The llama is the largest animal domesticated by the Native Americans. The Incas needed help moving things around, so they looked at the llamas, which apparently had nothing better to do, and they put them to work.
Llamas proved handy pals to have in the Andes. Their wool is warmer and softer than a sheep’s, so they kept their masters dressed. Their dung is fertile and gentle to crops, so they kept their masters fed. Most importantly, their sweet demeanors made their masters want to keep them around, instead of preparing the village barbecue pit for them.
Sweet demeanors are harder to come by than wool and dung these days. That’s why some people started keeping llamas as pets, such as Rick Carlson of Carlson’s Llovable Llamas.
“I grew up on a dairy farm,” said Rick, “and I always wanted to have animals of my own. I also wanted to give my kids animal experience, which a lot of people don’t have nowadays. So I brought home an animal that’s good with little kids, and wouldn’t bite them.
“My children started showing our llamas as pets at 4-H fairs, and the other kids loved them. There were a lot of 4-H projects in Carver County at the time — cattle, sheep, pigs, even robots, but none for llamas. So we started one, and we soon had over 100 kids enrolled. Our county’s llama show was bigger than the state fair’s!
“4-H meant that we needed more and more llamas, so we decided to let ours start earning their keep. Someone suggested renting them for birthday parties, which we tried, and now our llamas are so popular it’s hard to keep up with the requests. We visit special needs groups and nursing homes, and busses full of students and tourists come by all the time. We also have llama camp for the kids during the summer, where they can interact with llamas on trail walks and learn more about the animals.
“One day someone said ‘If people can do goat yoga, they can do llama yoga too.’ We gave it a try, and once again people just loved our llamas. Now they come out 10 to 12 times during the summer to do a little bit of yoga, right in among the llamas where they can feed them treats. I’ve heard numerous people walking out of llama yoga saying it was the best time of their life.
“Llamas are very versatile. They’re good protectors, but they’ll only guard other animals that they’ve bonded with. Since they can weigh up to 400 pounds, they’re excellent at keeping coyote away from sheep. I sell a lot of my llamas into that line of work.
“I never could have guessed what llamas are best at, though, which is wearing costumes. After a little training they’re comfortable putting on pretty much anything. I’ve seen people dress them up as dinosaurs, Little Red Riding Hood, Pebbles and Bamm-Bamm, even a sea anemone made out of foam pool noodles. How the llamas can just sit back and suck it all up while the kids get imaginative is unbelievable.
“Friendly, curious, and alert, llamas are like the dog of the camel family. A lot of ours will get right up in your face to smile at you. They’re just so personable, and they take that trait with them wherever they go. If they get spooked, their instinct is to run around you, not over you. Some people are afraid of spitting, and llamas are known to do it … but the chance of that happening with one of our well-behaved llamas is pretty thin.”
There are many ways to meet the lovable llamas. You can visit or hike with them at their home in Waconia, or you can ask Rick to bring them to wherever their company is needed. You can watch them race in their own casual manner at Canterbury Park’s Extreme Race Day. You can even mingle with the wooly beasts at the Minnesota Zoo’s Llama Trek.
To be called the dog of anything, let alone the camel family, is a rare compliment indeed. To learn more about your future pals at Carlson’s Llovable Llamas, and to schedule a visit, please visit carlsonsllovablellamas.com.
By David Scheller