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How Llamas Make a Living

Packing: Llamas seem to enjoy being useful to humans in carrying heavy loads. They are curious and intelligent animals that learn new things quickly. As with any animal, the llama first needs to trust the human and allow humans to touch them all over. Then it is fairly easy to train a llama to allow you to put on a halter and lead them. They learn how to follow the human around obstacles and over foot bridges, like those they may encounter on the trail. The llama learns how to get on and off a trailer and how to carry a specially-designed pack. Gradually, the training pack load is increased until the llama carries 50-90 pounds, or about 30% of their body weight.

Llamas are used to carry heavy gear for backpackers and to pack in tools and equipment to remote areas for US Forest Service trail or fire crews. For several years, the Challenge Adventure llamas volunteered to carry equipment for the Rangers in the Pisgah National Forest. Their soft foot pad does not harm the trails, unlike the hooves of horses, goats or mules.

Therapy Animals: Sometimes, llamas are used as therapy animals. In animal assisted therapy, the relationship between the patient and the animal is the key feature. Even clients who are well-defended often are open to interactions with an animal companion. A skilled therapist can capitalize on this relationship to further the patient's treatment goals. Much of what happens in experiential and animal-assisted therapy occurs unconsciously, through the skilled use of metaphors. An experienced therapist discovers metaphors in the human-animal interactions and brings these into the forefront of the therapeutic process.

Pulling Carts and Sleds: Llamas can be trained to pull lightweight wheeled carts and sleds. They have to use harnesses and carts that are designed to fit them. Sometimes they can be seen pulling carts in parades or in resort areas.

Guard Animals: Even though they are gentle animals, llamas are very vigilant and have a strong defensive sense. For these reasons they make excellent guard animals for herds of sheep or goats. They adopt a protective stance toward their shorter and less alert herd-mates and watch out for coyotes, wolves, feral dogs or other predators. When they see a predator, they give an "alarm cry," which is a sort of yodel-scream. The guard llama will even chase the predator. Meanwhile, the sheep or goats can run away. Llamas are widely used as guard animals in the western US because studies show that they are more successful than guard dogs in keeping predators from harming lambs or kids. Two former Challenge Adventures trail llamas, Buddy and Stretch, have new careers as guard llamas.

Fiber: A llama's coat has three layers: a coarse outer layer of guard hair that keeps the rain off, a middle layer of longer, finer hair and a downy undercoat. The fiber is hollow, which makes it very warm and light. People shear their llamas once a year or every other year. Depending on the length of the fiber, a llama may yield 5-8 pounds of wool. You may also comb out or "pluck" the fiber for spinning. Unlike sheep wool, the fiber does not have lanolin. Llama fiber is often combined with sheep wool for making sweaters, rugs and coats. The Challenge Adventures llamas are sheared every two years and we spin the fiber to make hats, scarves and other clothing. Campers can brush out fiber to make into braided bracelets.

Companion Animals: Some people have llamas just for fun and companionship. They enjoy taking walks with their llama or just "hanging out." We know one woman who has a llama as her jogging buddy. The Challenge Adventures llamas have visited nursing homes and assisted living facilities to bring a smile to the residents.

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