* I’m an avid hiker and like to travel six to ten miles a day at a good pace. I like the idea of buying or renting llamas so that I can extend my trips into the wilderness. I don’t know much about llamas. How should I approach this?
* Should I buy a trained llama or train it myself?
* What is a llama worth? (How much does a llama cost?)
* I’ve heard that llamas are the answer to getting my family into the backcountry. Are children safe around llamas?
* Where can I learn more about raising llamas, particularly in my area?
I’m not a serious hiker, but I like camping away from crowds. I’m thinking about buying llamas to carry my gear into the wilderness a couple of miles. I have two acres of land and I enjoy animals. What am I getting myself into?
Llamas are wonderful animals, and they are relatively easy to train and care for. I don’t consider llamas to be pets in the typical sense; they are more independent than cats and can take or leave people. They don’t particularly care about being petted and they generally don’t come on command. I consider them a working partner and hiking companion. Experienced performance pack llamas enjoy getting out in the back country, and they enjoy doing their job once they have developed a work ethic. An athletic performance llama is a beautiful sight in the pasture and even more so in the mountains.
Your first step in “finding out what you are getting into” might be to study the requirements for keeping llamas (in terms of care, land, fencing, feed, shelter, transportation, etc.). Stanlynn Daugherty devotes several chapters to these subjects in her book Packing with Llamas. If you want see what it might be like to trek with llamas, and at the same get a chuckle as you learn from my mistakes, read Tales of the Trail. The medical advice/care book for llama owners that I still use and will always recommend is Caring for Llamas and Alpacas, which is published by the Rocky Mountain Llama and Alpaca Association.
When you decide that llamas are for you, buy two if you are able. A single llama with no other animals close by will be unhappy. I recommend a pair of geldings or a pair of females. There are many suitable llamas available for the camper who wants to hike a few miles at a leisurely pace. Research before you buy—and remember that you need to be focusing on athleticism, not eyelashes or pretty coloring. At the very least, when you are looking for a hiking companion, think of llamas as being like people: like people, some llamas are athletes who like to hike and some aren’t. Some like to hike but are physically unable to do so. Some require more training and convincing, while some are just plain lazy.
Unless you have some experience handling large animals, your first llamas should have some solid basic training. Participating in a packing/training clinic will teach you the most effective training methods to build on this basic training. Commercial outfitters find out what their novice llamas are made of by inserting them into a working pack string and letting their experienced packers do the training—but unless you buy a llama fresh out of a commercial string (which is unlikely) or you have access to a good lead llama willing to tow your novice until he/she gets the idea, chances are you will be doing some tugging, sweating, and swearing before you find out whether or not you have a packer. Don’t give up on them too soon.
I’m an avid hiker and like to travel six to ten miles a day at a good pace. I like the idea of buying or renting llamas so that I can extend my trips into the wilderness. I don’t know much about llamas. How should I approach this?
To gain insight into the use and care of llamas, start by reading my book, "Tails of The Trail" and "Packing with Llamas" by Stanlynn Daugherty. You won’t regret it!
Secondly, attend a pack clinic, where you will learn how to handle a pack llama and what a performance pack llama is capable of. Then, if you choose to rent llamas you are trained to do so. If you choose to buy llamas, you’ll have a much better idea of what to look for and where to find to it.
In general, llamas are easy animals to care for and train. If you have time, patience, and some experience in handling large animals, you will enjoy the challenge. If you don’t, I recommend that you start with a llama that has at least a solid basic training and is easy to handle. If you are lucky enough to find an experienced packer, buy it. You will pay more for a trail-experienced pack llama, but you know what you’re paying for and you’ll have at least one llama that knows what he’s doing.
If you choose to train your llamas, patience and repetition are vital. Green llamas avoid things they don’t understand (water crossings, bridges, mud, etc.) and they have to be taught things like jumping a log while on a lead. Start small and build on each new skill they master, work with them regularly, and make it clear what you expect of them.
I get this question a lot. Usually by the time I finish my answer the person who asked the question has either dozed off or is in love with a llama with long eyelashes and crooked legs. The serious hiker who plans on buying an animal for trekking, llama or otherwise, should consider the following scenario carefully:
Two llamas with full packs are standing at the trailhead ready to take you on your dream hike eight miles uphill to a beautiful lake.
Llama #1 comes from a person who raises, trains and treks with llamas. This animal is a trained, trail-experienced athlete with a work ethic. She walks on a slack lead at your pace and moves through obstacles and up steep banks with grace. You’re hardly aware that she’s been with you until you think about how you came to be sipping your glass of wine while watching the fish rise on the lake.
Llama #2, on the other hand, has balked at every obstacle, real or imagined, in the first mile. After the second mile, she starts to drag on the lead and then lies down. Another mile up the trail and she begins to shake from weakness. By the halfway mark, you are trying to drag your llama and your gear up to a lake that has become a mirage four miles further up the trail.
These are two extreme examples, but you tell me: “What’s a llama worth?” Your goal, if you are a serious hiker, should be to get as close to the #1 performance pack llama as possible. There is, as you can imagine, a demand for this type llama. People who own them don’t want to sell them—if you are lucky enough to find one for sale, expect to pay at least $3,000 and up. Untrained or partially trained llamas with potential can be purchased from $1500 and up. There are examples of freebee llamas that have turned out to be #1 type performance llamas, but I’d liken the odds of this happening to finding a valuable antique at a yard sale.
Trained llamas and small children are a great combination. Of course, llamas are large animals and small children need to be with an adult when they are around them. Caring for llamas teaches children responsibility, patience and understanding, and training a llama to wear a pack and deal with obstacles on a performance course and on the trail builds confidence and self esteem. In my opinion, llamas are the best way to give a family with small children the wilderness experience.
Charlie Hackbarth and Bill Redwood offer a variety of training and packing clinics in Silverton, Colorado. Feel free to contact either of them for more information or to make a reservation.
If Silverton, Colorado is too far away, a new directory called Rent-A-Llama.com allows you to search for businesses and ranches across the nation that offer training clinics (among other things). The site was created by Charlie Hackbarth's daughter, Alexa Metrick.
We have also collected a list of organizations, associations and publications here.