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Archive for the ‘Llama Stories’ Category

The second most frequently asked question we get, after “do llamas spit?”, is “What is the difference between a llama and an alpaca?” I’ll admit, to the untrained eye, it can be difficult to tell, but the number one giveaway is the ears. Llamas have very long, “banana shaped” ears, and alpacas have shorter, spear shaped ears, similar to a fox.

llama vs alpaca. jpg

The second giveaway is the size, but unless you see them side by side, it may not be so obvious to the newbie. Llamas are almost twice the size of an alpaca, averaging around 6 feet tall at the ears, whereas alpacas come in at about 5 feet. And llamas weigh between 250-350 pounds, with alpacas weighing in at only 100 – 175 pounds.

Other differences that you will notice are in the body shape. Llamas have a flat back or “top line” which makes them very good for carrying a pack. Their tails are set right off the end of their backs, whereas alpacas’ tails are sloped down from their backs. From the side, the llama has a longer face, a very noble profile, where the alpaca’s nose is very short and compact.

Llamas generally don’t have a lot of hair on their faces, but alpacas have a puffball face, much like a dandelion ball. The llama has a very coarse outer coat over a softer inner coat – as opposed to the alpaca, which has a very fine, single coated fleece.

As far as personality goes, there is a big difference of opinion. Llama owners say that llamas have the best personality, and alpaca owners think that alpacas are the best. But most are in general agreement that llamas are more independent and confident, making them easy to bond with. Whereas alpacas are shy and timid. Alpacas are very much herd animals and like to be with their herdmates.

But it is undeniable that both llamas and alpacas are very intelligent, easily trained, gentle and curious.

So to sum it up

table

So now you know the difference and you won’t embarrass yourself by yelling out “look there’s an alpaca” the next time you see a llama.

And for those of you who have asked us if our llamas are emus, you should be embarrassed. Please see below. ‘Nuff said.

emu vs llama

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The number one most often asked question about llamas is “Do they really spit?” For the answer, we went directly to the source. So, from the llama’s mouth, this is an excerpt from our popular llama advice column.

Dear Domino

Dear Domino, Do llamas spit?

You know, everyone always asks me this question. I’m starting to fear we llamas are getting a bad reputation. Yes, llamas do spit. It’s perfectly natural. It’s how we establish rank within the herd, meaning who gets to the food dish first. Lady llamas often spit to ward off an unwanted suitor. Spitting is also a very effective way to discipline our crias (baby llamas), and we spit to express fear or discomfort.

Spitting is how we communicate with one another. “So what are you trying to say” you might ask. Some examples are:

“Move over, you’re in my space.”
“Hey, that’s my food, back off.”
“I rank higher than you do.”
“Quit sniffing my tail”
“Quit flirting with me, I’m not interested in your advances.”
“Oww! That lady just gave me a shot. I can’t spit at her, so I’ll spit at you instead.”

Llamas do not usually spit at humans. Some of us, unfortunately, have been raised in petting zoos, where we are only around humans all day. These llamas view people as other llamas and may spit at a person that invades their space.

We llamas usually give some kind of warning before we spit. First we’ll lay back our ears. If this doesn’t make the point, we’ll pin back our ears very tightly and point our noses straight up in the air. As a final warning, we will spit in the air. Finally, we will spit directly at the llama or person that’s offending us.

There are several kinds of spit. First, there is the grain spit. This is usually used to settle arguments over food. We just spit what we have in our mouths—usually dry grain. Then there is the saliva spit which is often a warning before the big green spit. The really serious spit is when we bring up the contents of our stomach and spit a foul smelling green spray.

The smell is offensive both to the spitter as well as the spittee, after which both will hang their mouths open for several minutes in order to air out the taste and odor. A llama can spit with dead aim for a distance of 10 to 15 feet. This is my buddy, Santiago, reminding us that he gets first pick of the food dishes.

Preparing-to-spit

I’ll be the first to admit that spitting isn’t one of the most endearing behaviors of llamas to people, but on the other hand, it’s a pretty cool way to settle disputes. No biting, kicking, or punches to the face. Don’t you agree? After being spit on by a llama, you won’t need a bandage, but you might need a bath.

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Days and days of single digit temperatures can be very taxing on all of us, but especially those of us who have animals and livestock that depend on us for their care, comfort, and wellbeing. We’ve raised llamas for over 13 years now and have never had a winter like this one. We thought we had planned well for the vagaries of a Virginia winter, but Mother Nature is a scamp and likes to keep us on our toes by throwing new challenges our way.

Our first winter with the llamas we had a 36 inch snow. It was up to the llamas’ bellies and they would not venture out of the barn. Well, think about it…..would you? We had a 6 foot snow blower that fit onto the PTO of our tractor, so ‘Road Warrior’ cleared a loop around the pasture so the llamas had a place to walk. It took about a month for that snow to melt, and for weeks, the llamas walked in endless circles around the llama loop.

Llama Loop

Then there was the winter that we had a 30 inch blizzard and lost power for 5 days. Of course, our portable generator went belly up and when you’re on a well, no power means no water. Not to mention, no heat. We had the fireplace and a Kerosun heater that we carried from room to room. For water for the llamas, we melted snow in a stew pot on top of the Kerosun. And this isn’t Murphy’s Law, it is THE LAW OF LIFE. If you wait to buy something until you really need it, it will be sold out. No generators, No portable heaters, No bottled water, No lamp oil, No batteries. It got so chilly in the kitchen that we opened the fridge door to keep the food cold.

Jesse

This year has been COLD. POLAR COLD. We had a burst pipe in the garage, but no major damage. Remember THE LAW OF LIFE? When you really need a plumber, they will be busy. Luckily we have a regular plumber and he squoze in a minute to come put a temporary cap on the pipe so we could have our water back.

It has been so consistently COLD that our freezeless self-draining barn hydrant froze. We went to Lowes to get some electrical heat tape, but there was that old LAW OF LIFE again. They couldn’t get it in and no one had any for miles around. So we took stock of what we had on hand and came up with this ingenious solution.

hydrant heater

Within an hour the pipe was clear and we had water once again.

They are predicting another Arctic blast for the next three days, so today I have been searching for outdoor weatherproof heaters in the hopes of keeping our sweet peacock, Farina, warm. But needless to say……..

Farina on rail

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Our peacock, Farina, miraculously returned home after being on the lam for 6 months and given up for dead. He had spent the first 3 years of his life safely ensconced in the aviary with his brother, Buckwheat, and was pampered with daily treats, a sunny perch for basking in the summer, and a heated house for snuggling in the winter.

2009 Peacock Christmas Card

Farina went missing early in January, after I foolishly opened the peahouse door to show him off to some friends. He got spooked, and flew the coop, so to speak. He flew up to the roof of the barn where he spent the night. By morning, he was gone, never to be seen again.

Farina on cupola

Winters here in northern Virginia can be harsh. This wasn’t the worst winter we’ve experienced, but there were weeks of below freezing temps, and many days of cold rain, sleet and snow, not to mention the days we had wind storms with gusts up to 60 mph. What was he going to find to eat with snow all over the ground? And all variety of predators, from the 4 legged variety: foxes, bobcats, and bears; to the sky borne great horned owls and red tail hawks that can grab a peacock in his sleep, high on his arboreal perch.

After 2 months, and no sign of Farina, we decided to get a companion for our remaining peacock, Buckwheat. We thought he might be happier with a girlfriend, so we brought home a young hen, whom we named Darla. It was love at first sight.

Buckwheat and Darla

How could we have been more surprised when we saw Farina back at the ‘Pea Pod’ last week? He looks great. And he has a beautiful full tail. I might have thought it would look a bit rag tagly after being drug though the underbrush for months. But he has apparently eaten well. I wish I knew where all he’d been.

Farina-on-fence

But the funny thing is, he has taken up with the llamas. The paddock behind the barn is just across the drive from the aviary, so he can be close to the other peas, and socialize at the same time with his new llama buddies. Almost any time of the day, he will be seen sitting on the fence rail next to the barn, or down in the paddock with the llamas, strutting his stuff and showing off his tail.

displaying-for-llamas

The llamas were a bit curious to see him at first, but now they just walk around him to get to their hay nibbles.

Llamas ignore peacock

We hope that he decides to stay here permanently. Maybe having the girl close by in the pen will give him incentive to stick around. At least, we know that he is a survivalist if he does get the wanderlust again.
Farina and Pea Pod

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Did you ever think you would be contemplating llama breath? Well, I’m going to give you some information that you might not have considered before. For the most part, llamas have very nice breath, mostly neutral, but often tinged with a slightly sweet smell of the fresh hay or grass they have been munching.

Prince grazing

Or better yet, sometimes their breath makes you think of Christmas, and you know that they have been browsing on their absolutely favorite food, white pine needles.

Santiago eats pine needles

Their second most favorite food is just coming into season: the wild spring onion. And you have no doubt in your mind at all when they have been indulging in this llama delicacy.

wild onions

I’m sure most all of you are familiar with this scourge. It thrives almost everywhere that the urban homeowner aspires to have a lush, green, weed free lawn. They are strangely pungent and whenever I smell them, I’m thrown back to a time in my childhood when my Dad would mow the yard and the air would reek of a Greek salad.

We did a llama trek this past weekend in the Shenandoah River State Park. Llama trekking is our weekend business. We guide our customers on an invigorating hike through the park and I prepare a 4 course picnic lunch which we enjoy along the way. The llamas carry all the food, linens, utensils, and even folding tables for our meal.

SONY DSC

This day, we stopped for lunch in a meadow overlooking the Shenandoah River. It was a glorious day, sunny and warm, and the river was dotted with red and green canoes. And the meadow was dotted with lush green spikes of wild onions. The llamas had an enjoyable break from the hike, grazing in the grass.

SONY DSC

When we went over to load the llamas up for the return hike, we were blown away by the rank stink of their breath. As we walked along the trail, we followed in the miasma of their onion breath. And we also discovered to our dismay that an overindulgence in wild onions tends to make llamas quite gassy.

Fortunately, as a counterpoint to the malodorous onions, was the beauty of the Virginia bluebells, which fortuitously were at their peak bloom that day.

SONY DSC

A little touch of the agony and the ecstasy.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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There is no better way to herald in the Christmas Season than to go to the local Christmas Parade. Oh, except for, maybe, walking in the parade.

I love a small town parade. We have talked for years about walking in our town’s parade, but with our weekends being occupied with our llama trekking business, we were never available. But this year we made the time and we did it. What a great time.

Parade Lineup

Parade Lineup

We gathered up 6 friends to walk 6 of our llamas. We hung sleigh bells around their necks and put antlers on their heads. (The llamas , that is).

Reindeer antlers

Reindeer antlers

The crowd loved seeing the llamas, especially the kids. They would bunch up right in the middle of the street to pet the llamas. Our llama, Silver, seemed to be the most approachable target.

Hi Ho Silver

Hi Ho Silver

Even the adults were Ga Ga.

At one point, our littlest llama, Pete, was mobbed by the children for a couple of minutes, holding up the parade behind him.

Pete Greets

Pete Greets

Of course the rest of the herd disappeared down the street. When Pete tired of the adulation and realized he had been left behind, he dashed down the street to catch up, dragging his handler behind.

The crowd loved seeing the llamas, but it was evident that many didn’t know what the heck they were. We heard several “Look, it’s camels”; and from one sweet child, “it’s fuzzy reindeer”. Of course there was a lot of the usual mistaken identity, “Look, they’re alcapas.”

But oddly enough, these wooly, four legged mammals, are sometimes mistaken for emu; even by the nurses’ assistant that stopped by to enquire at the end of the parade route.

But the most important member of the group was the elf that brought up the rear.

Pooper Scooper Elf

Pooper Scooper Elf

Luckily I didn’t need to scoop any poop along the way, but I did hear my share of sideline remarks, to include, “She’s sure got a shi**y job”.

But back at the trailer, a job well done, Pete said, “Thank goodness that’s over, can I go home now”.

Home again, Home again, Please?

Home again, Home again, Please?

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Llamas at Attention

Passing the kitchen window yesterday afternoon, I caught a glimpse of two llamas standing at attention peering over the fence line. They looked particularly alert, so I started scanning the field for a bear, not unusual for this time of year. I didn’t see a thing, but I thought Pete, the black llama, and the smallest in our herd, looked really cute standing all tall and proud, so I grabbed the camera for some happy snaps.

I never saw what they were looking at until I downloaded the photos. To my surprise, there was a small animal in the adjacent field. Unfortunately, I’m looking down from about 200 yards, and my lens isn’t strong enough to get a good resolution on the critter.

My first thought was that it was a grey fox. We do have foxes around, and we have seen them crossing the fields near the llamas before. But the shape of the animal is wrong for a fox. A fox would have a straight topline from head to tail, and this animal has a humpy rear.

And a bushy tail—wrong for a ground hog or a possum. So my best guess is a raccoon. But it seems odd that a raccoon would be crossing an open field in the middle of the afternoon. I thought they were more nocturnal.
Any guesses out there?

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Where did that rock come from? It wasn’t there when I mowed the barnyard three days ago.

Coming down the loft stairs with an armload of hay for the llamas, I walked over to check out the new bump in the grass. Yikes! A female snapping turtle had dug a nest and was laying eggs. I wasn’t successful in getting a photo of the blacksnake under the steps last week, but I was able to get back to the house for my camera before this ugly beast lumbered off.

With our farm nestled between two creeks, we are accustomed to seeing these repugnant reptiles on a frequent basis. They’ve taken up residence in our pond, and occasionally we’re lucky enough to witness a pair doing the turtle tango.

The snappers around here are known as the Common Snapping Turtle, as opposed to the Alligator Snapping Turtle found further south. They rarely come on dry land, spending all their time in the water. If you see a turtle walking about, it most likely is a female looking for a place to lay her eggs. They generally lay from 10 to 50 eggs which will hatch in 3 to 4 months. The female will dig a hole with her back legs, deposit the ping pong size eggs, then cover them back up with dirt and smooth it over with her tail.

Not only are they ugly, but they are mean. That neck can dart out in an instant and stretches to nearly the length of their body. I always hate to see them in the pasture, because I’m afraid that a curious llama might bend down to sniff a snapper and get his nose bit. Once I used a shovel and a wheel barrow to load a turtle and wheel her 100 yards to the creek, but today I decided to just let her be and keep the llamas in their paddock for the day.

Last year about this time, we encountered a large snapper while on one of our llama treks. We were hiking a trail along the Shenandoah River, and came upon this turtle laying smack in the middle of the trail. The first five llamas and their handlers passed her to her rear side, but with each passing llama, she got more and more agitated, and when the fifth llama walked by, the turtle spun around and thrust out that neck and hissed. Jesse, the sixth and last llama in the string, was not going anywhere near that turtle, so I called up to Tim to come get it out of the path.

He found a 4 foot long stick and starting nudging at the turtle to encourage it to move out of the way. This really ticked the turtle off and she started biting at the stick. The stick kept getting shorter and shorter, till it was only about a foot long. Finally she moved enough that we could scurry past.

I’m told that the force of their bite is greatly exaggerated. Apparently they can’t snap off fingers and toes, and they will let go before it thunders, but I, personally, am not taking any chances. They haven’t survived for 40 million years by being shrinking violets.

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