Information about the friendly alpaca      The alpaca — friendly,  calm,
      inquisitive and easy to farm.

 

 

    Alpacas are easy care animals, and relatively easy to farm. They do need preventative care, and there are seasonal tasks to do.
 
    Toenail Trimming                      by Julie Mansell, Riverdale Alpacas
 
   

Toenail clipping can be a nightmare or a dream depending on your alpaca but there are a few tips and techniques you can learn that can help the job get done with less stress for all concerned. It is a two person job, though you can get trimming done on your own if you have well trained alpacas

Three things I have learned over our time with alpacas when it comes to toenails -

One – patience is a virtue

Two – respect the tolerance of all - the entire job does not need to get done in one session

Three – balance is the key, for the alpaca that is, not you

Asking an alpaca to stand quietly while we pick up a foot to trim a toenail requires a good deal of trust on the alpaca’s part. We are asking them to give up the primary means of escape, their leg, stand often in an uncomfortable position, while we squeeze and cut away.
 

    The Alpaca Foot

Alpaca toenails grow continuously, and on the hard rocky ground in the mountains of Peru, Chile and Bolivia, alpacas will naturally wear their toenails short. Alpacas in New Zealand generally live on soft and sometimes wet ground, and their toenails tend to grow longer more rapidly.

trimmed nailAlpaca with lighter coloured toenails need trimming more often.

Dark toenails are harder and slower growing and the annual trim at shearing is often sufficient.

 This photo shows the underside of the foot with  nicely trimmed toenails.

 

Long toenails may curve causing the toe to twist. This will pinch the pad and eventually it will break off painfully, causing lameness. In one case the toenail perforated the pad, and it took months to heal up. To avoid such problems, toenail trimming should be a part of routine care.
 

   

Looking at the underside of an alpaca foot you will see the soft pad, and the two toes, each with a nail that grows in a similar way to our own nail.  We are going to trim the nail portion that protrudes from the end of the foot and avoid the soft tissue and quick.

cradle holdclasp hold

 

 

  

 

 

    How to hold the foot to trim nails

In the picture on the left I am cradling the foot in my hand, and this is the best way.

On the right, my thumb and hand clasps the foot at the pastern (ankle). This will cause the alpaca to panic
and as I cut with the clippers I will not be able to avoid squeezing the foot. They do not like you doing this and will often pull their foot away from you.
 
   

trimming nailCradling the foot in my left hand while I trim with the right, and finally the finished job. The nails are level with the bottom of the pad.

toe trimmed

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


These photos show toenails that need urgent attention on the left, and on the right are the finished trimmed nail of the same foot. You'll see what an improvement this makes once the nails are trimmed.
 

    trim 1nail 1
    nail 2trim 2
    nail 3trim 3
    nail 4trim 4
   

Equipment

There are a number of different clippers you can use for the job. Pruning shears work equally well so chose one you are comfortable with.

nippers Top - the steel straight blade Shoof sheep trimmers work reasonably well. They can be a little heavy in a lady’s hand and the blades are thick which can make fine cutting difficult.

Middle - the pruning shears work well too; the curve on the blade helps to guide when you are cutting. Some do tend to have a thick blade and some only have one cutting edge.

Bottom - the green handled trimmers are goat and sheet footrot trimmers; these are very sharp and cut fingers and soft parts of the toe very easily. They are good where you need to cut quickly and the fine blade allows you to cut more accurately. nipper

Marty McGee Bennet has a nice clipper (right) used in her TTeam training programme.

You can buy a holster that straps to your leg.
Very helpful for those times when you get in to position with your alpaca and then realize that the clippers are on the fence out of reach.

You can purchase these Tteam items from Vicky Tribe at Willow Farm in Pukekohe.holster

 

 



spray

 

 

 


If you do cut in to the quick, don’t panic. It will bleed profusely and you will feel quite guilty but generally it will heal quickly.  Apply pressure to the bleeding and apply some topical antibiotic like Tetravet Spray. (This is purple and stains the fleece so use carefully.) Keep an eye on the alpaca for a few days to make sure an infection does not set in.

   

Safety

One more criteria - safety. You will be bending down as you do the job and need to be mindful that your head is close to the alpaca’s feet. They can use you and your helper to balance themselves and can snatch their foot out of your hand so make sure you keep your head out of the way.

And remember your alpaca's safety - they need to feel safe, and in balance.  Remember the three lessons - patience, respect and balance.
 

   

Trimming the Foot

Now we have organized the equipment and understand what we are going to do, let's consider ways to get to the foot to trim it.

 

   

Alpaca nails can be trimmed when they are restrained for shearing, either on the ground or on a shearing table.

Alpacas can have their nails trimmed whilst they are sitting. This girl was not willing to stand and have her feet picked up - one was trimmed with her standing with her foot on the ground and the others were trimmed whilst she was in cush (sitting down).  With a little persuasion you can sneak the foot out sufficient to trim the nail.
 

    cush nails rearcush nails front
     
Mostly alpacas nails are trimmed when they are standing, by picking up one foot at a time. Nails can also be trimmed when an alpaca is standing on its feet.
 
   

My method for trimming a front foot is to have my helper hold the alpaca on the opposite side from the leg I am going to trim. I approach the alpaca at the shoulder and facing the rear end. I slide my left hand over the shoulder and my right hand down the side of the leg. At this point the alpaca will begin to move away from you and I can use my left hand to check them gently to stand back in balance.

holsterWhen I get to about the knee I slide my hand to the front of the shin and ask the alpaca to lift the leg by gently pressing towards the rear of the alpaca. As they begin to lift the leg I cradle the ankle in my hand as we saw in the pictures.

Sometimes then will struggle a little against you at this point - go with the movement slightly, but do not get in to a fight with them over the leg.  Try to keep them in balance as you do this. You can use your hip against their shoulder to push their weight back over on to the other leg. This is a good lesson to begin on your cria to get them ready for the big day.

For some alpacas this may be too much for them and you might have to repeat the lesson a few times in separate sessions, until they feel comfortable in letting you handle their legs.

If they do fight with you over the leg, let them have it back, rebalance, and begin again. Remember lesson two. The job does not need to get done in one session. They have 8 nails to trim - some will need 8 sessions!

Once you have the foot in your hand you can begin the trimming. Remember not to squeeze the foot as you trim.

To trim a rear foot, I have my handler holding the alpaca in balance. I approach the animal at the shoulder again and move towards the rear. I place my left hand over the back at the rump area and at the same time slid my right hand down the thigh. As I get to the hock I slid my hand down the back of the lower leg and as I do exert a forward pressure and ask the alpaca to lift his leg.

The lift is in a forward movement not an upward movement. While I am doing this my left hand slides over and collects the leg from the right hand and cradles the foot so I can begin clipping. I have my left arm in-between the two legs. When finished, place the leg on the floor don’t drop it. Rear legs are the hardest.
 

   

Have a look at the following article on toenail trimming for a few more tips

www.camelidynamics.com
 

Nic Cooper and Linda Blake
Main West Coast Road, West Melton, RD1, Christchurch, New Zealand
Phone 0064 3 318-1917 | fax 0064 3 318-1927 | email alpacasnz@xtra.co.nz