Scale Information

We have a new cria and she is our first.  To start out right we need some guidelines.  She is 1 week old and has learned how to spit already when we contain her to weigh and get her temperature.  I plan on going to your seminar held this year in our area.

Marty’s Answer:

It is great to hear you will be coming to a clinic.   There is no substitute for hands on learning!  In the meantime I think a bit of barn re-arranging will help you with your cria.

I will address the taking the temperature first.  Unless your cria is sick, it would seem to me to be over doing it to take the temp more than once or perhaps twice.  Always work in a confined area with the mother right there; attach a cord and a clothes pin to the thermometer so that you don’t have to worry about it getting broken or slipping all the way into the rectum.  You can let the baby move around while managing the thermometer.  Don’t try to hold the baby still.  If you are having trouble working in a 9 x 9 foot pen, make the pen smaller by stacking some bales of hay inside.

As far as weighing goes… you didn’t say what kind of scale you have— if you don’t own a platform digital scale you must get one!  The only really appropriate scale for adults is a digital platform scale and since you need one for the adults, you will have one for the babies

Weighing babies in slings or picking them up and standing on a bathroom scale scares them and creates behavioral problems just like the one you describe. I know your question is specifically about weighing your baby, but I think a discussion of scales and weighing in general is helpful.  So bear with me as I discuss the whole issue of weighing and scales.

Scales are an important part of good management; knowing the weight and more importantly any change in weight will help you keep track of the health of your herd.   In my travels I have seen scales that were so inaccessible that the animals had to be haltered and led to a different building entirely.  For a scale to be really useful it should be easy to use— that means handy to the animals.

Regardless of where your scale lives it will be much more user friendly if it has a lane way leading to it and a box around it.  Scales that sit out in the open look scary.  It doesn’t matter to your camelid that the scale is only 2 inches off the ground it is still scary.  It is difficult to herd or lead an animal up on to a scale that is not in an enclosure.  It is even more difficult to get the animal to remain on the scale and to stand in balance to get an accurate weight.  Even if your scale is located in a handy place, but without enclosure around it, you will probably have to halter and lead the animal up on the scale.  Haltering each animal to get a weight takes time and training and needlessly complicates your herd management.  Ideally haltering happens ONLY for things that are fun and interesting for the animal, perhaps an interesting walk with time for a bit of grazing.  I can’t list the number of times owners have described breeding males that practically put their own halters on.

We can’t promise this level of incentive every time an animal gets haltered.  However, haltering animals, particularly females, ONLY for unpleasant chores will certainly have a negative effect on their attitude about humans.

You will also want weights on young animals that have not been introduced to a halter and have not been trained to lead.  I have seen handlers unintentionally terrorize a baby simply to get its weight.  After a few very bad experiences, a confident, friendly baby can become a spooky nightmare to handle.

Good barn design can make weighing adults and youngsters as easy as moving them through the barn. The area enclosing the scale should be the exact size of the scale and enclosed with panels.  Create a space in which there are no edges from which to slip off.  The best scale is one for which there is really no choice for the alpaca but to stand properly. Weighing babies can be a piece of cake.  Bring mom and baby into the scale enclosure together and make a note of the weight. Open the front gate and allow the baby to leave, make a note of the mothers weight.  Let the mother rejoin her baby.  Do the math and you have a weight on the baby without having to separate him from his mom for more than a second or two and more importantly you won’t have to pick the baby up.  I think there are very few experiences that are more frightening to a baby llama or alpaca than being picked up totally off the ground by a human.  If your scale platform is not large enough to accommodate both mom and baby, the baby can be worked through the scale enclosure just after mom with a minimum of fuss and effort.

There are several companies that sell scales and advertise in various alpaca publications they aren’t hard to find and they are worth their weight in gold.  I would talk to several breeders that have one and see what they like or don’t like about their model. I recently heard from an alpaca breeder that he recommended the llama version even for alpacas because it was easier to use and comparably priced.

Good luck!

For more info about Marty and the Camelidynamics program visit her web site at:
Marty McGee Bennett
Training alpacas and llamas with respect and results since 1981