By Melinda Van Bossuyt
DON'T FORGET THE SALT
It was our third day going in. The weather was hot, dry, bright, and sunny as it had been each day. We were climbing over the 10,000 foot elevation and pushing to reach our next camp in a high mountain basin. As we traversed open expanses of granite bedrock, one of our best llamas began to drag. We slowed down. When he laid down to rest, we knew something was wrong. This guy never faltered. We encouraged him to get up and keep going. We were almost to the top. He laid down again. Up again. Move onward. Down again. Up again. Down again. We took his panniers off and went ahead with the other llamas to the top. Dave went back for the panniers and carried them. The sick llama got up and came with him. A slow half-mile march across a vast alpine basin meadow brought us to our intended camping place.
What was wrong with Charlie? We unloaded and unsaddled all llamas and staked them out in the grass rich meadow with their water buckets. After some discussion, we determined that the person feeding the llamas their small portion of pellets each day had forgotten to add the salt. Charlie was probably dehydrated. Of course he had had plenty of water. But along with the water a llama (or human for that matter) needs salt. This is particularly the case when the weather is very dry and very warm.
We stayed at the high basin camp for three days to give Charlie time to recover. We offered him plenty of salt with his pellets. He ate and ate and ate salt. Soon he was back to his old self.
Both my husband and I experienced dehydration a couple of times when we used to backpack. It is a very debilitating condition. You drink and drink water, but find no relief. Sometimes drinking water makes you feel nauseated. You feel very weak and sometimes disoriented. You have trouble thinking and taking care of yourself. The relief you experience after eating a pinch of salt comes within minutes.
Here is what we take to provide our llamas with the salt they need to stay well.
Loose iodized salt -
Table salt will work fine. But we buy loose iodized salt from the feed store. (No trace minerals.) It is coarser and cheaper than grocery store salt. We pack it in a pint size plastic salsa container. The sack is stored at home in a plastic bucket.
Pellets and/or wet cob -
We bring the food as a treat and to use as a way of offering the salt. We usually bring about ½ to 1 pound of food per llama per day. But this varies depending on where we are going and how long we will be out.
Cool Whip containers without the lids -
We use these to feed the pellets and salt. They are very light weight and cheap. If you don't use Cool Whip, get your mother or someone else who uses Cool Whip to save them for you. Take one per llama.
Llama mineral -
We take llama minerals for longer hikes. This is the same loose mineral we use at home which is very high in selenium. It also has some salt but not enough in proportion to the minerals for hard working pack llamas. We pack it the same way we do the salt, in a small plastic container.
How to feed the salt -
Prepare the llama feed buckets by first measuring in the amount of pellets and/or cob you are feeding. On top add a big pinch of salt. Generally we put about the equivalent of a tablespoon. The feed buckets are given to the llamas. Of course they dig in and gobble up the pellets. But even though the salt has been added on top, they will leave the salt behind if they don't want it. However, if they are hungry for the salt, they will lick the bowl clean. We have found that individual llamas vary quite a bit in their need for salt. Charlie was always one of those guys who would eat all of his salt.
As soon as the llamas finish their pellets, we collect the buckets. We are careful to prevent the salt from spilling on the ground where it might poison the soil. Also, in areas where there are lots of deer, we have found the deer will move in as soon as the llamas are through eating to lick the bowls clean. We don't want the deer germs in our llama bowls. So we pick them up right away. If we have a llama who eats all of their salt, we might offer him the extra salt that the other llamas left. If he is hungry for salt, he will eat that too. We make certain that the water buckets have water and are available to the llamas. With the salt, they need water. Finally, any left over salt gets put back into the salt container for another day. If you are carrying mineral, it can be fed in the same way. We are even more careful with the mineral since it has such high levels of selenium.