No llama drama

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Monday, November 10, 2008
— They’re a motley bunch.

Barack Ollama is tiny compared to his peers. So, tiny in fact, that he lives with the ladies to avoid being on the losing end of fights with the other boys.

Mr. Big, who once had a reputation for attacking people, strides calmly about and occasionally asks to have his nose scratched.

Nearby, 19 new friends get used to their surroundings. In one week, they have stopped dashing away from visitors and instead graze and chew their cuds.

This is Old Stage Alpacas, 60 Washington Road, north of Edgerton and just over the Dane County line.

Jenny LaFoe raises alpacas and llamas for their hair, known as “fiber.” On Nov. 2, she took in 19 llamas rescued from a Lima Township farm in September. The Rock County Humane Society worked with local rescue organizations to find homes for the llamas as well as 28 pygmy goats and 30 horses.

The llamas are settling in well in LaFoe’s “foster farm” and will be off to new, permanent homes quickly, LaFoe said. She defends the foster llamas from critics who might describe them as “trash.” The llamas were not abused or ill-bred, but suffered from “benign neglect,” LaFoe said.

They are in need of shearing and foot care, she said. Despite being allowed to mate unsupervised, they do not suffer from signs of inbreeding such as weak legs or other defects, she said.

In fact, many in LaFoe’s own herd of llamas and alpacas are “rejects” from breed farms or show herds. Some are missing ears or eyes and some, like Barack Ollama, are undersized. But they grow good fiber, she said.

LaFoe and her working partner, John Kruchoski, shear the animals once a year. The fiber is shipped to mills where it is made into yarn.

Alpaca fiber is more popular than llama fiber, although some breeders are working to improve llamas for that purpose, LaFoe said. A llama’s fiber tends to be shorter and courser than that of its alpaca cousins, she said.

LaFoe thinks llamas make fine fiber providers and encourages people to consider llamas for that purpose. An example of llama yarn felt soft and pliant. It is softer to the touch than sheep wool, but denser than cotton or nylon yarn.

Llama fiber comes in all shades of brown, white and black.

Llamas make good pets, too, LaFoe said. Some are so friendly, they’ll “crawl in your lap,” she said. Others are more aloof, like a cat.

Sheep farmers sometimes use llamas for guard animals to protect sheep from coyotes or dogs. They are territorial and brave, she said. A llama’s first line of defense is its front feet, which have two thick, flat claws like a goat’s.

And yes, llamas will spit when they get mad, LaFoe said. But they warn you first by putting their ears back and raising their chins in the air.

Llamas are easy to care for, LaFoe said. Other than shearing, vaccinations and foot care, they need little maintenance. Sometimes they need to have their front teeth ground. Llama’s teeth grow constantly. In their native habitat in the South American grasslands, the rocky, sandy soil would keep their teeth trimmed.

Llamas and alpacas eat pasture grass in the summer and hay in the winter.

While LaFoe’s alpacas and llamas earn their keep—one animal produces five to eight pounds of fiber a year—their calm, friendly nature provides another benefit for LaFoe, an intensive care nurse at Veterans Memorial Hospital, Madison.

“They are my relaxation,” she said.

Last updated: 10:56 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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