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Norwich Bulletin - 2/28/2010

The Llama

It turns out that llamas are actually fascinating creatures that can be a pet, a therapy animal, a working animal or even a guard animal!

Most people would not consider a llama as a pet Ė they would consider them more like livestock. I had always heard that llamas were not very nice. But it turns out that llamas, much like humans, are all different and they each have their own unique personality. They are generally Friendly, calm, gentle, cooperative, quiet, patient and quite intelligent creatures. They can be easily trained to do a lot of different jobs.

In fact, with a positive reinforcement type training, they develop a strong bond of trust with their trainer. They are very curious but need to know that they are in a safe environment. They always study something new before taking it on. And of course, they are very beautiful, with their big brown eyes and long eyelashes (that make me quite jealous). Of course, llamas are not for everyone, considering their size and the care they require. They also need not to be ďonly llamasĒ as they need to be part of their own social heirachy.

Everyone always talks about them spitting, but the truth is that they usually spit between themselves when they are having a dispute about food or territory. If they do spit at a human, it is probably because they have been mistreated or protecting their young. And a llama spitting its chewed up grass at you is probably a lot less hurtful than being bitten or kicked. Even young children can easily handle most adult llamas without fear of being hurt.

Llamas are like most livestock and they graze. One acre of good grass will support four llamas and a bale of hay will feed an adult for seven to ten days. You can do a lot of different things with your llamas, including, of course, spinning the fibre that comes from them. It is easy spinning because it ha no oils or lanolin, and is very clean to work with. It is a hollow fibre and so when made into clothing it is very warm.

Llamas donít produce fibre as quickly as sheep, usually needing a couple of years to grow enough wool to make shearing worthwhile after being sheared the first time. It is also used to make felt and for tying fishing lines. You have to be considerate of your llama though to make sure they donít get sun burned from the shearing or that you donít do it in the middle of a very cold winter like we have here in the northeast.

Llamas are also good pack animals. Itís a job they had traditionally in South America with the Incas. Now, they are used with backpackers and many llama owners will use a few of their males for carrying supplies for a picnic, hike or even an adventure out into the mountains for a month or so. They are also good at driving a cart. Itís quite an interesting sight to see a pair of llamas pulling a person along in a cart.

Llamas are great at guarding herds of sheep and, in fact, are better than dogs for this particular job. They take to guarding naturally and require no training. They also graze in the same pastures as the sheep, so they require no special food. For some reason llamas seem to naturally hate coyotes and there are ranchers in Montana and Wyoming who literally have thousands of sheep guarded by just one llama!

And donít forget the pet therapy llama! These animals have an aura about them which seems to relax people and make them fall in love with them. Llamas have visited hospitals and nursing homes and the patients are usually quite thrilled to have a llama sniff their hair and eat out of their hand.

Remember that llamas are a herd animal and so if you just want to have a llama as a pet, you really need to have two. They need both llama companionship as well as human attention. And llamas are easy to keep, requiring no special fencing as they will usually respect any fence as long as they have enough food and water on their side of the fence.

They donít need much shelter and usually prefer to stay outside unless there is pouring rain or heavy snow. Of course, for those times, you would need a barn to protect them from the elements.

So while llamas are not for everyone, they are perfect for the right homes!

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