Start with decent facilities. I don’t mean to make you go out and spend thousands of dollars on changes to your entire farm in order to train, but some things are important. Poor fences and gates the llama can push through will only teach the llama to escape from fences and push through gates. Remove garbage, old fence wires and the like that the llama could get caught or injured on. I won’t get too deeply into designing facilities, but if you’re building corrals or fences, keep in mind how the llama will move from pasture to pen, from pen to barn, from barn to catch pen. Putting gates in corners, for instance, will make it much easier for you move your animals from one place to another.
PRIVATE QUARTERS – One of the most useful parts of my yard is a separate small pen where I can put the llama I’m working with. I’m basically a lazy trainer. If I have to go out into a huge pasture and get one llama out of a herd of 20, halter him and take him back across the yard to a training pen, I’ll think of many excuses why I’m too busy to train today. If I can walk across the yard and there he is, ready to go, we’ll get a lot more work done. Besides, when I’m working with a beginner, I especially want the whole event to be calm and relaxed. I don’t want him thinking about dodging around behind the other 19, maybe he can deke out away from the door, maybe he can get back out into the pasture with the others… I want him to think of me and my treats as a welcome addition to his day.
ROUND PEN – You’ll need a small secure pen 15 to 20 feet on a side. If you can make this a round pen, wonderful. If you can’t, a pen with five sides will be better than a square pen because there will be no 90 degree corners for the llama to get stuck in. I’ll be calling this a round pen or a catch pen.
WHIP! – You’ll need a horse whip. No, don’t worry, we’re not going to whip the llama! A whip is light, long, and flexible. You can use it as an extension of your arm. You can use it to touch your llama in places he doesn’t particularly want to be touched. If he kicks it, you won’t get kicked, and the whip won’t go flying across the room trying to put an eye out, it’ll just bend away from the kick and go right back to where you had it. You’ll also be teaching the llama to touch the whip with his nose, and you’ll use it to tickle his back legs when he’s hiding his head from the halter, and maybe to tickle his knees when you’re teaching him to kush (lie down) on cue. The whip I like best is about 4.5 feet long, straight and flexible with a very short tassel on the end. It costs under $10 and is available in almost every Co-Op and farm or livestock supply store.
HALTER – You’ll need a properly fitting LLAMA halter in good repair. If you can’t find one locally (and I’d be surprised if you could), you can get them mail order from Bickerson’s at 1-800-862-1939 or www.bickersonsfarm.com. Another supplier is Husky Pups in Harris, Saskatchewan. What you need to know about halters is that the nose piece MUST sit just below the eyes. If it’s down too low on the face, it can easily cut off the llama’s air, which can obviously cause panic and all sorts of unpleasantness. The adjustable strap that goes around the neck MUST be up snug but not tight just below the llama’s ears in order to keep the nose piece in place and prevent the llama from getting the halter off.
The photo shows Perdrix wearing a properly-fitting halter. The noseband is snug enough up under her eyes that pressure on the lead won’t pull it forward toward the green line where it could stop her from breathing. It’s loose enough for me to fit a finger under, so she can still open her mouth, but tight enough that it won’t be getting in her eyes and hurting or scaring her. The collar piece is tight but loose enough to get a couple of fingers under. I’d like it up a bit closer to the ears (so that tuft of hair is below it), in which case it could probably be done up one hole tighter.
This is a standard llama halter. The same halter comes with a “fixed ring”, which locks the bottom ring (that the lead is snapped to) in one place. I prefer the fixed ring halter for initial training because it gives the llama the same signal each time the lead is tightened.
OR COLLAR – The halter I have in my hand, or hanging on the wall, is guaranteed not to fit the llama that I need to put it on. For simple things like moving a herd across the yard to another pasture, I use a plain, large nylon dog collar. Bear in mind that a llama that’s used to being led by a halter knows NOTHING about being led around on a collar. You’ll have to teach the collar separately. I’m not going to go into detail on how to teach it, just follow the instructions for teaching the llama to walk on a loose lead. Be sure to remember that if you’re going to use collars, you’ll have to teach the llama to respond to BOTH collars and halters.
This photo shows Perdrix enjoying an early spring snack in the front yard. She’s wearing a standard large-dog collar attached to a 50-foot cotton rope. Remember these collars are designed to hold 100-pound dogs, not 350-pound llamas, so the animal you put out on a collar must be calm and well-trained.
The collar itself has to be tight enough to keep from slipping halfway down her neck. At the same time, I want to be able to slip a couple of fingers comfortably between llama and collar. No point in putting her out on new grass if her collar’s so tight she can’t swallow!
LEADSHANK – I’ve seen every imaginable lead on a llama, from something with a five-pound snap that could be used in tractor pulls to a quarter-inch nylon dog lead. I hate to think of a llama’s beautiful head carrying around a cattle lead. The nylon dog leads, though, should be used only for very well-trained llamas. They’ll cut into your hands and burn you badly in an emergency. I prefer the 3/4″ cotton rope leads with medium-sized snaps. They’re easier to hang on to and easier to tie securely.
GROOMING TOOLS – Basic grooming tools include toenail cutters (either the tree-branch pruning type or the small hoof nippers), brushes (a dog slicker brush and a wire llama beater are what I find the most useful), and a pair of scissors for shearing in the spring (or electric shears).
THE PAYOFF – You’ll need treats. Yes, you can train a llama without any treats, but he’s going to be a much more willing partner if there’s something in the work for him, too. Llamas like all kinds of things – oats, sweet feed, horse crunchies, stud muffins, peppermints, carrot coins, bagels, broccoli, apples. The problem with llamas is they don’t usually KNOW they like all these things. It may take several days of leaving various things in pans around the pen before he decides to try some of these strange new things. The easiest way to get a llama to try something new is to put him in with several other llamas that already like it.
TREAT BAG – You’ll also need a carpenter’s apron of some sort with pockets to keep your treats in. So, llama, facilities, tack and tools. Let’s get started!