Raising Llamas: More Than a Just Pretty Face

If you're a homesteader who needs a sure-footed pack animal that produces a fine wool and is personable and social, consider raising llamas.

| November/December 1980

I spotted the pastured animals before I pulled into Harlan Harris's driveway. And that first glance was enough to alert my senses to the strangeness of the beasts. Their slim legs appeared too frail to support the thickly wooled bodies ... and — as I pulled off the road for a better look — the herd, acting in choreographed unison, lifted their long necks and turned their graceful horse-like heads to get a better look at me .

The animals posed — motionless as statues — until I came close to the fence ... whereupon, still acting as one, they exploded across the field. I was amused to notice that the peculiarity of the creatures was maintained even in flight, as their sprinting gait involved lifting both feet on a side simultaneously!

The mysterious beasts were, of course, llamas (Lama glama ). Natives of the South American Andes, they're rapidly gaining popularity in the United States in the eyes of livestock keepers who use them as pack animals, raise them for the wool they produce, or simply are fascinated by the beasts' personalities! In fact, the purpose of my journey was to visit a gentleman who has become so adept at raising llamas he supplies them to such eager buyers ... Mr. Harlan Harris from Tacoma, Washington.

From Humble Beginnings...

Harlan first became interested in llamas some ten years ago, when a friend brought an aged animal back from a trip to Las Vegas. Harris borrowed the beast to lend a bit of life to his Christmas nativity scene ... and he was astounded when 25,000 passers-by stopped to see and ask questions about the gentle "actor."

It seems that Harlan was fascinated by the elderly llama, too ... because it wasn't much more than a year later that he purchased two young animals for his own ranch. Today he maintains a herd of about 18 llamas (the number, of course, fluctuates as new animals are born and others are sold).

Made for the Mountains

Most of the folks who purchase llamas, Harlan told me, plan to use them as pack animals ... a purpose for which the South American natives are well suited. The hemoglobin in their blood has an unusually well-developed ability to absorb oxygen — a trait which makes the animals at home at high elevations — while their deceptively slender legs are fully able to support hefty loads over steep, rocky terrain. (A 200-pound male llama is capable of carrying up to 130 pounds, and covering up to 20 miles a day when doing so. Folks who "pack" the animals regularly, however, usually try to load the beasts with about half that weight.)

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