Tuesday, December 7, 2010

My Llama Pilgrimage: Part II

I’ve had a lot of different reactions from friends, acquaintances, and co-workers about my llama ownership. Some people express curiosity, some fascination, and some even make fun of me. In any case, I find that people always want to know more about what I’m doing with these curious creatures. How did you get in to llamas? What are they like? How many do you have? And, on and on the questions go. I already gave the history of how I started with llamas, but there is more. Besides the fact that I was hooked on them as pack animals, I found out that these animals suit my “style” as a person. I am a busy person with other interests and responsibilities in life besides llamas. I don’t need an animal that is high maintenance and hard to train. Llamas fit that requirement. In addition, I admire them for their strength, athleticism, intelligence, quiet disposition, and noble beauty. I think the characterization of “beauty” is where many people depart with me. A lot of people think they look funky or goofy. One friend laughs at me because to him all llamas are like the one featured in the movie, “Napoleon Dynamite.” That llama was caricaturized as a weird and crazed llama.

After my first pack trip with Pam I knew that I had to get more llamas to expand my packing abilities. I purchased a few more pack sets and went back to Sherri to see if she had any more llamas to sell. She worked up a deal with me to buy three llamas that she thought would be perfect for my interests. So, my next purchase was Angel, Cher, and Fancy Pants.

2010 Summer Packers: Apollo, Rainy, and Cher. These three provided a lot of joy for Pam and I on two pack trips this summer. The rest of the llamas were too pregnant or too young!

To this day, I think this was my best purchase. At first, though, it didn’t feel that way. None of these llamas had been trained and they were already ten years old. I have found that it is harder to train an older llama; I think we humans are the same!

The first day I met Cher at Sherri’s ranch I approached her with a saddle in my hands, intending to easily put it on her, but instead of cooperating with me she spit in my face, which only made me more determined to saddle her. When I finally got the saddle on her, but before I could get it secured, she bolted away and drug the partially secured saddle with her all the way back to her barn, about a quarter mile away. I never want to lose a fight with a llama, so I patiently brought her back to tie her up at the original location and after a while she settled down enough to accept the saddle. Cher is a nervous llama by nature, but with a few pack sessions she became my best packer. In fact, over the years she has been a great pack llama leader and has trained all my other llamas in bridge, log and water crossings. She’s tall and a hard packer with a gentle spirit. I later found out that she is a descendant of the great pack llama, Poncho Villa, who is highly thought of in breeder circles. I wish I could breed her, but she has never accepted any male I’ve tried to breed to her. Her sister, Angel, was a descent packer, but her body conformation kept her from performing as well as Cher.

Cher was our first great packer and at 16 years old she still the best and trains the youngsters. She will always have a special place in my heart.

The third llama in this purchase was Fancy Pants. She was hard to handle at first because she was so nervous, but I was far more interested in using her to begin my breeding program than trying to make her a packer. I figured the best and most cost effective way to build a pack team was to breed your own llamas. She is the best athlete that I have, but I never have been able to take her on a pack trip until this past year. I’ve tried to keep her pregnant and producing babies; that’s how highly I think of her body conformation and abilities. She has produced three beautiful llamas since I purchased her; Columbus, Aspen and Summit.

This is Fancy Pants on the Left and her one year old daughter Aspen on the right. Aspen will be a fine breeder and packer.

This is Fancy Pants with her most recent cria, Summit. Summit is now 6 months old and I have not seen better body conformation in a llama!

Columbus was Fancy’s first cria and our first cria! I bred her with one of Sherri’s studs, Canadian Mountain Man; a llama with an eager but gentle disposition, which is exactly what you want in a packer. Columbus was actually born on Columbus Day, so Pam appropriately named her. He quickly became our pride and pleasure. He was a beautiful llama with wonderful wool coloring and the most gentle disposition I have seen in any llama. He would right up to Pam and rub up against her, seeking her attention.

But, at six months something bad happened. About the time Columbus came of age to be weaned, at six months, I purchased a male stud by the name of Apollo. Apollo was two years old and was a fine llama in the lineage of the famous pack stud, Black Thunder. Pack Llama breeders often speak of Black Thunder with glowing expressions. Apollo had just come from a herd of 5 or 6 males who had all been fighting with each other, which is what llamas do, since they are always jostling for a position within the herd. So, when Apollo and Columbus were joined together it was a terrible match. A little six month old with a near full grown two year old! Apollo chased Columbus all over the field repeatedly tackling him. After a week together I came out to the field and found Columbus hiding in a black berry thicket, shivering. I gathered him up in my arms and took him to an isolation pen so that I could feed him and care for him. From that day on Columbus’ health declined rapidly. Within a week he died. At that time I wasn’t sure what had happened to him, but my first deduction was that it was a parasite problem. At the vet’s instructions I took him in for a necropsy when he died. After the Vet was done he came out to the waiting room and told me that he had never seen such a bad case of twisted gut before. Twisted gut is where the intestines of the animal get tied so that the animal cannot digest food. Apollo had chased him down and tumbled him over one too many times. I later found out that you don’t put a two year old male with a six month old male. The two year old is still going through his terrible twos and you are asking for trouble when putting a two year old with a young llama. Well, I got trouble, and the worst kind. Pam was so disappointed, because she bonded with little Columbus more than any of the other llamas. I felt terrible for not knowing this basic principle of herd management and from that experience I became more determined to better understand these creatures and how to manage them.

Our First Cria, Columbus. Born on Columbus Day he was a very special llama to Pam. We miss him!

A few months later I figured that I had to increase my breeding female stock, so I purchased another female from the Joyful Llama Ranch, operated by Joyce O’Hollaran. Her name is Kissy and I found her to be an aggressive packer, though a bit temperamental. One time I had Kissy leading a pack train of llamas on a trip in to the Indian Heaven Wilderness and she got in to a conflict with Cher. She abruptly stopped on the trail and plopped down, as though she were a spoiled two year old child. I couldn’t budge her, so I disconnected her and took all the other llamas around her and went up the trail while she stubbornly laid there. She spat at each llama as they passed her on the trail, as if to say to the them, “I'm trying to teach Joe that I'm the herd boss!” Normally, she is just fine.

This is Glacier at one year, born to Kissy just a few days before Aspen. She is a beautiful llama with a lot of potential as a packer and breeder.

Between Kissy and Fancy Pants I felt that I had two fine breeding females. Apollo wasn’t ready to breed at that time he came in to the herd, due to his age and inexperience, so I put one of Joyce’s other breeding studs, Quartz, with the two girls. A year later I had two babies (Cria, as they are called by llama breeders) born to the Fancy Pants and Kissy. Fancy birthed Aspen and Kissy birthed Glacier. At the time of this writing these two females are a year and a half old and they are as big and as fine as any pack llamas I have ever seen. I intend to use them as breeders, but they are already looking to be fine packers, as well. I learned from Joyce O’Holloran to get the females pregnant in the spring, pack with the pregnant females during the Summer, and then birth their Cria in the next spring. So, that’s the philosophy I am following.

At the time of this writing I have a total of 13 llamas and most of them are yet to be proven. They are young and full of potential. In due time I will be able to saddle them up and wander off in to the sunset as far and wide as one desires.


sage said...

I have never packed with any animals, but as I get older, llamas sound like an interesting possibility

Joe Staub said...

Let me know if you are interested in renting or purchasing pack llamas. Prices are very good right now.