A llama’s life – Be a part of this fun breed, plan a llama walk | TheUnion.com

A llama’s life – Be a part of this fun breed, plan a llama walk

When they’re not hiking the Sierra or showing their prize-winning animals, the owners of Highland Llama Trekkers find retreat on 13 wooded acres in Nevada County. This spring, five baby llamas, or “crias,” were born, making the resident population at the ranch well over 30.

Grooming, feeding, medicating and loving these animals is a full time job and Lorene Grassick, a retired teacher, says she wants to share her 12 years of experience and knowledge with the public. People can give her and partner Brian Purvis a call to schedule a day to come out to the farm and see what it takes to raise these hearty pack animals.

“They’re different from other animals in some ways. That’s what I can teach people,” said Grassick.

Grassick said she has seen an increase locally in people investing in and using llamas exclusively for packing in the high country. Many new owners have little experience with farm animals and could benefit from some pointers, she said.

A ranch tour may include a walk of the animal grounds, llama history, what and what not to feed them, the use of scales for weighing, demonstrations of grooming techniques and how to put on a halter and lead the animal. Walking the ranch will give people a view of the various shelters built by hand and the 5-foot un-barbed fencing best for llamas because it doesn’t snag their wool.

Within one mile of Grassick’s property are hundreds of acres of Bureau of Land Management unmarked trails. High gas prices this year mean some day trips will depart from her driveway. One year olds are ready for training and Grassick and Purvis will take them out regularly to various trails in the area to get used to dogs, horses, cows, bicycles, other people and crossing bridges and streams.

Grassick, who calls herself a “steward of the land” originally rode horses in the backcountry but became discouraged by the imprints they left in the wild. Backpacking on foot with a load weighing 55 pounds was gentler to the environment but too hard on her body. That’s when she discovered llamas.

A full-grown adult can pack 50-70 pounds and their soft padded feet leave very little trace on the trail. They do well in high elevations and don’t need to be acclimated to Alpine conditions. She also found llamas to be a lot less maintenance and expense. Now, 12 years later, her hobby has blossomed into a second career.

“I did not expect to be raising crias or showing this extensively,” said Grassick, whose original vision was to raise a few males for packing. “I just fell in love with babies and I started producing quality llamas.”

Grassick raises ‘light wool’ llamas so they don’t require shearing. But once a year she gives them a haircut if needed and a good grooming. She uses heavy-duty dog brushes with stiff bristles to remove leaves and sticks that get tangled in the wool over winter.

Visitors will get a first hand look at the metal chute used to keep the llama in place while they get spruced up for spring.

A blower installed in the ceiling blows off any stray bits of straw and dust. The chute is also used when its inoculation or nail trimming time. A cupboard filled with bottles of medications hangs on a wall near the chute and Grassick claims to be “almost as good as a vet.”

Adult llamas weigh 300-400 pounds and stand 5 to 6 feet tall. When introduced for the first time it’s a good idea to show respect and approach nose-to-nose. Llamas are gentle creatures but they have boundaries just like everyone else. Move slowly; they can be skittish around strangers. Pure black llamas are rare, difficult to come by and Grassick’s favorite. Only one of the five born this year is pure black. Grassick used her strong weathered hands on a recent visit to the farm to move the black cria away from the rest. His wool was rabbit soft.

These distant relatives of the camel make a whole spectrum of sounds from “hums” to “orglesa” and snorts that Grassick translates along with the animal’s body language. She says llamas know if a person likes them or not; if they are fearful or aggressive.

“And I really like that they immediately know that I love them,” said Grassick.

Being able to interpret the animals plays a vital role for Grassick on the trail. She can tell if danger such as a predator is nearby. In their native lands of Western South America in countries like Bolivia, Chile and Peru the llamas’ natural predator is the puma.

Llamas aren’t extravagant eaters. They are content with quality hay, some mineral- fortified-salt and fresh water. Only the nursing mothers and crias need alfalfa. In the summer months, Grassick takes her llamas to Penn Valley where she owns more pasture. There the animals can graze for hours on green grass.

Llama care supplies are slim pickings so Grassick and Purvis learned to improvise. It took five years before they figured out how to keep the adult llamas out of the cria’s food. She proudly displayed her invention of the ‘gate’ that allows the baby through a fence to feed but not the older animals. Another innovation is a chipper shredder converted into a llama manure processor. Grassick said the deer-like droppings are pure gold and once composted sell for $5 a bag as garden fertilizer.

When starting out, Grassick said it’s important to invest in at least two animals. Because of herding instincts, the llamas get sad and lonely without the companionship of their own kind. A fence must be kept between the male and females until breeding time and the same with two males who tend to become aggressive.

Shelter is important but doesn’t have to be expensive. Llamas need something with three sides and a dry floor. They like to be able to come and go and even if they stand outside in the rain their waterproof wool will keep them warm and dry.

On a brisk but sunny day, crias hopped about and kicked their heels like lambs. The older ones quietly chewed their cud, twitched their ears and curiously eyed the strangers at the fence.

“They are a joy. They are a constant happiness. I love being with them,” said Grassick.

Day hikes are available year round and cost $25 per person with exceptions for groups or out of town trips. Hikes with crias in training are free for individuals but not groups.

The day hikes last from two hours to all day depending on the client. Some of the locations for cria training include Spenceville, Old Auburn Road and Yuba River trails. Birthday parties with the llamas at Jones Bar on the Yuba River cost $150.

Guided trips in the Sierras and Trinity Alps at $295 per person for three days. Additional days up to 15 cost $75 extra per day. That includes meals. The price is lowered if people plan their own meals.

To schedule a visit to the llama ranch or a trek with the animals call 273-8105 or e-mail: llamahi@nccn.net

Laura Brown lives in Nevada County, is a mother of two and enjoys the outdoors.

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