Do you have what it takes to ace the alpaca handler school?

ABC News
By: Kallee Buchanan
Photo: By Kallee Buchanan, ABC Rural
 
Photo Caption: Jordis Graham has worked with Gypsy the Alpaca for three years.

Imagine Tough Mudder with less mud and more alpacas, and you have some idea of what one farmer thinks could be a good way to teach children about farming.

Victorian alpaca farmer Louise Lazarus has hosted an alpaca handling workshop in Queensland's Bundaberg, where primary school students were introduced to the animals.

She said alpacas were a great option for teaching children about animal husbandry and rural industries.

"These animals are good for all ranges of kids, whether they're in special schools or agricultural schools, because they're easier to handle," she said.

"If they do kick or run then they're not going to really badly hurt anyone."

She said teachers reported changes in the children that worked with the animals.

"We have teachers who have kids on the autistic spectrum coming up to us and saying the kids have totally changed in class, they're able to learn better," she said.

"The animals bring out something in them so they can actually learn better in class.

"The teachers really see the difference in them."

About a dozen primary school students took part in the workshop, which saw the children guide an alpaca through an obstacle course that replicated challenges they may face on a farm.

Some, like eight-year-old Bailey Iacuzzi, had never worked with the animals before.

"[I like that] they're fluffy," she said.

"[I learned] that they can spit if they get angry ... they can stand on you."

Her classmate Violet Graham lived next door to an alpaca farm and was an experienced handler.

"They can really listen to you and they understand," Violet said.

"[Don't] be harsh around them or they won't listen to you."

Her sister Jordis was with Gypsy, an alpaca she had worked with for three years.

"She's a huacaya. She's very nice, warm and cuddly and sometimes she'll lie down and you can lie down with her.

"I like walking her around places and lying down with her and talking to her."
Alpacas now a part of the landscape

The animals are increasingly becoming an important contributor to primary industries, farmed for luxury natural fibres and premium meat.

They have been part of the landscape for at least 25 years and the Australian Alpaca Association says the maturing industry is "the smart future of Australian agribusiness".

"I've been dairy farming, beef farming, sheep and everything else and these animals are so different," Ms Lazarus said.

"They're very intelligent, very easy to care for, I love the fibre for spinning and making stuff.

"I love it that you can have an animal from birth and do something with it the whole way, whether it be fleece, genetics or even the meat side."

She said trust was critical when working with the animals.

"The alpaca and the handler need to work together to get the trust," she said.

"They've got to have that trust, the alpaca will do nothing for them unless they have that trust."

Along with visiting schools, Ms Lazarus said she often takes the alpacas on visits to aged care facilities, where they interact with elderly people.

"A lot of the time the elderly don't have good eyesight so just that touch of the soft feel, they really love them," she said.

Trisha Wright from Rosemark Alpacas said the children's course helped build confidence without putting them at too much risk.

"My not-quite two-year-old was walking an Alpaca yesterday," she said.

"I couldn't believe it myself, to be honest. But she was walking this alpaca all on her own with no one else helping.

"So it gives them confidence, they learn to do something that other kids wouldn't know how to do. And it gets them outside."

Ms Wright said enthusiasts did have to take into consideration the needs of the animals before rushing out to buy one.

"Whether you've got the property to keep them, what you want them for, [and] if you want them as pets you need to find a quiet one," she said.

Ms Wright said a buyer must also be prepared to get two, because the social animals enjoyed each others' company.

Read the original and view the photos here.