Our author from the big city dared to experiment and went on an alpaca hike through the Allgäu countryside. What I learned from him.
Pepe’s mouth opens and closes with taste. His big black eyes quietly scanned the area. It stands in the Allgäu landscape, surrounded by lush green meadows with dandelions and buttercups. He looks around, then takes another bite of the green grass and chews it leisurely. It exudes a calm that rubs against his surroundings. Nothing seems to bother him so easily.
Alpaca farm in Oberallgäu: walking and supporting the animals
Pepe is one of 16 species of alpacas that Anna Katharina Abelhauer keeps with her family on a farm in Oberallgäu. Since 2013, they have had animals that have become increasingly popular, especially in recent years. In addition to a small stable, the alpaca of the Übelhör family has an outdoor enclosure of more than 1,000 square meters. There are horses, stallions and mares in the herd.
“Alpacas are incredibly fun animals with great charm,” explains Anna Katharina Opelhauer. In addition, it is very quiet most of the time, and clean and nice products can be made from its wool. All the reasons why Böselhör decided to keep his alpacas nearly nine years ago. The expert also provides assisted animal care and alpaca hiking, which are currently in high demand. There is no single reason why these rises have become so popular in recent years. But the fact that alpacas are viewed by many as being particularly cute and ‘gentle’ and the need for outdoor activity during the coronavirus pandemic certainly plays a role.
Alpaca in the Allgau: peace and slowdown
Pepe also regularly participates in such hikes. It takes about an hour to walk through trails, meadows, and small roads. Alpacas have their own pace. From time to time Pepe stops, sometimes because he wants to eat something, sometimes because something is distracting him – maybe an alpaca, maybe just a sign of the road. Even if the person is driving in a leash: Pepe puts the instructions here. This is an advantage for everyone. Because rest, slow walks, and fast breaks make you feel relaxed.
And if things continue, Bibi can be persuaded to carry on without a puff—either with words or, if that doesn’t help, with a simple pull on the leash. Its hooves make almost no noise, even on asphalt, which gives you the opportunity to intensely experience the nature around you. The radiant calm and relaxed nature of animals are some of the reasons why alpacas are also suitable for animal-assisted support.
Alpacas provide help for traumatized people
According to Anna Katharina Opelhauer, the deciding factor for this type of support with alpacas is the fact that alpacas are “distant animals” and not cuddly toys. At first, they keep a distance, do not smell and do not like to be bumped into by others in the herd. Also Pepe always keeps a little distance when walking and back off when you get close. This doesn’t mean you can’t touch the alpacas, but you have to work to get close to it in some way.
This is also one of the basic concepts of animal-assisted breeding. “There is a large target group that alpacas are very suitable for support,” explains 34-year-old Böselhör. “These are people who do not like to be touched. For example, because they have experienced trauma or people with autism or ADHD.”
Specially trained to support alpacas and llamas
Since Anna Katharina Obelhor is a trained childhood educator, she primarily supports children and young adults. By the way, this type of support is not called “treatment” because this term is protected in Germany and can only be used by people with therapeutic training – among them, for example, child and youth therapists, occupational therapists or physical therapists. Therefore, Übelhör offers animal-assisted and pedagogical support.
In order to be able to do this, she completed a two-and-a-half-year course, called Animal Assisted Therapy with Llamas and Alpaca (AATLA), where animal-assisted measures, animal-assisted education, and animal-assisted therapy are provided with farm animals (especially llamas and alpacas). This support usually lasts five to ten sessions and is individually tailored to the patient. In addition to walking, simple notes or running during a small training session can also be part of the support.
Alpaca: more than just a ‘plush toy’
If you are allowed to raise an alpaca like Baby, you can feel how thick their wool is. It is somewhat similar to sheep’s wool, but stronger. Various products can be made from this wool. These include, for example, seat cushions, hot water bottle caps or bench cushions. “Once an alpaca is chopped up, they don’t recognize each other at first,” says Anna Katharina Opelhauer. It’s easy to imagine when you see how delicate an alpaca can be without its wool.
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Alpaca farm in Oberallgäu: breeding the right species is the top priority
Alpacas in the Allgäu: Even if four-legged friends have many advantages, Anna Katharina Abelhauer still likes to point out that keeping animals isn’t necessarily easy. “I’ve noticed a lot of people have been holding alpaca lately and have no idea about it actually,” says the 34-year-old. “It would be helpful for some people to be better informed.” Basically, you think that’s a good thing, as long as animal welfare comes first.
Here’s what you need to know about keeping alpaca
This includes, for example, a race of at least 1,000 square metres, keeping at least two animals or protecting young animals. According to Obelhauer, as few of these things as possible should be done after birth and in the first trimester, or else the animals will be printed incorrectly. As a result, “when animals are sexually mature, they see humans as singles and as competitors, and they can run over or spit on them,” says Opelhauer.
The species’ appropriate posture also plays a role during walking, as the question arises: Are animals whose behavior is primarily designed to maintain a distance such as walking with strangers at all? Anna Katharina Opelhauer does not see any problem with this, as long as it is not growing too much. It offers walks a maximum of three days a week, each lasting no more than an hour. “Then there is more change in the animals when you see something different and are with other people,” says Böselhör.
An alpaca hike in the Allgäu region is a relief from stress
After strolling with alpacas like Pepe and talking to Anna Katharina Übelhör, two things in particular are clear: Alpacas have a soothing aura that makes them suitable as “therapy animals” for some people. Alpacas have many advantages in keeping them, but there is also a lot to consider.
For city dwellers accustomed to the hustle and bustle of life among the asphalt and the thousands of people, a hike with an alpaca provides an opportunity to experience nature, engage with the animal more intensely, and treat yourself away from stress. You can stand there for a few minutes, enjoy the scenery and watch Pepe chew with pleasure.
Three facts about alpacas:
The alpaca originally comes from the Andes Mountains in South America and belongs to the camel family.
Alpacas are social animals and should never be kept alone.
Like llamas, alpacas can spit. But they do it only within their own flock. People spit on them only when provoked or when given food, and therefore they are pushed from behind by their comrades.
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