|Get Connected! workshops||Lost Creek Llamas Blog||lost creek llamaprints publishing|
Guidelines for spending time
with young llamas
A key step
Not all male llamas are stud quality. Moreover, there are far too many male llamas that can be considered "stud quality" to justify keeping them all intact, even if they are equally excellent. In all likelihood, their sisters (and some brothers) are already contributing to the gene pool. There is no advantage given to the species when individual llamas are bred just because it can be done.
Although it is certainly not true that castration is necessary to make safe any llama who was handled at a young age, it is also not true that a male llama is happier or more valuable if he is intact — rather the opposite.
Timely castration is a key ingredient to having a llama friend you can enjoy with the least amount of stress, and a llama who is fun to be around is far more valuable than one that requires constant attention and discipline (and hormonally-driven instincts have a way of keeping even the best-trained male llama consistently testing his environment and his handler).
Spaying results in similarly positive behavioral changes for some female llamas.
For llamas with inherited tendencies that make them anything less than super-easy to handle when intact, you not only do yourself and the individual llama a favor by neutering them, but when you remove them from the gene pool, you take a worthy step toward preserving "the very best of the breed."
Blow-drying newborns for optimum touch acclimation
We've found that the best possible foundation for ensuring that llamas are comfortable being touched by humans is to blow-dry the newborn cria with an electric hair dryer. Drying the cria saves its energy (resulting in an average 1/2 to 1 pound weight gain the first day instead of the normal 1/2 to 1 pound weight loss). It allows you an opportunity to observe the cria for difficulties and defects. And it presents your touch as a very positive experience.
First, remove all of the membrane from the cria. Take the cria to the area where you will blow-dry (remember to not block the mother's view of her baby — keep the cria between you and her so that she can be assured of its safety). Next, blow every part of the cria dry, including the legs and feet. Use your hands to move and fluff the soaked fiber, and to evaluate dryness. Be very careful around the cria's eyes, and be sure you don't burn delicate, relatively unprotected areas such as the ears and scent glands. If your bare hands are not comfortable, you can bet that the cria is also uncomfortable. Thorough blow-drying (including interruptions) usually takes about an hour.
We initially allow crias to get up and wander around as they chose, bringing them back to the blow-drying area when they get tired and kush (or plop!). However, when the cria is nearly dry, we make sure that we hold the cria down firmly at least once, preventing it from getting up, until the cria itself chooses to cease struggling. We've found this to be an important lesson for the cria — that we are FAR stronger and not worth fighting with (eventually to become an illusion, to be sure, but one that is necessary for mutual safety) -- and that omission of this lesson now makes it that much harder and exponentially more traumatic when it must be taught later in some fashion.
After blow drying, no further touching lessons seem to be necessary, and in fact don't seem to have any advantage at all. We instead leave the cria with its mother (usually the cria is close to nursing, but hasn't actually done so) and check up on the pair occasionally for awhile, greeting the cria briefly if it shows interest in us.
It is important to remember that crias who have been blown dry won't retain their initial lesson very well unless you continue to reinforce it through their various maturation stages. At about three days, crias' flight response kicks in, and you will have to work for a week or so to break through their instinctive distrust. Blow-dried crias respond much more quickly and completely at this stage.
Continued leg handling is important, even for blow-dried crias. If an older male cria or male weanling has agemates that wrestle with him and try to bite his legs, you will find that touch acceptance backslides dramatically. Again, a week or so of careful work on your part (NOT in the pasture) will quickly restore the young llama's trust in your actions and allow him to intellectually separate your actions from those he must defend himself against. A young llama who was not blow-dried as a cria or whose leg-handling lessons were ignored will take much more time because he must not only put aside instinct, but simultaneously learn a lesson that is dramatically counter to everything he's experienced thus far.
Don't despair if a young llama wasn't blown dry as a cria. It is certainly possible to achieve touching acceptance and instill respect for human strength with a reasonably good outcome. However, a good foundation is always preferable, and it's one more thing that separates the dedicated llama breeders (who produce a few, well-adjusted llamas) from the cria mills (who produce large numbers of wild-eyed, frightened weanlings).