Chapter 27 - Chutes
When we had five llamas, they were all brilliantly trained to stand quietly for grooming, shearing, toenail cutting, etc. For scarier medical procedures, we'd use a gate to hold them against a wall. When we got up between 40 and 50 llamas, however, it became a bit more convenient to have a chute built to fit the llamas and hold them securely.
COMEBEFORES - Training is still necessary, however. Wrestling a 350-lb wild animal into a little chute isn't a pretty picture. You'll want your llama lead trained and able to be fairly well handled all over, including feet.
START HERE - Near the chute.
AIM FOR THIS - You halter your llama, walk him calmly into the chute, do him up, do the work you want to do, and walk him calmly out of the chute.
HOW TO TEACH IT - Like everything else you've taught your llama, his chute behaviour will benefit from working slowly toward your goal, explaining things clearly, and not using force. Walk your llama near the chute, and reward him, either by letting him walk away, or by giving him a treat. Or both. Walk him closer, reward. Walk him up so his head is inside the chute. Reward. Walk him up with his head inside, and ask for ONE foot inside. It's important here that you give him permission to get OUT of the chute after he gives you what you want. You're not saying "Sell your soul to the chute, son, your life is over!", you're saying "Just give me one foot in the chute. Then you can leave."
From there, you'll need two front feet, reward. Then he can walk forward. Then he can put his head through the bars. Then he can move right up forward. Then he can move right up forward and be tied. Be sure to reward him for being tied - for a lot of llamas, the chute isn't really a big deal, but being strapped down and unable to move is really scary.
When he's comfortable tied in the chute, spend some time teaching him to be touched all over. Wait a minute, didn't we teach him that already? Yes, but llamas (and all other animals, including people) don't generalize well. Being touched tied to a fence isn't the same as being touched on a lead, isn't the same as being touched in the chute. Teach it again. The more different situations you teach this in, the better he'll be able to handle being touched in new situations.
EVERY time we put the llama in a chute, we give him some oats for being there. Then we do whatever we're going to do with him, then we give him some more oats, THEN we let him out. Like getting out of the trailer, backing out of the chute has to be done calmly, quietly, and at OUR speed.
IN OTHER WORDS - If you're using a clicker, it's fun to teach your llama to go in the chute by himself. This is a shaping exercise. As such, it'll make you a better trainer, and make your llama a better learner. Sit in a chair with a pan of oats, llama near the chute. Click and reward when he turns his head toward the entrance to the chute. Click for this three or four times, then wait for more. Click and reward when he takes a single step toward the entrance. Then for putting his head inside. Then for stepping in. You can see that we're following the same pattern I described for teaching him without the clicker, but this time you're not helping him at all but letting him figure out what to offer in order to get the click.
USING IT - Most commonly our chute is used for cutting toenails. It's also handy for shearing, dentistry such as cutting fighting teeth and floating front teeth, checking the cria's position in a difficult birth, and minor surgeries.
We bought chute plans from a llama breeder in BC, and had a local welder build it. We also bought a chute at an auction. From there we started playing around, what could be better? What isn't really working? What needs to be changed? Things we thought were necessary turned out not to be. We don't have plans, but for some close-up shots of what we think is a pretty good chute, click here.
Pay attention when you're using a chute. Do NOT get any part of YOU between a llama and ANY part of a chute. This is not a negotiable point. ANY part of you trapped between a llama and a chute is going to get hurt. Really. Among other things, that means YOU do NOT go in the chute!
Don't leave the llama alone in the chute. Train the llama before you put him in the chute. When you tie him, tie him securely with knots that are easy and fast to untie, even when the lines are tight.