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Keep the llamas off the streets. Book a llama hike now!!

pete wasted

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One of the questions we often get asked is, “Just what do you do with a llama?”
Llamas are wonderfully versatile animals and there are lots of things that people enjoy doing with them.

1. Packing. After all, this is what they were bred to do for thousands of years in South America. The greatest advantage of llamas as packers is their low impact on the environment. Their padded feet do less damage to the trail than people in hiking shoes. They are much smaller than horses or mules with the average pack llama weighing between 300 and 400 pounds. Llamas require much less to drink than most pack stock. Since they are members of the camel family, they are able to obtain much of their water from the foods they eat.

Llamas on the trail

Llamas on the trail

2. Shows. There are llama shows all around the nation where llamas are judged on their fiber and conformation and they can compete in a variety of agility and obstacle courses.

Backing through hay bale maze

Backing through hay bale maze

3. Parades. Who doesn’t love a parade, and everyone loves to see llamas in a parade. We have walked with ours in several Christmas Parades. We dress them up in reindeer antlers and tinsel and they are the hit of the day. They have been real troopers and haven’t been spooked by the High School Bands, fire engines, horses, or dogs. AND I have never had to clean up poop behind them.

Christmas Parade

Christmas Parade

4. Fiber. One of the most prized byproducts of llamas is their fiber. Their fiber can be used to make anything that you can make out of sheep wool. Plus llama hair does not have lanolin and comes in a variety of natural colors.

We shear our llamas once a year, usually in April or May, when the temperatures are above freezing and the highs are in the 70’s. By the time winter comes around again, their coats are grown out enough to keep them warm. Shearing the llamas is an absolute necessity. Heat stress is a major killer for llamas, especially with the heat and humidity in Virginia.

Before and After Shearing

Before and After Shearing

5. Pets. Although we pack with our llamas as a business, they are first and foremost our pets and companions. The time we spend with them brushing and grooming, feeding them, and even cleaning up poop, is very relaxing and enjoyable. We talk with them and watch as they interact with each other. Llamas can be very entertaining and affectionate in their own way.

Oooo! The water tickles my tongue.

Oooo! The water tickles my tongue.

6. Therapy animals. Llamas are often taken to nursing homes and children’s hospitals to brighten the day and bring a smile. Llamas are intuitive and seem to sense the needs of others. They are very calm and gentle animals.

7. Guardians. Llamas make good livestock guards. They prefer to be with their own species, but they will adopt and bond with their new herdmates, be it sheep, alpacas, or cows. They are very protective against coyotes, wild dogs, and other predators.

8. Golfing. Believe it or not, there are golf courses that use llamas as caddies. I’m not much of a golfer myself, but I could get into the game if I could walk the course with a llama.

9. Carting. Llamas can also be trained to pull a cart. They can be used singly or as a team. I expect that it would take a good bit of time and patience to master this skill, but I can only imagine the attention that you would get driving your llama through the park.

10. Walking and jogging. Sometimes I want a change of pace from walking the dogs. I halter one of the llamas and take a relaxing walk around the neighborhood. The llamas are very curious and attentive, and it is entertaining just to watch them as they observe the interesting things along the way.

Taking a stroll with Domino

Taking a stroll with Domino

So you see, llamas can be much more than just a pasture ornament, though that is one of the greatest pleasures that they give to me. There is no better feeling than to gaze down on the fields, no matter the season, and watch the llamas as they bask in the sun, roll in the dust, munch grass, hike through the snow, or pronk around the fence in expression of the sheer joy of life. So, what do YOU do with a llama?

Taking a dust bath

Taking a dust bath

Dreaming of spring

Dreaming of spring

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If you live in the Northeastern U.S., you may be familiar with the number 1, most hated, invasive weed in the region, Garlic Mustard. It is a member of the mustard family, but has a distinctive garlic aroma when the leaves are crushed.

Garlic Mustard in the Wild

Garlic Mustard in the Wild

This weed is a non-native plant that was introduced from Europe back in the late 1800’s as a culinary herb. But it has gotten out of control and is taking over our woodlands, and strangling out our native plants. As a result, many communities are hosting Garlic Mustard Pulling Parties, where people are encouraged to gather for the day to yank out these pesky plants by the wagon load.

I didn’t know that you could eat Garlic Mustard until I recently saw a recipe for Garlic Mustard Pesto. Apparently all parts of the plant are edible, to include the sweet tasting flowers and the tap-root, which resembles the flavor of horseradish. Having lived for a few years in Italy, I am an aficionado of Italian Pesto; the traditional recipe using basil and garlic. And since we have patches of the Garlic Mustard growing exuberantly along the fringes of our woods, I decided I would reduce the infestation by eating some of it. You know the old expression, “If you can’t beat it, eat it.”

I checked out a few recipes online and picked bits and pieces of several recipes to come up with a recipe that suited my taste. I prepared it for the first time last night, and it was surprisingly delicious. I’m going to show you how I made it.

A mess of greens, as we say in the south, and my sous chef, Bayley

A mess of greens, as we say in the south, and my sous chef, Bayley

Ingredients (serves 4-6)

2 cups (packed) garlic mustard leaves. Pick greens from an unsprayed area and make sure you wash them well.

4 ounces pine nuts

3 tablespoons fresh chives, chopped (or 2 tablespoons wild spring onions)

4 ounces extra virgin olive oil

16 ounces penne pasta

3 ounces finely grated Parmesan cheese (Parmigiano Reggiano is preferred)

Salt to taste

Ingredients for Garlic Mustard Pesto

Ingredients for Garlic Mustard Pesto

Directions

I started by picking off all the leaves and tossing them in a sink full of water. After swishing them around really well, I scooped them out by the handful, and squeezed all the water out of the leaves. I packed them really tight into a measuring cup.

You need two cups of firmly packed leaves.

You need two cups of firmly packed leaves.

It was about now, that I realized I didn’t have any chives. Well, I thought, this recipe is all about “the wild thing”, and we have plenty of wild spring onions sprouting everywhere, providing the llamas hadn’t eaten them all. (Our llamas love feasting on spring onions, as evidenced by the miasma of onion stink on their breath). So I grabbed my scissors and headed down the hill to harvest a clump. I had read a while back that the green tops of the wild onion were tasty in recipes, but to scale back on the amount, as they have a stronger flavor than the domestic variety.

Wild spring onions. Use only the green tops

Wild spring onions. Use only the green tops.

I had no idea what I was doing, but I decided that I’d go for 2 Tablespoons of the wild onions instead of the 3 tablespoons of chives. I minced them finely and tossed them in the food processor along with the 4 ounces of extra virgin olive oil and ran the food processor until the greens were finely chopped.

Next I added the pine nuts and processed the mix until it had the consistency of a paste.

Add 4 ounces of pine nuts.

Add 4 ounces of pine nuts.

At this point I transferred the mix to a mixing bowl and stirred in the parmesan cheese. I thought the pesto was a little too thick, so I added another tablespoon or two of olive oil until the consistency was right, and tasted it for salt.

Garlic Mustard Pesto.

Garlic Mustard Pesto.

WOW! Now, I must admit, I was prepared to hate this stuff. But, boy, was I surprised. It was delicious. It tasted a lot like traditional pesto, but it had a little zing. The garlic mustard leaves by themselves remind me of arugula, a little bit bitter and peppery. And this flavor came through very subtly in the pesto.

Now I couldn’t wait to boil up the penne and enjoy this taste of the wild.

Dinner is served.

Dinner is served.

I’m glad I don’t have to hate those pesky weeds nearly so much. Now I just need to find a way to love dandelions.

Feel free to give this a try, and let me know what you think.

Recipe

Ingredients (serves 4-6)

  • 2 cups (packed) garlic mustard leaves. Pick greens from an unsprayed area and make sure you wash them well.
  • 4 ounces pine nuts
  • 3 tablespoons fresh chives, chopped (or 2 tablespoons wild spring onions)
  • 4 ounces extra virgin olive oil
  • 16 ounces penne pasta
  • 3 ounces finely grated Parmesan cheese (Parmigiano Reggiano is preferred)

Directions

  • Toss mustard greens, chives, and olive oil into food processor. Run processor until leaves are finely minced.
  • Add pine nuts and process until it resembles a paste.
  • Remove paste from processor and place in a mixing bowl.
  • Add Parmesan cheese and salt to taste.
  • Serve over cooked penne pasta.
  • Sprinkle with additional parmesan if desired.

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Full rack

I am not a gourmet cook by any stretch of the imagination. But, I do like to try new recipes. I’m constantly being bombarded by mouthwatering recipes, streaming over Facebook, or beckoning me from the pages of a magazine. And I succumb…

This invariably leads to me having to buy a new spice or condiment to make the new dish. If I were asked to name my greatest strength and my worst fault, I think the answers would be the same. I am organized. Not quite to the OCD level of organized, but maybe not so far off.

I like things to be arranged alphabetically whenever possible. And spices lend themselves to that very well. Except when you accumulate so many that they wind up all over the kitchen.

My very first spice rack was a gift from my dear Road Warrior, on our very first Christmas together, 40 years ago. It held 18 bottles of spice and it served me well for several years.

Old spice rack

Then I had a couple of racks that sat on the kitchen counter that held an additional 24 bottles. Plus there were two 2 tier lazy susans in the cupboard above the microwave that stored who knows how many more bottles. Each spice cabinet was alphabetically arranged, but I could never remember which cabinet was hiding the particular spice that I needed. And I always had to drag out the ladder to see what was lurking in the top cupboard.

I’ve been pondering on a better system for a couple of years. It seems like all the spice racks on the market assume that 12-18 spices is all you should ever need. (At present, I have a total of 63 bottles of different spices). I soon realized that I was going to have to be creative and come up with a design of my own. I scoured the internet for ideas, and took a bit here and a bit there and finally found all the pieces I needed to make my perfect spice system.

One thing I wanted to eliminate was the backup spice bottle. You know, you’ve got this spice rack with its own decorative bottles. So you’re getting low on cinnamon, you buy a jar and dump it in the decorative bottle, and you still have a quarter of a jar left in the ugly grocery store tin, so you put it in the cupboard till you need more. So you’ve now got duplicates on top of the 63 original spices.

Yikes!

So I found these wonderful 6 oz. bottles that will hold just the right amount. Actually, I first saw these bottles at Target. This is what they sell their own brand of spices in. After Googling awhile, I finally located them. They are called French Square Bottles.

4 bottles

The shelves are actually photo ledges. Google to the rescue again. And I used a clear glossy label and my own llama logo to create the name tags.
I actually have a little room for expansion, so for right now, there is just enough room to display photos of the real spices in my life….my pups…. Mayzie and Bayley.

photoSONY DSC

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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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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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snow painting

Sometimes you find treasures where you least expect them. Yesterday, as I was sitting in front of the fire, cuddled in my new comfy Christmas throw, and sipping a cup of hot spiced tea, I was just finishing the last few pages of my other Christmas present, the latest Stephen King novel, “Doctor Sleep”.

I was attempting to obliterate the view from the front window: the remains of the weekend’s snow, melting with the help of a steady drizzle and a bone chilling wind…and postponing the inevitable slog down to the barn to feed the llamas. With breathless anticipation, I was ravenously devouring the last few chapters.

And in the midst of all the ghosts and gore and nail biting imageries of the ultimate battle between good and evil I found this little gem, sitting right in the middle of a page. Stephen King attributes this to the poet Ezra Pound.

“Raineth drop and staineth slop,
and how the wind doth ram!
Skiddeth bus and sloppest us,
damn you, sing goddam.”

The suspense was broken, I was laughing out loud. What a perfect antidote for a perfectly miserable day.

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