I think the sentiment “practice makes perfect” is better expressed as “practice makes confident.” After spending ~6 hrs handling a small alpaca herd during a selective week workshop, I feel much more comfortable approaching and handling these odd creatures.
First we learned the best way to catch an alpaca free in the field. It turns out that alpacas view a length of rope stretched out between two people like a section of fence, and so as this “walking fence” you can easily herd them into a corner of the paddock. Alpacas have very long necks, composed mostly of vertebrae and muscles. To catch one, you fling an arm around the upper neck to still the animal, then adjust yourself so the neck is in the crook of your elbow with your arm wrapped all the way around it. You then place your thigh slightly in front of the chest so the alpaca can’t walk forward, and press down on the withers with your other hand if it’s rearing a bit.
After learning a few more restraint techniques, we practiced collecting blood from the jugular vein and hoof trimming, which I’m pleased to say I’m finally getting better at. Alpacas, llamas, and camels have unusual feet, with two toes, each with a leathery sole and a triangular toenail. It was hard for my small hands to get enough leverage on the clippers, and it was frustrating manipulating the clippers exactly where you wanted them. But the end result was very satisfying!
After lunch, we met with a reproductive specialist to troubleshoot causes of infertility and review the basics of camelid reproduction. I was surprised to remember as much of it as I did, considering our reproduction class was a year ago! Then we trooped out to perform reproductive exams, doing ultrasounds of the uterus and ovaries to rule out a pregnancy before performing a vaginal exam on the females. For the males we observed and palpated the genitalia, then ultrasounded the testes, prostate, and bulbourethral glands. It felt great to get more hands-on ultrasound experience and further solidify my anatomy knowledge. I felt that after this workshop I would be completely confident heading out to my first call to an alpaca farm as a new vet.