Camelid Management, Handling Techniques and Facilities, and Herd Management
Training and herd management are generally considered two different things. The methods that are customarily used for herd management would be considered barbaric if they were used for tasks that are considered training. The prevailing attitude about herd management is, “Anything goes as long as we get it over with as fast as we can.” This rationalization is responsible for a multitude of handling sins.
For the camelid, there is no difference between haltering or leading and injections, toenail trimming, shearing, or a rectal examination. The animal forms an attitude about humans and about the handler in particular based on the way the handler does everything. If a handler “makes nice” for training, but abandons his or her principles for herd management, it will not go well with their animals.
The good news is that a handler need not sacrifice a good relationship with the animal for the sake of good management. The author is not asserting that it is possible to make an animal’s life totally anxiety- or pain-free. It is the sum total of experience the handler shares with their animals that forms the animals’ overall impression. It is often said that animals know when a person is trying to help them; the author believes that to be true. In the same way, animals know when short cuts are taken, rationalizations for convenience are made, and when handlers are not doing the best that they can.
Containment versus Restraint
For a camelid to accept medical management procedures or even toenail trimming without restraint, the animal must be given a chance to try it. This may sound obvious. Yet most llama and alpaca owners and their veterinarians do not think it possible for camelids to accept many common procedures without some sort of restraint; consequently, they do not give the animal a chance to try it without a restraint.
Unlike horses, camelids are small enough to be physically restrained, so restraining them is very tempting. Camelid anatomy, however, makes physical restraint pound-for-pound a lot harder, akin to stuffing an angry wild cat in a sack.
Restraint is the act of holding back or the loss of freedom. As an example, injections or other medical procedures often begin when the animal is tied up, pushed against a wall, tied in a chute, or held still. Restraint is applied before the procedure begins. The animal fights restraint. Handlers react by using more restraint, and the animal fights harder. All this fighting occurs before the needle touches the animal’s skin, so the procedure cannot be the issue. It is the restraint that provokes the fight. For the animal, most herd management procedures pale in comparison with the ordeal of being physically subdued by humans. Most camelids will accept routine procedures without restraint if given the opportunity and if they feel safe.
Containment, in contrast, is to enclose or to keep within certain limits. In this context, containment is a limitation of space within which the animal is allowed full freedom to move. In the author’s experience, camelids respond much more positively to containment than to restraint. Camelids are much less likely to panic and struggle when contained than when restrained. Containment is extremely effective for high-strung and difficult animals.
Do not assume that “Vomiting Viola,” for example, who always puts up a terrible fight with any sort of management method, will not be able to handle the freedom the author is suggesting. In addition to the catch pen and aisle way, the ideal camelid-handling system involves two additional levels of containment:
1. A mini-catch pen for those times when a full-size catch pen offers too much freedom
2. A stanchion or chute with shoulder supports and a rear gate or butt board for those times when movement must be more fully contained (Figure 7-1).
Chuting the Camelid
Regardless of a camelid’s training or temperament and the handler’s skill, circumstances may dictate use of a high level of containment. A chute can be a very useful piece of equipment for many situations; however, the author finds it more useful to view a chute as an intermediate step rather than the be-all, end-all of handling. Often, animals can “graduate” from a chute to the mini-catch pen and finally to a catch pen. Even though they are typically called restraint chutes, many models can be modified successfully to serve more as containers rather than actual restraint devices. The author has worked effectively in chutes that had solid sides and chutes that had a single rail at chest height.
The author does not use the kind of chute that has a single chin support in the front. To be safe, these head restraint devices must be used with belly and back bands turning them into camelid straightjackets. Without total restraint, the risk of neck, head, and leg injuries to the animal is grave.
Upright shoulder supports are humane, safe, and very useful for certain procedures that involve the head and neck (Figure 7-2). When the shoulder supports are not needed they should be tied together, and the animal should be placed kitty-cornered in the chute. If the shoulder supports are not used, a front gate should be put on the chute to discourage the animal from pushing forward past the supports to escape out the front of the chute. Shoulder supports limit movement in the front half of the body without restraining the head.
A rear barrier is the key to using a chute for containment rather than restraint. The animal is restricted to the chute by virtue of the butt board in the back and the gate or shoulder supports in front, so the animal does not need to be tied (Figure 7-3). This is a very important modification that the author considers essential for all chutes. When using a rear barrier, it is not necessary to tie the llama or alpaca in the chute. A handler may stand at the front of the chute, offer food and prevent the animal from turning with signals on the lead rope. When the handler is working alone, the animal should be tied in the chute with enough slack in the rope so that the animal can back up and touch the rear barrier. In this way, the rear barrier stops the animal before it runs out of rope and panics. A butt board or rear restraint changes this restraint chute into a container, and the handler will not need to take the time to catch, halter, or lead the animals into a chute. To be effective for containment rather than restraint, a chute must have a butt board.
Figure 7-3 A rear barrier is key to containment. The animal is restricted to the container by the rear barrier and not tied by the head.
Camelids are much less likely to panic if restricted to the chute from the back. If tied in a chute without a rear barrier, most camelids lean back on the rope at first and remain balanced against the rope. When the procedure begins, they struggle and may leap forward into or through the shoulder supports. Alternatively, they lean back on the rope with the head high and the back dropped in a very uncomfortable position.
Not all camelids—even of the same species—are of the same length. The rear barrier is much more effective if it can be adjusted front to back to accommodate animals of different lengths. The addition of a hay bag full of juicy alfalfa or a detachable grain tray completes the user-friendly chute. The act of eating settles as well as distracts and encourages the animal to relax.
Place the chute in a well-lit, well-ventilated area. Animals do not like to enter blind alleys and dark tunnels. Arrange the chute such that the animal is not looking at a wall and can see other animals nearby. When working with dams put a catch pen at the front of the pen and put the cria there along with some other animals. Dams will stay calmer if they can see their crias.
If the proper method is used, the purpose of a halter is giving direction, not restraint. If the handler does choose to tie an animal tightly inside the chute, be aware that a poorly fitting halter will make the procedure more dangerous and difficult. It is far better to tighten the crown piece up very snugly than to risk the noseband slipping forward, compromising breathing.
First impressions are very important. The animal will be much more cooperative and accepting of the chute if it is herded or led into the chute before the chute is actually used for a procedure. This works wonders. If the handler chooses to tie the camelid in the chute, he or she should try using a halter with rings on each side of the noseband. The animal should be cross-tied with two lines rather than with one single line under the chin. Tying this way prevents the animal from turning but still allows the handler to offer some slack. Two lines will help the animal stay forward in the chute and will help keep balance much better than one single line under the chin.
Should an animal begin to spit while in the chute, some handlers will suggest covering the mouth in some way including using a towel over the nose or completely covering the head with a bag. Animals in a chute act out, partly because they feel closed in and claustrophobic. Covering the face and restricting the airway cannot be helpful. The cartilage at the end of the nose is very delicate and may be compressed easily even by a light towel or rag. Remember that camelids are semi-obligate nasal breathers. If the nasal passage has been compromised, the handler will have essentially pushed the animal’s “panic button.” Coveralls, safety glasses, showers, directing the head in a different way, and simply staying out of the way are much more humane alternatives.
If a chute or a mini-catch pen is not available, try using a stock trailer for many of the medical procedures described in this chapter. When a camelid must be taken to a veterinary clinic, leave the animal in the trailer if possible for examination and any treatment.
The Mini-Catch Pen
When a chute is used as a means of containment rather than as a true restraint device, its main function is limiting sideways and front-to-back movements rather than restraining the body. After using a chute a few times, for example, to trim toenails, your animal may be ready for more freedom than the chute would allow but may not be able to handle the complete freedom of a catch pen. An intermediate level of containment that bridges the gap between a catch pen and a chute is the mini-catch pen.
The ideal mini-catch pen is built into the corner of the catch pen or another convenient place in the barn. A mini-catch pen may be wider and longer than a chute, allowing more freedom for the animal and comfort for the handler. A sturdy box, 4 × 6 feet, seems to be an ideal size for llamas and 3 × 4 feet for alpacas. Cutouts on the side are a great feature allowing smaller animals to see out. A feed dish and a hay manger, which fits inside the end of the mini-catch pen so that the animal can stand comfortably and eat, will complete the set up (Figure 7-4). The mini-catch pen is also a very useful tool for initial handling of untrained crias and weanlings. A standard size catch pen is too large for them because of their small size. A mini-catch pen may be used in place of a standard catch pen for teaching balance and halter acceptance.
The Neck Wrap: Putting It on and Taking It off
A neck wrap is an elastic wrap that begins at the base of the neck, continues in a crisscross fashion, and ends just below the ears, where it is fastened. The neck wrap is particularly useful for routine medical procedures, but it is also useful for animals that cannot settle down in the catch pen or as support for the first leading lesson outside the catch pen. Why this tool or technique works so effectively with camelids is a bit of a mystery, but it likely has to do with the length of these animals’ necks. Keeping an animal in balance is key to helping them remain calm. When the head is used as the point of connection and control, the length of the neck makes this difficult. The length and flexibility of the neck allow the animal to move its body freely even when restrained by the head. The neck wrap, however, creates a physical connection between the head and the rest of the body, and this settles the animal. The neck wrap may go on at any time during the handling or training process. It can be used inside the catch pen, inside the mini-catch pen, or outside anywhere. Always put the neck wrap on inside a confined area. If the handler intends to leave the catch pen with the animal, the neck wrap should be placed on the animal in the catch pen prior to leaving. If the handler and animal are outside the catch pen and the handler decides that the animal might benefit from a neck wrap, the animal should be led back to the catch pen to put it on.
The author’s preferred neck wrap is a sturdy elastic wrap that features a fastex buckle at the end and is long enough to accommodate all sizes of animals (Figure 7-5). Smaller animals may end up with more wraps and larger animals with fewer wraps, but it does not seem to make much of a difference in terms of effectiveness. What is more important is that the wrap be snug enough to be felt along the length of the neck.
Begin by rolling the two ends of the neck wrap toward each other and meeting half way (Figure 7-6). This work should be done in a small space and the animal should be allowed to move as the wrap is placed. Alternatively, a second person can be used to help steady the animal as the handler works. Sometimes veterinarians may use a neck wrap for drawing blood from the jugular vein if the area for the venipuncture is left uncovered.
Figure 7-6 This animal is wearing a neck wrap. Begin wrapping at the base of the neck ending up at the top of the neck.
Removing the wrap involves simply unhooking it and unwinding it from the neck. Do be careful to keep the ends in your hands so that the removal process does not frighten the animal.
Many years ago, when the author made the veterinary handling video, “Treating Your Llama Kindly” with Dr. LaRue Johnson, the technique of choice at that time was a body wrap. The neck wrap has supplanted this technique because it is much easier to put on and remove. Although Dr. Johnson was a bit skeptical about the idea of the body wrap, we tried it on a number of animals. We found it helpful almost every time, and Dr. Johnson was convinced about the usefulness of the technique, which was then featured prominently in the video mentioned above. The neck wrap accomplishes the same thing as the body wrap, but with two main advantages: (1) It is easier for the handler (particularly a novice) to use; (2) it is less frightening initially for the animal, which is much less likely to react or overreact to the neck wrap.
Whether you are an owner assisting your veterinarian with drawing blood, giving an injection, trimming toenails, or shearing or a veterinarian working with client animals, these tools—the neck wrap and containment—will make your job easier and make it easier for your animal as well.
Trimming Toenails or Teaching the Camelid NOT to Pick up Its Feet
Why would anyone want to teach an animal not to pick up its feet? Trimming toenails, without a doubt, is the most problematic of management chores. Something could and should be done differently to make it easier for camelids to accept having their nails trimmed.
Some of the possible explanations for the difficulty of toenail trimming are as follows:
1. Camelids use their legs as their primary means of defense, that is, to run from what could be dangerous.
2. Male camelids bite the legs of other male camelids as part of a ritualized dominance process.
3. Males bite the legs of females to encourage them to lie down for breeding.
4. The way handlers go about the process of trimming toenails of camelids could be the problem.
The basic nature of the animals cannot be changed, at least in the short term. Owners and handlers could make animal temperament more of a priority when making breeding decisions, but that is a different subject. So it would appear that numbers 1 to 3 on the list above are really out of a handler’s hands, which leads to the oft-quoted wisdom, “The only behavior you can change is your own.” This leaves number four as the best explanation for the difficulty of toenail trimming.
The actual trimming of toenails is really easy. It does not require any particular skill or strength to snip off the extra growth of a toenail. It does not require much time or any specialized tools, and it does not have to be painful for the animal. However, getting the animal’s foot in hand and keeping it there long enough to trim the toenails is another matter altogether. An adult animal that is determined to thwart all efforts at nail trimming can be amazingly slippery. Trimming the toenails of 20 or 30 difficult animals may, in fact, be beyond the physical capabilities of the very people to whom we are selling the idea of keeping camelids as pets such as women, older people, and the less than physically fit. The author’s experience is that many, if not most, camelids are difficult to some degree when it comes to a pedicure. Even animals that are easy to handle are so because they do not fight very hard, not because they actually cooperate. The author has come across very few animals that will stand quietly, carrying their weight on the remaining three legs without some propping up. Acting as the counterbalance for 30 or more animals on any given day is not very pleasant, even if they are not actually fighting.
Trimming toenails is something that must be done on a regular basis, and it is important from the standpoint of both health and esthetics. It would make a great deal of sense to invest some time in learning to do it well and training the animals to accept it. In the author’s opinion the major reason for difficulty trimming toenails is that the animal is not taught to accept having its legs handled before handlers attempt to pick up its feet. In other words, the animal must be taught not to pick up its feet.
Sometimes the problem is that fear is misinterpreted as cooperation. The animal is picking up its foot not because it understands what the handler wants and has decided to cooperate. It is picking up its foot because it is afraid. The handler then compounds the error by refusing to release the foot when the animal wants it back because the handler is determined to get the toenails trimmed right then. This frightening process teaches the animal to begin using preemptive behavior to keep its feet out of the handler’s hands.
This then explains why the behavior of animals often gets worse, not better, with regard to toenail trimming. What began as simply picking up the foot to avoid handling goes on to picking it up and hiding it under the opposite leg, which is followed shortly by sinking down and finally by recumbency to cover up the legs altogether. Once a camelid has learned this escape or evasion behavior, it becomes a challenge to get it to give it up.
The author submits that the typical way handlers go about trimming toenails is only reinforcing a natural instinctive avoidance response in the animal instead of teaching what really needs to be learned, that is, to overcome its instincts and allow its legs to be handled.
Thankfully the way back is not that hard, but it does require a shift in thinking. The animal must first be taught not to pick up its foot! The handler must focus initially on helping the animal keep its feet on the ground. The handler moves on to actually picking a foot up only after he or she can run a hand down the leg without an evasive reaction. When the handler does pick up the foot, it must be released even before the animal asks for it.
The following process is useful for both teaching young animals to accept having legs handled and toenails trimmed. The author recommends the same process for rehabilitation of alpacas that have become difficult. Lessons are very short (3–5 minutes), and it is not necessary to work daily or even weekly. If the handler weighs animals on a regular basis, this can be a good opportunity to work on the training process, too. It takes a longer period to change the set behavior of an animal than to take precautions to avoid the problem in the first place.
The physical setup can be approached in many different ways. If you choose to work with a single animal, the ideal pen size is about 4 to 5 feet by 6 to 7 feet and larger for llamas, although your size matters as well. The idea is that the size of the pen should be just about big enough for you and the animal. This area should be near or next to other animals. The most important purpose of the setup is to limit movement without tying or restraint.
If the handler is working with a helper, his or her job is to act as a balance spotter, that is, to help keep the animal in balance while not restraining it. A light support with one hand under the jaw and the other in the groove that is just behind the bottom lip, which the author has named “the bracelet,” is an effective technique (Figure 7-7). If working alone in a small space with a single animal, the handler may hang a bag of hay or offer grain to create some incentive for the animal to stand.
Figure 7-7 The bracelet is a very effective way of helping an animal remain in balance and therefore still. It is not a hold but a technique for using the head to keep the body in balance.
With the animal in balance, the handler should begin by standing next to the animal, facing its rear. The handler should place the hand or arm that is closest to the animal across the animal’s body. This allows the handler to manipulate the animal’s balance. The animal should place its weight on the leg that the handler is planning to work with. In this way, the animal learns to keep its foot on the ground—it is very difficult to pick up a foot with weight on it! Remember this is about teaching the animal to keep its the foot down, not picking it up. The animal will have to shift its weight before it can pick up the foot. With the handler’s hand across the animal’s back, the handler will feel the animal beginning to shift its weight and be able to correct it, and help the animal succeed (Figure 7-8).
Figure 7-8 The two-handed approach for picking up feet is easier for the animal. One hand is on the top-line and the other on the upper part of the front leg.
Use the back of the other hand to make firm stroking motions, always beginning at the top-line and progressing down to just above the knee on the front leg and just above the hock on the back. Do not work slowly; each stroke should take a second or so. If at any time the animal begins to shift its weight, use the hand across the back to bring the weight back into neutral, and most important, bring the other hand back up to a place on the leg that does not create a reaction. The goal is to help the animal stand in balance without leaning toward the handler or leaning against the handler’s arm, and to teach the animal that you understand its body language. If the handler insists on moving on to a point that scares the animal and ignores early subtle indications of fear, the handler will push it to begin difficult behaviors that the handler is trying to avoid, such as picking up the foot, kushing, rearing, and so on.
Work with the rear legs in much the same way. Place the hand or arm closest to the animal across the back, and use it to guide the animal to shift its weight onto the leg that will be worked with (Figure 7-9). It is more difficult to work alone with the rear legs unless the animal is highly motivated by food. Be prepared that progress on the rear legs will be a bit slower. Remember that unless and until the animal is willing to stand quietly with the handler’s hand or arm resting across the back, the animal is not ready to move to the next step.
Figure 7-9 Using two hands, with one on the top-line, allows the handler to make the animal shift the weight on to the leg. In the case of the rear legs, this prevents unexpected kicking.
Work on each leg for a minute or so. Move the hand as far down the leg as the animal will allow. Some animals, for whatever reason, have trouble with placement of the hand or arm across its body. It may take a few lessons to overcome that. Always begin with what the animal can do, and practice only what it can do successfully. A perfect lesson is one in which the animal never picks up its foot. The goal is to progress until the animal will accept the handler’s stroking as well as the handler stopping and lingering just above and behind the knee on the front and just above and in front of the hock on the back.
The two different elements to picking up a foot are as follows: (1) Now that the animal is not reflexively picking up its foot because of fear, the handler must get the animal to bend its leg and pick up the foot; and (2) Then the handler must help it shift its weight and keep its balance.
Initial lessons in picking up feet and trimming toenails are best done with two people. It is possible to work alone, but the progress will be slow, and the handler must expect less in each lesson. Whether the handler is working alone or with a partner, the easiest way to work on toenails is to work in a catch pen crowded with animals. Alternatively, the handler may work in an area that will accommodate just the handler and the animal. Food-motivated animals are better candidates for solo trimming in a small area.
For most other management chores such as injections, oral medications, and shearing it is neither necessary nor desirable for the llama or the alpaca to participate. In an ideal world, the animal would stand quietly as the handler performed these management jobs; but in reality, the handler does the best he or she can to get the job done, and repetition is not usually part of the process. In terms of management, trimming toenails is a bit different. Ideally, the animal participates by lifting the leg in response to a signal, and it actually must learn a particular behavioral “skill,” that is, standing on three legs. In this case, practice (provided the animal is practicing the correct behavior) is useful for several different reasons: (1) The handler can gradually increase the amount of time requiring the animal to remain on three legs; (2) The animal can practice shifting its weight when asked; and (3) The handler builds the animal’s confidence in the handler’s willingness to release the foot when indicated.
In the author’s experience, many handlers do just the opposite when trimming toenails. They hold up the foot way too long, push the animal totally out of balance, or use their body as a counterbalance to prop up the animal. The biggest mistake of all, however, is not releasing the foot when the animal wants its foot back. Most handlers do not understand the dynamics of balance, and in the process of picking up the foot, move the animal too far in the opposite direction. The camelid feels as if it is going to fall down, and at this point, it needs its foot back to regain balance. If the handler will not release the foot, inevitably the animal will be scared and experience more fear the next time its toenails are trimmed. New behaviors develop, such as spinning, rearing, kushing, or spitting.
Most handlers go straight for the foot to pick it up. Although this would seem to make sense, the foot is the point on the body farthest from the center of mass and has the power to change the balance of the rest of the body. Assuming that the animal is standing in balance to begin with, the handler would be better served to choose a point on the leg closer to the center of mass. In this way, any movement made by the handler or by the animal will not be as likely to cause the animal to lose its balance. The handler can quite easily get the foot up off the ground by manipulating the upper leg of the animal (Figure 7-10). Moving the upper leg is easier for the animal to accept and also makes it easier for it to find and keep its balance. You should bear in mind how weight is normally distributed, as shown in Figure 7-11. Lifting a front leg obviously puts even more weight on the opposite leg as the animal cooperates.
Figure 7-10 By using the upper leg, the handler is less likely to upset the animal’s balance, and for this reason, the animal feels safer.
Figure 7-11 The average weight distribution for camelids is 67% carried over the front legs and only 33% over the back legs.
Now that the camelid is not automatically picking up its foot from fear, the handler must learn how to bend the animal’s knee. Learning to use a “ratcheting” signal is the key to bending the leg. The ratchet is a training technique for creating movement. The author uses a ratcheting signal for teaching an animal to lead and for getting it “unstuck” if it balks. Whatever the handler wishes to move—a leg, the head, or the whole body—the technique is the same. The author often ratchets an animal with her hip to move it around inside the catch pen. Look at the graphic representation of the three basic ways of giving a signal, as shown in Figure 7-12: (1) steady pull (or steady push), (2) tug-and-release (or push-and-release), and (3) ratchet.
Figure 7-12 Force application options: direct, back and forth, and (the preferred) ratcheting. Top, All of the force in one direction. Middle, Application of force followed by total release. Bottom, Application of force with partial release resulting in movement (preferred approach to get movement).
When the handler pulls steadily on a lead rope, the animal often just pulls back steadily. When pushing the back of the leg forward, the handler will only encourage the camelid to push back and lock the knee. A tug-and-release or push-and-release on the upper leg will cause the animal to bend and straighten its leg over and over but not necessarily pick it up. In the ratcheting technique, over the course of three or four signals, the animal moves the leg incrementally forward, and as this happens, the foot comes off the ground. If the signals are too slow, the animal will learn to ignore them.
Picking up a Front Leg
The following is a step-by-step process for picking up an animal’s front leg. The handler may or may not get to the last step for each leg in the first lesson. The author recommends that no more than 5 minutes be spent on trimming toenails in any one lesson. The handler can make progress with trimming toenails if working with the legs is repeated intermittently. Once the animal accepts having its legs handled and toenails trimmed, 5 minutes is plenty of time to accomplish the task.
The following is the step-by-step process for picking up the left front leg. With the animal in balance, begin by standing on the left side next to the animal, facing its rear:
1. Put the left hand or arm on the top-line (first choice) or across the animal’s body on the opposite upper shoulder (Figure 7-13). The left hand will support the animal’s balance and help move its weight on to the left leg. The animal’s weight should be on the leg that is being worked with until the handler gets the right hand in place behind the front leg just above the knee.
Figure 7-13 The handler is making the animal shift its weight to the front leg opposite to the leg being lifted.
2. Once the hand is in place, the handler should have the animal move its weight to the right front leg by guiding it with the handler’s hip or left hand while beginning to give ratcheting signals with the right hand in the direction that the animal’s leg should bend, that is, forward. Remember that the foot comes up off the ground as the knee bends. Your signal is going to be toward the front of the animal, not up. If you choose to, this is the time to offer verbal reinforcement. Make sure to give the command (e.g., Give!) at the instant that the foot comes up off of the ground and not before.
3. Once the foot is off of the ground, put it back on the ground immediately.
4. Repeat this process several times, 10 times or so. The handler is teaching the animal that he or she can be relied on to give the foot back.
5. If the animal accepts this process, the handler can begin to hold the foot up off the ground for a few seconds. The previous step should help the animal learn to shift its balance and learn to support itself on three legs; however, if the animal begins to lean on the handler, the author recommends ratcheting him away gently with the hip.
6. Once the animal is standing in balance with its foot off the ground, the handler can move the left hand from across the back or the top line to support the cannon bone, thereby freeing up the right hand (Figure 7-14).
Figure 7-14 Once the leg is off the ground and the animal is in balance, the handler swaps hands to trim the toenails.
7. Once the leg is supported, the handler now has a free hand for trimming.
Picking up the left rear leg follows much the same process. The handler places the left hand on the top line or across the body on the opposite hip. If the handler finds that the animal is leaning left, it may help to slide the left hand further down the leg on the opposite side (Figure 7-15). The placement for the right hand picking up the foot is above and behind the hock. It will be much more difficult if working alone on the back legs unless the animal is motivated by food, in which case a flake of hay or a bowl of grain may serve as incentive to stand in place.
Figure 7-15 Using a hand on the top-line facilitates getting the leg off the ground and helping the animal maintain its balance.
The handler has now really managed the hard part. The animal has learned to feel safe and comfortable with its foot in the handler’s hand and off the ground. At this point, unless the handler is ambidextrous, some adjustment will likely have to be made for the trimmers to be in the appropriate hand (Figure 7-16). Remember to switch the directions above when trimming the right front and right hind leg (Box 7-1).
Figure 7-16 With the animal in balance, the handler switches hands and supports the fetlock joint to trim the rear toenails.
After a few sessions, the animal will learn that the ratchet signal means it has to pick up its foot and will respond when given the first signal; it will also learn to shift its weight and gain confidence standing on three legs. Toenail trimming will then become the easy routine chore that it should be. WHEW! this was tough!
Medical Herd Management
Medical procedures can be distressing and dangerous for the owner, the animal, and the veterinarian. The discussion in this section aims to make things easier for all concerned, while not advocating any technique that sacrifices safety of handlers for comfort of the animal.
After many sessions with veterinarians and camelid owners, the author offers the following approach to managing an animal’s medical needs. The author was also fortunate to receive excellent guidance from two prominent camelid veterinarians, David E. Anderson, Associate Professor, University of Tennessee, and LaRue Johnson, Emeritus Professor, Colorado State University.
The Medical Team
Communication is a key element in creating a highly efficient animal care team. Many veterinarians charge by procedure or visit and not necessarily for their time. For owners who are keen to try some of these new techniques, the author suggests that the owner or handler practice all of the elements that he or she can do alone before the veterinarian is involved. Handlers should learn how to put a neck wrap on the animals quickly and easily. It is neither fair nor appropriate to practice such things while your veterinarian is waiting.
The handler should modify the chute, and make sure that all involved understand how it works using the new approach described in the preceding sections. Once the veterinarian is involved, the owner should offer to pay him or her extra if the techniques take longer. Both owner and veterinarian will be pleasantly surprised to find that these methods are both humane and efficient.
Injections: A New Way
When something sharp is put into an animal, it is, without a doubt, going to move. It follows that the animal must be held still. However, it need not be so. The problem with this approach is quite obvious. Restraining gets anyone worked up even before the procedure starts. Imagine how it would feel to be physically restrained to get a shot.
The needle for a subcutaneous (SQ; under the skin) injection is placed a half an inch or less under the skin, whereas an intramuscular (IM) injection is inserted an inch or more. However strong the handler, or how effective the chute is, the animal cannot be restrained in such a manner that it is incapable of moving even an inch. Given a camelid’s long neck, it is very difficult to eliminate body movement by merely tying the head, even when the animal is inside a chute. No matter how the animal is trussed for giving an injection, the handler must be prepared to move with the animal or it is going to move away from and off the needle. Since the handler has to learn to move with the animal anyway, simply contain the animal instead of restraining it, and plan to accommodate movement. The handler can then use his or her knowledge of animal movement to guide movement in a predictable direction, thus giving injections with no restraint. This no-restraint method offers many advantages (Box 7-2).
It is important to be organized when providing herd health care. Being organized makes the handler feel competent, and it also calms and increases trust and confidence in the animals that are on the other end of the needle. Being organized is important for the handler and doubly important to the animals waiting their turn to be treated. Even if the handler has a chute, the easiest way to give injections is still in a catch pen. Put as many animals as will comfortably fit inside the catch pen. The animals should be on the crowded side; 8 to 10 alpacas or 5 to 6 llamas in a 9 × 9 square foot pen are not too many (Figure 7-17). Aim for allowing about 20% empty space in the pen. If the handler has a small number of animals—only two or three—the handler may make the pen smaller with bales of straw or use the mini-catch pen. The author likes to crowd the animals up for two reasons: (1) They slow each other down; and (2) they feel safer in a group. A bag of hay may be hung inside or in each corner of the pen. More animals means more hay bags.
Even before the animals are in the pen, the handler should draw up all the injections. Syringes and the record-keeping clipboard should be placed where they can be reached while standing inside the pen. A small table just outside the pen is ideal. Wear an apron with a pocket to keep the syringe(s) in. A carpenter’s apron is useful for this. Remember to always keep the cap over the needle until it is time to use it.
All the animals should be kept in the pen even after they have received their injection(s) unless there are any animals that cause trouble. Give such animals their injections first and let them out. Write down the name or number of the animal and what injections were given immediately after the injection is given. It is also a good idea to write a brief comment about how the animal behaved. In this way, progress can be tracked. If the handler is giving multiple injections, the author recommends that both injections be given concurrently to one animal before proceeding to the next animal. The author thinks the animals have a sense of their turn being done and relax more completely if this strategy is used.
If the handler is working with a larger herd, the whole group can be herded into the holding pen and groups of 8 to 10 moved into the catch pen and let out when the entire group is finished receiving care. This is an ideal number of animals for a 9 × 9 square foot pen. With this system, no animal is ever left alone, but the entire herd does not need to be confined the entire time. It is not necessary or advisable to trim toenails at the same time that injections are given. Herd management chores should be spread out so that neither the handler nor the animals are overstressed.
Many owners trim toenails on shearing day, especially if the animals are stretched out. This is acceptable, however, the author does not recommend giving injections on shearing day. The author thinks that the shearing process is stressful enough and that it is best to do injections another time.