Thursday, July 16, 2009

Llama Llesson "09

This is one of our best llama pics of all time, I use it as one of my publicity pictures as well. It was taken in December of 08, when Marcel and his buddy Jasper proudly served as groomsmen for a Royall Llama Wedding. It was such a wonderful experience for all of us. We hiked into the woods behind our cabin in about a foot of snow and married the excited bride and groom. We then came part of the way back down and thanks to the llamas served the newlyweds a luncheon of stew, bread, chocolate covered strawberries and champagne (china and goblets if the forest!) in a sunny meadow. I had made the wedding cake and the bouquet you see in the picture to match one another. Marcel sure did seem proud of himself for holding the flowers while the radiant couple enjoyed their lunch.

Marcel is my favorite, and the lead llama. He is in charge of the herd and keeps everyone in line. Llamas have a definable hierarchy, and if anyone gets out of place Marcel firmly reminds them that he will not tolerate misbehavior. In general he will start with a lift of his head and his ears go back, if the offender does not respond, the spitting begins. More often than not, that gets the job done. Marcel is a very patient and kind leader and tries to avoid physical fights with any of his charges. Our llamas do get very physical though. Male llamas can be very aggressive toward one another, especially if they are not gelded (neutered), it is really unusual to keep whole males together. But, like I said, I don't always follow the usual, so we have ten male llamas in one area and only a couple are gelded. Having no females keeps the hormones under control and geldings get awful lazy and no longer are good packers. The occasional brawl does break out, and it is a sight. Llamas run as fast as they can, chasing one another and biting at the backside of the poor guy that is in the front. When the front guy has had enough, he will suddenly turn and both llamas will stand on their back legs and chest butt each other full force. They wrestle and wrap their necks around to try and get a bite of ear, all the while screaming at the tops of their lungs. It took me quite a long time to get used to this ritual and I'm not sure the neighbors will ever stop talking about it.

Care for llamas is really pretty easy, but I say that with caution as all but two of my llamas are rescue llamas that mostly came from people who didn't quite realize what they were getting themselves into. Comparatively speaking, for a large animal they do not eat much (about a quarter of what a horse eats) because they are extremely efficient animals. They are ruminants, meaning that they have a three chambered stomach and are cud chewers. So even hours after their hay is gone, you will see them all laying around chewing. This digestion process is what makes the llama manure so valuable, no seeds pass through and it doesn't have to be dried before using directly on plants. Llama manure is second only to bat guano in nutrients.

Most people's first question is “am I going to get spit on?”, and the answer is no. If a llama is raised in a healthy environment than it will not spit at a person. Like I said, spitting is a warning to less dominant animals to get out of the way, so if a llama spits at a person he is saying that he is more dominant than that person. Animals being dominant over humans is never a safe thing. There are a few llamas that have either been over handled as babies or have not lived in a herd environment that will push the rules, and some that are even dangerous. We have two such examples at our ranch; Elway was treated like a human baby and now really pushes the limits of our patience as he has knocked all of us down at least once. Two Eagles is an example of a llama living by himself and was very aggressive towards us as humans when we first got him. He also had a rope tied around his leg that was growing in and had no fiber on his head as his halter had been on him his whole life, but that is a different story.

Veterinary care is very limited with llamas, compared to horses we see the vet at least 50% less. My personal bleief is that llamas are very intelligent and get themselves in a lot less trouble than horses do. I very rarely have any injuries and their immune system is great. Like all animals, they do need an annual once over and worming. Male llamas are born with fighting teeth, sharp canine like teeth toward the back of the mouth. Two on the bottom and one on the top that have the ability to “lock” together, they can be very destructive if not removed. We remove ours with a specific type of wire and saw them off in a quick back and forth motion. It is not painful for the animal, but they do not like their heads messed with so it can be a real chore to get done. We usually do all of this “upkeep” at shearing time in the spring. Every now and then we get a new rescue that has not had his teeth done and that has to be done before he goes in with the main herd. I have had an ear torn from fighting teeth that I wasn't aware of, and llamas ears are so striking that I hate to see one split.

Llamas are very intelligent and curious creatures, much like a cat. Most llamas do not like to be pet, until they get their halter on, and then they know it is time to show off. In the wild, llamas are prey animals which makes the fight or flight response very strong in them. They have the coolest alarm call to warn each other of danger, it sounds similar to a car alarm. I have always wondered if the car makers used llamas for their research and development of those noisy alarms. They also make a humming noise. My boys tend to hum when they want something (like food) or get too far out of sight from one another, like when Tom is kicking my butt up a mountain to drop off hunters and I am a good quarter mile behind-Ha!

Part of the reason we chose to use llamas for our packing business is because they are so low impact on the forest. Llamas (actually all camelids) have a padded foot with two toes. The pads are similar to a dogs, so they leave no trace on the trail. Ruminants are called browsers, meaning that they will eat a little of that bush and move onto this tree and back to that grass over there. It is all full of different nutrients, and they are very good at knowing what is the choicest thing for them to eat in any area. Our boys LOVE the tundra above timberline, which is helpful to get them up there! A person never has to carry food (hay that would have to be certified to go into the forest) or water with them when they adventure with llamas.

Llamas can carry about 70-90lbs of just about anything you can stuff into their packs or tie on top. Their calm nature allows hikers to put things on them that other pack animals would not tolerate. Our boys trained themselves pretty much with the wild game, and I have a friend that has evened brought out old mattresses on forest clean up days! They are also great for carrying sensitive equipment making them a favorite for wildlife photographers. Because llamas carry the bulk of the weight on their sides and not on their spine, only small children could ride a very well trained llama.

I hope that I have filled some of your curiosity about these wonderful creatures. Feel free to leave a comment and ask any questions that you still may have. Oops! There's the birds waking up-gotta run!!!


Anonymous said...

Judy, your blog is wonderful. You really are a treasure trove of information. I love you, Mom

Royal Ranch said...

your stories are fantastic,they really keep me interested,I so glad to be your husband.
love,;your man!!!

Amy Byrne said...

I loved this post. Now I have more info to tell Colin about the llamas. Love this blog.