The Goldendale Sentinel - Headlines & History since 1879

By Barbara Patterson
For The Sentinel 

Lots of humming going on: Alpaca halter training begins



Meet and Greet: Meet this year's crias and learn about alpacas this weekend at Golden Pine Alpacas' annual Open Farm Days.

Spring training is in full swing – and not only for sporting activities. Alpaca farms throughout the Pacific Northwest are dusting off the small-size halters in preparation for halter training the crias (Spanish for babies) born the previous summer and fall.

At Golden Pine Alpacas farm in Goldendale, weaning begins at six months. The juveniles are placed in a separate barn pen and pasture with full visibility of moms in adjacent pens. Alpacas' way of vocalizing is by humming. There is a whole lot of distressed humming going on for the first week or so until the young ones accept their new status as weanlings.

Week two begins with holding the alpaca (by now around 60 pounds in weight) and gently touching the fiber on its back and legs. This is important because by year one, it will be ready for toenail trimming. An alpaca has padded feet with two toenails. It needs to become accustomed to being restrained every three months or so for the clipping procedure.

Next, the small size halter is placed on the alpaca's head, with care to fit it properly over the nose so breathing is unobstructed and snug enough not to be accidentally pulled off. Each day for a week, the halter is put on starting with a few minutes duration up to two hours by week's end.

The alpaca is ready now for the six-foot lead to be attached to the halter and is taken from the pen to the wide center aisle of the barn. We try to get them used to the fact that they are captive to the halter.

At first, they don't understand why they have the halter on and try to escape by pulling in all directions. Eventually they realize there is no escape. The handler needs to talk to them quietly, gain their attention, take a step and tug on the lead to encourage them to move forward. Eventually they get the idea. When the handler stops, the lead is held back so they can't move forward. They learn that when the handler stops, they stop; and when the handler walks, they walk. They discover the halter is more comfortable when there is no pressure from the lead and they stay close to the handler.


Getting fitted: Carmella is getting accustomed to her halter.

Later, they are taken outside the barn for longer walks. They get used to the wind, seeing other alpacas on the farm, different views along the route, and new people.

Other important objectives of the halter training are for the alpacas to learn to go in and out of the alpaca transport trailer, to go through gates, and to walk on uneven terrain.

This is all achieved over several weeks of sessions. Like people, alpacas learn differently. Some are quick learners and love the adventure. Others can be quite timid and require more time to lessen their fears. Eventually, they learn to walk on a lead confidently.

Golden Pine Alpacas halter-trains alpacas to make life easier for us – and also for them. It is an important factor in herd management.

Golden Pine Alpacas will feature the newly halter-trained alpacas May 3 and 4 at their Open Farm Days event.


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