Thursday, August 28, 2008


Ken and I raise llamas solely for our own use and pleasure. I remember back when we first became aware of the possibility. We were on an airplane flying from Cincinnati to Wyoming, headed out on another of our many backpacking trips. We had already purchased property in the Equality State (Wyoming was the first state to allow women to vote) but were not yet living here full time. I was in my mid-thirties, Ken in his mid forties, and we were lamenting the fact that our packs seemed a little heavier on every backpacking trip we took. Ken is severely allergic to horses and we knew that would never be an option for us, so we were discussing the fact that there would come a day when we would no longer be able to take extended trips into the backcountry because of our inability to carry that much weight for days on end. Ken was reading a Smithsonian Magazine when he suddenly turned to me and excitedly said "You've got to read this!" It was an article on llamas and their suitability as pack animals. It talked about the fact that they were much more plentiful in the U.S. in recent years, that they had come down substantially in price as their utilitarian purpose was outweighing their show animal status and - this is the big one - that they were non allergenic!

We could hardly wait until that trip was over to arrange a visit to a llama farm near our home in Cincinnati. It was truly amazing to see Ken enter the barn and touch the animals without the least indication of his asthma setting in.

As soon as we moved to Wyoming and built a place to stay we set about finding a pair of pack llamas. We ended up purchasing three experienced male packers that were soon followed by two females and two very young, untrained males from a ranch that was going out of the show llama business. Since then we've witnessed the births of 17 babies, we've lost one of our original males to old age and we've given away 6 animals that were never going to be packers and are quite happy as lawn ornaments at their new home.

We decided last fall that we would breed four of our females and that, no matter the outcome, this would be our last round of babies. In just a few weeks I will turn 50 and Ken will be 60 before the end of the year. We had three new males born last year and, with proper care and training, they will be packing for us for the next twenty years. I hope we will still be taking trips into the backcounty 20 years from now, but I suspect they will be more in the way of day trips than extended camping adventures. To keep making more llamas when we will only be faced with finding homes for them someday just doesn't make a lot of sense. So it is a little bittersweet to watch this year's crop come forth in the last week. Babies are just so much fun!

All four of our females were due the first week in September but llamas tend to be incredibly unpredictable. On Sunday we arrived home to find two new babies in the yard, one obviously several hours old and the other being born minutes before. The first one, a male born to Cinnamon, we named Olympus to celebrate the games ending that day. The second was precocious from her first seconds and hasn't changed a bit in the few days since. She is our first and only completely black llama and we call her licorice. Her curiosity and courage are amazing and I just hope she can stay out of trouble! She just couldn't help coming up to smell the camera everytime I tried to take her picture. The third was another little female born yesterday at noon to Pepper. She is the only one of the three that shows any variation in color at all and we have named her Nutmeg. We have one more chance to get another male for packing when Alexis delivers, but we may have to wait a while for that. Her last baby was called Tardy because she held onto him for 380 days, more than two weeks longer than usual gestation!

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