Even in herd situations, lamas show concern when one is separated from the group.
  12. Shelter – Fencing:  Many lamas live without any shelter but trees. It can be done, but it isn’t an ideal situation. Some protection from wind, sn©ow, rain, sun and lightning should be afforded them. Fencing for any kind of livestock of similar size should be adequate. Barbed wire is a poor choice since they rub against fences and poke their heads through the wires and the barbs can easily injure their prominent eyes, or rip into their skin.
  13. Males close to 1 year should not reside with females.  And young females should not reside with males – young or old. Since most are sexually precocious and fertile, it is not uncommon for pregnancies to occur in females at four months. By six months, a young male is sufficiently practiced that he can encourage adult females to ovulate–and some may even be capable of penetrating a female. If you have a brother and sister together, don’t rely on them to understand the taboos of incest. When animals are in unnatural confinement nature doesn’t require them to recognize the finer distinctions of family trees. In the wild, s∂ome natural mechanisms mitigate against this.
  14. Trim males’ fighting teeth. By the age of at least two, impressive, curved and very sharp upper and lower fighting teeth will have matured to a point where serious damage can be done to other males–and to an uncooperative female. And, if you leave breeding males together, expect injury or heat stress. Even in 100 degree weather a male will chase a rival till he drops. One enraged male can render another emasculated with his front teeth. A full set of fighting teeth aren’t necessary to inflict great and lasting damage. Consult veterinarian about removing tips of fighting teeth. (See Managing Males, Llama Life II, Issue No. 39)
  15. You need a chute or some safe restraint. Trying to cut toenails, (and, yes, toenails need to be cut or lameness will result–although some animals rarely or never need trimming) or administer shots, or handle an injured animal can be dangerous for the anvimal and you unless you have a reliable, SAFE restraint. Some have used a horse trailer in place of a chute. (See Plans, Llama Life II, Issue No. 39).
  16. Prolonged labor is not natural. Once hard labor has begun (active pushing), a nose or a foot should appear within an hour (preferably sooner). Don’t let an animal struggle for hours without producing anything. If, prior to actively pushing, she lies down on one side and then the other frequently, – or up and down constantly – or if she is flat out with her head on the side, call your vet. If you don’t have a vet you can call, learn what is, and how to resolve, a dystocia (difficult birth) before you have to.
  17. Keep colostrum and plasma on hand. Some new mom’s won’t have milk or it will be slow to come in. Some new crias are weak. Colostrum (first milk) needs to be in a baby’s belly within 12 hours after birth to ihelp insure a passive transfer of antibodies, and to give the baby strength. Don’t wait until you have a problem. Have at least a quart, preferably a gallon, (frozen in six- or eight-ounce freezer baggies or containers) of goat or cow colostrum (from animals that have been vaccinated) on hand – along with a nipple that works (recommended is a flutter valve available from Caprine Supply – 1-800-646-7736) and a soda bottle that fits the nipple. There is nothing sadder than an owner calling around to distant lama neighbors at midnight in search of life-saving colostrum. Keep two units of plasma in your freezer along with the colostrum. Deep frozen, it will last a long time. (See Colostrum, Llama Life II, Issue No. 39)
  18. Don’t keep ‘stuff’ in their pens. Lamas are curious. They explore everything. Don’t leave potentially dangerous lumber, wire, wheelbarrows, baling string, tractor parts or brooms and shovels where they can reach them, get tangled in them, or chew on them. Take a tip from the Boy Scouts. Have a plan for every contingency. Talk to your vet or an experienced friend who can tell you what to have in a first aid kit. In an emergency, “panic” will be your first reaction. You can control this by knowing you have searched out good information–and are prepared with the tools you will need. It could save your lama’s life. Lamas have amazed veterinarians and practiced livestock breeders with their hardiness and resistance to disease. However, since they are stoics, as well as being hardy, when a lama manifests symptoms of distress, it’s usually serious.

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