Walnut Ridge Llama Farm
Tennessee educators find fiber, fun and full-time fascination on the farm.
Jerry & Carolyn Ayers
Jerry and Carolyn Ayers fell in love with llamas at the 1998 Rare Breed Exposition in Knoxville, Tennessee. The brilliantly colored fiber, slinky bodies and mystic personalities of those noble camel cousins so captivated the couple, they decided to purchase two right then and there and take them back to their small farm in Chuckey, Tennessee.
Now, eight years later, their 10-acre spread is home to more than 50 llamas. “We are llamaholics,” Jerry declares proudly. “We’re addicted to their serene nature and beauty. Our passion for llamas has become a business.”
Close to 30,000 llama farms can be found nationwide. The couple’s Walnut Ridge Llama Farm and Store is the second largest such farm in Tennessee.
Located on a hillside along the Chuckey Highway between Greeneville and Limestone, the farm welcomes visitors who can go face to face with the llamas and browse through the Walnut Ridge Store. They quickly understand why the Ayerses like these extraordinary creatures so much.
A tale worth telling
The Ayers operation was founded about a decade ago with Suffolk sheep and Nubian goats, but now, except for one emu, one miniature horse, one pot-bellied pig and a flock of chickens, the family is living the full-fledged llama lifestyle. Jerry still maintains his position as principal at Greeneville High School, but Carolyn, a former fourth-grade teacher, has now dived into the llama business full time.
“People are enamored by the llamas,” says Jerry, describing the animals as the perfect alternative livestock. “They’re cheaper to raise than cows or horses and require less maintenance.” For the price to feed one horse, the Ayerses can feed six llamas.
“One of the most spectacular things about llamas is the fact that you can walk among them,” Jerry says. Go head first, he advises in the pasture. Llamas will get to know you if you put your head up to theirs. At Walnut Ridge, visitors can walk through the herd and become a part of it. “What other animal can you stand behind and feel safe?” he asks.
And about that spitting, don’t worry. “Our llamas are more likely to spit on each other than to spit on humans,” Jerry says. “They spit on each other to show dominance. It is very rare for them to spit on humans, but occasionally we get caught in the crossfire.”
Walnut Ridge Farm’s principal business is breeding. “We put together the best possible bloodlines to produce the most valuable crias (babies),” Jerry says. Walnut Ridge is home to both silky and suri llamas; two types distinguished by their fiber.
Llama fiber is sturdy and smooth, and does not mat or knot. The Ayerses’ herd has shiny, silky and soft fiber, which is sheared, sent out to be processed, and made into scarves, shawls and rugs that show off the many colors of llama fiber. A llama can have a multi-colored coat, with white, black, brown, tan, gray, red and more. The store also offers quilts, honey and other local products.