First of all, welcome to our Husbandry page, where each month we will be giving you an insight into what different things we do on the farm in order to take good care of our animals!
This month, we will be giving you a step by step guide to cutting toenails. This is something that we must do every two months or so and it can take us a quite a while because it means cutting 8 toe nails per alpaca, and we've got 150 plus alpacas on the farm - that's a lot of toenails to trim!! An interesting fact is that our white alpacas often need a trim more than the darker fleeced animals.
1. Catching your alpaca.
Not all alpacas willingly stand totally still and allow you to start trimming their nails. So the alpaca needs to be haltered up and kept still, this can be achieved by either having a second person to hold the alpaca, or simply having the lead tied to a sturdy gate or fence, this just keeps the alpaca in one place for you!
When catching any alpaca, it is most important that you remain calm, smooth and slow when approaching, this prevents the alpaca from stressing or becoming frightened. You must always remember to keep your arms open "like a fence" as we would say. Then once you are close enough to your alpaca, you can go in for the catch! Again, this must be a smooth movement otherwise your alpaca will become frightened of you and will try to escape.
Once alpacas are caught, some may try to pull away from you. At this point, you must remain persistent with your alpaca and hold on while remaining calm until your alpaca calms itself down. Remember, if you are stressed, the alpaca will sense it! Once the alpaca is calm, it must be held correctly. To do this, we have one arm around the alpaca's neck, with the elbow just under the chin to support their head, and the other hand placed on the alpaca's back (just over the shoulders), this can prevent the alpaca from jumping. Lastly, we always make sure that our body is pushed against the alpaca, just so that they know we are here - you are now ready to halter up your alpaca.
Once your alpaca is calm, you can put the halter on. First step is to make sure your alpaca’s halter fits properly, to ensure this, you can check how tight the halter is underneath their chin, and also round the back of the head. It is important that the halter fits properly because if it is too small, the noseband can slip forward and restrict the alpaca’s breathing. While if too big, the halter can be loose and your alpaca will challenge it because they can feel it moving.
Once you have the correct size, the halter needs to be put on properly… So, while holding your alpaca, have one hand through the noseband and slide the halter on to your alpacas nose. Always make sure that you avoid the eye area because this can frighten the alpaca, so it is best to go from underneath and slip it over the nose. Next step is to fasten your halter, so bring the straps around the back of the neck. Usually, halters fasten with a standard buckle, so thread the strap through the buckle and pull it tight. Always make sure that the halter is as tight as you can get it. We aim to be able to slide one index finger under the strap at the neck.
3. Get yourself ready
Now that your alpaca is all set and ready for a trim, you need to make sure that you are ready. First thing is to make sure you are wearing gloves. On our farm, we treat our alpacas’ feet with AZ Oil, which is used to treat and prevent mites from developing between their toes so the gloves will protect our hands from the oil as well as dirt. Of course, you will also need your toenail trimmers, and (just in case) have some purple spray or iodine spray at hand to treat any small cuts to the quick.
4. Start with a front foot
You are now ready to start trimming! First off, start with one of your alpaca’s front feet, always remember to approach your alpaca calmly, while you cut your alpaca’s toenails, face yourself down towards your alpacas back feet. One leg will go underneath your alpaca’s chest (between their legs) so that the alpaca can lean on you if they cannot balance and the other leg will go on the outside, so that you can balance too! Once you have done this you will find yourself in a squatting position. With your hands, start at the top of your alpaca’s leg, guiding your hand down so they they know you are there. Gently pick up your alpaca’s foot and begin cutting.
When cutting your alpaca’s nails, always cut in line with their pad. This will prevent you from cutting your alpaca’s toe! Essentially, each toe can be finished in three cuts… The first cut, is along the point of the nail, this will bring the nail down to the length you want it. The second and third cuts will be down the sides, again keeping in line with your alpaca’s pad. Lastly, trim the point of the nail down so that when the alpaca scratches itself, it won’t cause injury. Once you have finished both toes, you are ready to move to the back foot.
5. Now to the back.
On the same side as your alpaca, move yourself down the alpaca, still facing the same way, and keep your hands on your alpaca to let them know you’re still there, and you’re moving down their body. Your legs should be in a similar position, with one leg between theirs, supporting them while you trim. When picking up the back foot, it will come up behind them. Try your best to keep the foot as close to the floor as you can, this helps to keep your alpaca relaxed. Once you are in position and your alpaca is calm, you can repeat the same cutting process!
6. And the other side!
This step is repeating the above, except on the other side of your alpaca, so simply move around the other side, and begin again. Depending on which side you started with and which is your dominant hand, this side can be a little more complicated when it comes to cutting, but remain calm, and take your time in cutting.
7. Were there any accidents?
If you have trimmed your alpaca toe a little too short and there’s a bit of blood, don't panic! It’s a small cut and your alpaca will be fine, just apply a little purple spray or iodine spray.
8. Letting your alpaca go.
The last step of toenail trimming is of course letting your alpaca go. Hold your alpaca in the same position as before, with one arm around the neck, and the other on the back. Take your hand off the alpaca’s back, and use this to unhalter your alpaca. Once you are done, calmly let go of your alpaca when you are ready. If your alpaca is pulling you to let them go, hold on to your alpaca until they are calm so you remain in control. Letting them go under your standards will reinforce good manners, and they will begin to feel more comfortable around you.