By Melinda Van Bossuyt
Getting to the Trailhead
Transport Your Llama Safely
Summer is here. It is time to pack up the gear and the llamas and drive to the trailhead. What do you use to haul your llamas?
Through the years I have seen and heard of many ways of transporting llamas. Most commonly, trailers are used such as horse trailers, stock trailers, and modified utility trailers. Stock trucks, pick-ups with stock racks, pick-ups with camper shells, and panel trucks are other conveyances that are used. Then there are the cargo vans, mini vans, station wagons, SUVs, and even sedans that carry llamas.
The ease of transporting llamas is used as a selling point by breeders. The logic is that llamas are smaller and weigh less than a horse. Therefore, the vehicles and trailers used to carry llamas do not need to be as heavy duty as those to carry horses. For example, a single axle trailer is adequate for llamas rather than a double axle. The walls and floor of the trailer don’t need to be as thick and strong as needed for horses. Also, llamas tend to lie down when in a moving vehicle. Therefore, the transport does not need to be as tall as that needed for horses. That is the theory, anyway.
While there are many ways llamas have and can be moved around, what factors should be considered for transporting llamas safely? First, I will share some llama transportation stories.
Successful Transports or Just Lucky?
Once, we sold one of our experienced packers to some folks who picked him up in their mini van. Red Cloud cautiously crawled into the back of the Caravan and lay down. He faced forward and looked out the front of the van through the windshield. The person in the passenger seat held his lead rope. As they drove down our driveway, Red Cloud’s head was sticking out of the top of the van through the open sun roof. It was a pretty funny sight. Red Cloud made it to his new home in the Seattle area without mishap.
The purchaser of a young llama came to pick him up in a small SUV. She had about a ten hour drive to get home. We spent the day training the llama to get into the back of the SUV. I was worried as they drove away. The young llama made it to his new home without incident. She never took him out for the whole trip for fear of not being able to get him back in. He stood up a couple of times during the journey, but caused no trouble.
Some years ago, another llama owner (a good friend of mine), my son, and I went to pick up a couple of llamas that my friend was acquiring. Once we got to the farm, the owner, an elderly woman, asked if we would stay and help her catch and load some other llamas that were being picked up by someone from out-of-state. Little did we know what we were getting into. I will never forget my amazement that day; for when the person arrived to pick up the animals, she was pulling a 4 x 6 foot open U-Haul utility trailer. The elderly lady was desperate to get rid of all her llamas as she could no longer properly care for them. These were the last three llamas to go. My friend and I literally built a trailer on that little U-Haul. We found hog panels and used bolt cutters to make pieces correctly sized for trailer walls and roof. We used blue tarp to create wind break. We developed a plan for closing up the back after the llamas were inside. Then we backed the trailer up to a gate that we were able to squeeze the llamas into. It was a challenge to get the llamas in because they were grown and completely untrained wild animals. Somehow we managed. The three llamas were so tight in there they could not move around at all. We decided that was probably a good thing. We tried to give advice and instructions to the young woman transporting the llamas. We advised her to start driving and not stop until she got where she was going. We told her not to stop and unload the llamas because she would probably not get them back in again. She was not too interested in what we had to say. At the time, I felt that the transport of those llamas was not terribly humane; but I knew the llamas were headed to a sanctuary where life would be better for them. Later we learned that she and the llamas successfully made it to their destination.
When we got our first llamas, we did not have the money to buy a trailer. Dave built a wooden stock rack for our old pickup. We put a piece of plywood over the top to keep the llamas in and to cut down on the wind. In those days, llamas were rare and caused a lot of interest wherever we went. After nearly causing a number of wrecks on the freeway due to rubberneckers, Dave bolted plywood on the sides so people could not see in and to cut down further on the wind. We carried three pack llamas this way for a couple of years until we could afford to buy into a stock trailer shared with another family. Once we got the stock trailer, I felt the llamas were much safer.
Some people who bought a couple of our pack llamas came back to the farm with them for a visit. They were transporting them in their “new” trailer. It was a homemade utility trailer with tall plywood sides and no top. It scared the daylights out of me to see the llamas traveling that way. The llamas rode in this open trailer tied to the wall on long ropes without incident.
Problem Transports: Near Disaster
The owner of a female that had been to our farm to breed came to pick her up in a rented cargo van. (She had come to our farm by trailer. We picked her up.) She was a wild, crazy, and fearful llama. When the owner tried to put her in the van, she screamed and resisted. We helped and got her into the van. She spit and spit turning the walls green. I could see that she was eyeing the windshield while looking for a way out. There was no way to secure the llama in the van, and I believed that she would try to jump through the windshield. We offered to drive the llama home in our trailer for no charge (a two hour round trip). She was still crazy, but at least she was safe.
A friend loaded up one of her llamas into the back of her station wagon for a short trip to a nearby farm. She had done this many times without a problem. This time, the llama tried to stand up en route and blew out the back window of the car.
A new llama owner put his llama into the back of his pickup with an open-top stock rack. He started down the road. Suddenly his llama jumped out of the truck over the cab and across the hood and landed on the road in front of the truck. The driver hit the llama before he could stop the truck. Somehow the llama survived that experience with only cuts and bruises.
Just a month ago, another new llama owner put his llama he had owned only a couple of weeks into the back of his pickup with a stock rack. He started down the road. Only three-quarters of a mile from home, the llama jumped over the side of the stock rack and got hung up by his halter. The llama was dangling on the side of the truck. The llama owner had difficulty trying to release the poor llama. Finally, he cut the halter and the llama dropped to the ground in shock. It took the llama 15 minutes to revive. The llama owner managed to walk the llama home. The last I heard, he still has not been able to put a halter on the llama.
The first time we tried to take our new young stud off the farm for a pack trip, he was not too happy about leaving his girls. We put him in our stock trailer at the very last minute before departing. He tried to jump out the back of the trailer through the narrow opening at the top of the door. It is less than two feet in height. We never had this happen before, nor has it happened since. That day we had to weave some rope around the opening to prevent an unfortunate mishap.
Some packers hauling llamas in a good stock trailer had their truck engine catch on fire. Everyone safely jumped out of the Suburban. They ran back and unloaded the llamas before the fire could engulf the trailer. Fortunately, they had a halter on each llama and readily accessible lead ropes for a quick evacuation.
When it comes to hauling llamas, safety needs to come first. Consideration needs to be given to the worst case scenario. What if the llama goes nuts and tries to get out? Have you taken all reasonable precautions to cope with such an occurrence?
It is reasonable to assume that a llama might see a window and think they could escape through it. Some llama owners I knew had a special camper shell made for their llamas. It had windows that were covered by bars to prevent the llamas from breaking through the glass.
In a cargo van, the windshield at the front of the van might attract the attention of a llama looking for a way out. A llama moving to the front of the van would certainly distract the driver and could cause an accident. For safety sake, a barrier between the cargo compartment and the passenger and driver seats would be advised.
As the stories above illustrate, hauling llamas in an open stock rack or trailer is a disaster waiting to happen. It makes sense to anticipate trouble and devise some sort of top cover to prevent llamas from jumping out.
While a llama should never be tied into a trailer like horses, it is wise to leave the halter on so that the llama can be easily caught and unloaded in an emergency. People new to llamas need to be told that tying a llama up while transporting can injure or kill the animal. This is because a llama tends to lie down while the vehicle is moving. If tied, they are likely to hang by their rope and possibly break their neck. It has happened.
Sellers have a responsibility to the llamas they have bred and trained. They need to ensure the safety and well being of llamas they are selling by advising new owners on safe transportation practices for llamas. New owners need to understand that part of their responsibility as llama owners includes safe and humane transport. When new owners arrive to pick up their llamas, sellers should insist on the llamas leaving by way of safe and humane transport.
Plan Ahead for Safety
There are many ways to transport llamas. No matter what type of trailer or vehicle you use, think and plan ahead. Determine the potential risks to your llamas while hauling and work to mitigate those risks for a safe and humane ride to the trailhead.
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