Learning the dynamics of camelids

By Melanie Savage - Staff Writer
Hampton - posted Tue., Jul. 23, 2013
Marty McGee Bennett leads a training session at Hampton's Three Niece Farm. Listening is workshop participant Stephen Bennett, one of the owners of Lebanon's Everafter Alpaca Farm. Photos by Melanie Savage.
Marty McGee Bennett leads a training session at Hampton's Three Niece Farm. Listening is workshop participant Stephen Bennett, one of the owners of Lebanon's Everafter Alpaca Farm. Photos by Melanie Savage.

On the morning of July 20, each of a number of corrals on the property of Hampton’s Three Niece Farm contained two people - one sporting an inflatable plastic alpaca head, the other empty-handed. “We had a lecture this morning. Now we’re working with the heads,” explained Sue Beauregard, owner of the farm with her husband, Mitch.

The duos were practicing how to approach an animal in a non-threatening way, explained Beauregard, in anticipation of working with live animals. The exercise was part of a two-day “Camelidynamics” basic handling clinic conducted by Marty McGee Bennett, from Bend, Oregon.  As her website, camelidynamics.com, puts it: “Marty McGee Bennett has been a fixture in the alpaca and llama business almost since there was an alpaca and llama business.”

Llama and alpaca are part of the biological family Camelidae, a group that also includes dromedaries, Bactrian camels, vicuñas and guanacos. They have become increasingly popular in the U.S. over the past few decades, prized for their high-quality wool. But when McGee Bennett got interested in camelids in 1981, the industry in North America was just starting out. In 1987, she dedicated herself to bringing the work of Linda Tellington-Jones (The Tellington-Jones Equine Awareness Method) to the llama and alpaca community. She has since traveled all over the world teaching classes, has written books and produced videos on the subject. The Three Niece seminar was billed as McGee Bennett’s only New England appearance for the 2013 summer season.

“The very first book Sue read when we decided we were going to do this was [McGee Bennett’s] ‘The Camelid Companion,’” said Mitch Beauregard. McGee Bennett’s methods center on safety, respect and kindness, and really resonated with the Beauregards.

“That’s the kind of operation we wanted to run,” said Sue. Sue attended a seminar in Vermont. Mitch attended another in Ohio. Then McGee Bennett’s manager contacted them to see whether they’d be interested in hosting a seminar. “We were thrilled,” said Sue. “We respect her methods so much. They really work.”

Though llama and alpaca have been domesticated for thousands of years, they’ve traditionally been kept in herds, suggested McGee Bennett. “There hasn’t been that need to halter them and lead them around,” she said. Consequently, an essential part of training a camelid is developing a human-animal relatonship. “That trust needs to be developed first,” said McGee Bennett.

“Animals put people into two different categories,” said McGee Bennett, resuming her seminar after lunch. “Trappers and escape-route-givers.” One of the keys to developing trust is to never make an animal feel trapped, she said - to always leave the animal an escape route.

“Oh boy, I’ve been a trapper all my life,” lamented seminar participant Stephen Bennett. “I’ve been the rodeo king.” Bennett owns Lebanon’s Ever After Alpaca Farm with his wife, Pam. Currently they own 17 alpaca, and sell fleece and fleece-related products. Bennett said the couple had attended the seminar to learn better methods for handling their herd. “Anything’s gotta be better than the way I’ve been doing it,” he said.

David Lawrence traveled to the seminar from Newtown. His family had recently acquired two alpaca, and was looking to learn more about them. “It’s kind of a rescue story,” said Lawrence. After learning the animals needed a new home, the family built a shed and other accommodations to house them. “We’re just looking to learn anything we can about them, I guess,” said Lawrence. “They’re really funny animals.”

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