Chapter 19 - Picketing
Tying your llama out, or picketing, is a handy way of securing him for the night when you’re hiking. It’s also useful around the farm for putting him in a position to mow the lawn without eating your hedges and flowers! In the spring, when our pastures aren’t quite ready to have the whole herd turned out on their delicate new growth, we’ll frequently have four or five llamas staked out around the yard supplementing the last of the winter’s hay with the new grass and weed growth in hard-to-mow places.
EQUIPMENT - There are three parts to your tack for picketing. First, a well-fitted halter. This is really important. A poorly fitting halter can suffocate a llama. This is obviously important when you're standing right beside him, but even moreso when he's going to be on his own for several hours at a time. If you’re unsure of how a halter should fit, go back to the chapter on halters.
Second, a picket line. I’m not going to get into laying out a full line to picket out a whole string of pack llamas. This discussion is about one llama! Line requirements are simple. It must be strong enough to hold the llama. It must be soft and non-abrasive enough that it isn’t going to cut into his leg when he gets tangled in it. I prefer the twisted cotton rope that I make lead shanks out of. It’s cheap, it’s easy to handle, it’s easy to cut if you get ahead of yourself and the llama gets into serious trouble on the line. Best of all, it’s very soft and wide enough that he can see it and learn to stay out of its way. The line will need a snap to attach to the halter. Don’t save money here, buy a good strong one (but leave the ones big enough for bulls at the store!) that’s easy for you to handle, and braid it onto one end of your line. On the other end, I braid a small loop so I can toss the line around a tree or post and thread the rope through the loop to secure it. I trust this a lot more than a knot, especially for hours at a time. If you have a newbie llama and don't want to ever cut your rope, put a panic snap on it at the end away from the llama so you can release it in a... panic!
Finally, you’ll need something to tie the line to. Here’s a good chance to make some really dumb decisions. Don’t, for instance, attach the line to something your llama is terrified of (the air seeder comes to mind). Don’t attach the line to something or near something that will tangle or shorten the line (truck bumpers). Don’t attach the line to a tree you don’t want the llama to eat, and don’t attach it to something moveable. You haven’t lived until you’ve watched a llama galloping off toward the highway with a barbecue in hot pursuit! (no, I haven't seen this, but I've seen several people trying for it!) In short, tie the line to a solid object in an area that's free from entanglements.
COMEBEFORES - Lots of chance for disaster here if you haven't done your homework! Your llama has to be comfortable with his halter, both mentally and physically. He must be REALLY GOOD at giving to the lead. If you've skipped over that part, go back now to the chapter on lead training. And he needs to be comfortable with things touching his legs. If he's going to panic and start jumping around every time the line brushes his leg, he's going to get tangled a lot. A llama who gets tangled a lot is a) an accident waiting to happen and b) a lot more trouble to picket than it might be worth. So if you skipped the chapter on desensitizing him to being touched, go there now.
START HERE - In an area of good grass with a good solid post to tie him to, and nothing for the llama or line to get tangled in.
AIM FOR THIS - You take your llama out each day to an area of grass that needs mowing, attach his line to a post, and let him mow your lawn for you.
HOW TO TEACH IT - Be sure you’ve shown him that lead pressure could come from high or low, front or back, and how to lower his head in response to the lead. You should do a little extra work on his legs before you tie him out for the first time. Touch his legs with your whip, then with your hands. Finally, use the soft end of your lead shank or your picket line to flick and drape around his legs until he’s calm and used to the feel. When he does tangle himself in the line, he’ll need to be thinking to untangle himself. Panic won’t help! When you first tie him out, use a line with about 6’ between the post and the llama. Tie it at the regular height (about 4’ off the ground). This will give him enough rope to be able to graze, but not enough to get into serious trouble. If he’s been in a herd, or with a constant companion, it’s probably a good idea to tie a buddy out with him the first few times to help him feel secure. Be sure you tie them far enough apart that they can’t tangle each other’s lines! Give him about 15 minutes to eat the grass he can reach, then put him back in his pen. Do this once or twice a day for a week or so, and he should really be looking forward to his little outings, especially if he’s still on hay in his pen. As the days wear on, you can gradually increase the time he spends on the picket line, and gradually increase the length of the line. Be nearby when the line is first long enough for him to step over. If he gets in trouble, you can step in to help him out (and seeing that you're coming to help him is a valuable lesson!). If he’s just in a pickle, though, and not in real trouble, stay back and let him work his own way out of his mess. As he figures out how to untangle his legs from the line, he’ll start paying attention to where the line is. With a little more experience, he’ll never GET tangled, so he won’t have to be constantly extricating himself. Pay attention here. If he’s frequently getting into trouble rather than quickly learning how to stay out of trouble, you’ve lengthened his line too fast. Shorten it up and give him a chance to learn how to handle it.
IN OTHER WORDS - A more time-consuming but slightly safer method of teaching the llama to untangle himself would be to sit in a chair holding the llama on his long line. Deliberately place the lead on the wrong side of one foot, then tighten it until he knows it isn't right. Let him get a LITTLE excited about it. He'll pull his foot up and eventually get it back on the right side of the rope. The first time will be accidental, just from him jumping around hollering "Something's grabbing my leg!" The third time, he should be noticeably calmer and appearing to understand that he has to extricate his leg from the rope, but it isn't a snake or demon. After a few more times, you'll notice that it's getting harder to "trap" him with his leg on the wrong side of the rope. When you've worked with his front legs, do the same thing with his back legs.
USING IT - Every llama should know how to be tied up to a wall. That's a given. But if you're going to do anything more with your llama than cut his toenails a couple of times a year, it's really convenient (for BOTH of you) if he can be left on a long line. Tied up, he can't really relax. Can't lie down. Can't eat. Can't drink. On a picket line or long line, he's pretty much free to do anything but wander off.
SAFETY - Never leave the llama picketed when you aren’t around. In our climate, a healthy llama is almost always a sheared llama. Nevertheless, it's easy for him to overheat. Be sure he has shade available - on his own in a pasture, he can pick a comfortable place to relax, but on a line he relies on you to keep him safe. Water won’t be necessary if you’re tying him out overnight or just for a few hours during the day AND HE HAS SHADE. While we're thinking about safety, bear in mind that on a long line he has no fence around him, so any other animal, like a stray dog, can hurt him, and he can't get away. His safety depends on YOU.