A Little Llama Drama

Find out why these camelids make great homestead companion pets.

| March/April 2017

Around the farm, it’s important to have the right tools, and it’s just as important to have tools capable of pulling double-duty.

How about a tool that can carry cargo, watch your sheep, keep you warm, haul your stuff, and feed you in a pinch? It’s no lie and no illusion: It’s a llama!

Millions of years ago, back when it was possible to travel from Russia to Alaska without GPS via the Bering Strait land bridge, a few descendants of the camel decided to see what all the fuss was about in North America. One of them, the guanaco, moseyed on down to South America and, in due time, launched the llama. The Incan people noticed the new critters’ surefootedness on steep Andean mountains and perhaps thought, “Aha! Meat and blankets on hooves.” Subsequently, they domesticated the llama somewhere around 6,000 years ago.

Llamas, by the way, are not alpacas, nor are they vicunas. The latter two are only llama-like, and only a llama can be called Lama glama.

For centuries, people of the Andes revered the llama, both culturally and religiously, and with good reason: Llamas make great companion pets, they can carry a load equal to around a third of their own weight, their wool is soft and warm when woven, and their meat is a nutritious source of protein. All are good reasons to put llamas first in the Andeans’ book. Experts have speculated that llamas may have even been used in fertility rites.

When the Spanish came to South America in the early 1500s and brought sheep with them, it was baaaad news for the llama. The Spaniards loved their “woolies,” and for the next 300 years, llamas and their alpaca cousins were treated like a loud uncle at a fancy wedding. Then someone noticed that sheep aren’t exactly great on trails, and someone else said anew, “Aha! Blankets on hooves!” and llamas were loved once again.

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