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Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Red and Black Letter Days- All About Llamas

The last two days have had both. I have never quite understood the source of the two phrases, but they are both dramatically true for events of the last two days.

And I don't know if two reds offset one black or not, but in my mind they have to in order for me to begin to be able to understand what is happening in what used to be an important part of my life with llamas --- that of what used to be a solid sense of camaraderie with the greater llama community.

But first for the RED LETTER moments and they are both all about Joey (who?). And of course there is always rambling if you have ever read my posts and this one will be no different.

12 months and 2 weeks ago a simple but very wild llama joined our lives. He is a mature adult male, now gelded, who at the time had spent an unknown amount of his life living tied up either to a tree or a fence or other types of tethers by his neck, never haltered, never walked around, and living as he could. Not mean, or angry, or as best we can tell beaten, just wild and unused to any types of human interactions. And oddly enough he actually had a name; Joey. He didn't respond to it, but somewhere along the way someone at least gave him a name.

The story about how he wound up with us, and his situation is long and convoluted, and for the sake of my version of not rambling let it suffice to say it involved a rifle wielding neighbor, a llama at large dragging a rope, and a deputy sheriff standing there in total disbelief that in front of God, country and the OWNERS of the llama this guy was about to shoot him.

When we got him home it was literally the day before we were projected to get what for us was going to be a monster snow storm with bitter cold... and both proved to be true.


The snow hit hard, fast and deep; the cold came in equally fast and by the time it was over, virtually all our llama shelters have collapsed or had been damaged. But Joey was here and actually had the best of all worlds for shelter and protection since he was confined and in quarantine in the first step of our processing new llamas.

From there, after the weather finally broke, Joey was moved into an upper paddock that provided him with shelter and an area in full view of the males in our herd that he would eventually be living with. Through the entire quaratine period and virtually all of the time he was in the upper paddock area, the closest I ever was able to get to him, without forcing a major confined area of 12 x 12 was approximately 20 feet. He NEVER would eat anything if I was in his paddock.

He would watch and learn and wait until I left before he would go into his shelter to eat, and at the slightest indication I was coming in would beat feet for the furthest possible corner. Well, by May (SIX MONTHS LATER), I could stand within 10 feet of him and he would watch me like a hawk, but he would eat.

We kept chipping away at things like showing him halters and lead ropes, working him into the 12 x 12 area and just forcing him to stand without touching. We worked on touching him in that area with nothing more than a stroke alongside his body, AND we sheared him.

That actually went signficantly better than anyone anticipate. So we have a nicely sheared llama, with toes all trimmed and neat and pretty and obviously alert attentive and ready to meet THE WORLD OF THE BOYS, eyeball to eyeball, but not quite yet toe to toe.
And of course we have a plan and a process for that. Joey is moved out back into Royce's back pasture, with lots and lots of room, separated only from the boys and our LGDs (oh did I mention Yogi, and Gracie and Luna were part of the mix he would have to face eventually for the first time?) by six foot chain link fencing.
After two weeks of romping and running and stomping back and forth between the boys and Joey, the next step is ready for the final test. Joey is moved into a neutral area, Royce is moved out back, and the world Joey is in is opened up for the rest of boys to wander into.


From there the transition is all but complete. A little more negotiating with llamas as they get to learn Joey is here for a while, making sure the three dogs understand he is now part of their job to protect, and everything settles down for a fun and wonderful summer!! Hot, and dry but fun.
Things slowly settle down, Joey starts to figure out the routines of the farm, feeding, dogs, shelters, and the fact that the tractor is not going to swallow him and eat him, and the big machine being dragged around that makes noise is not going to suck him up; it's just there to vacuum up manure.
Hang on, the red letter days are coming. Summer flies away and it is now winter. And winter starts here loudly suggesting it is going to be nasty very nasty. We get hit with a cold snap for about 2 weeks with temps never above freezing, nights in the teens and single digits. That is NOT as a rule for the 30+ years I've lived in this part of Washington State the norm (though it seems to becoming the norm).

Our llama Charles has been on feed supplements every winter for several years now just on account of his age and the tough time he has keeping his weight especially in the winters. That process involves a corral with a 4 foot gate and a private feeding area for him to have his special supplements without interference. Well, we decide to supplement Joey not so much because he desparately needs it, but because now that the weather has turned, he is low man on the pole and doesn't always get a spot staked out to eat hay even though there is one spot more for eating than there are llamas. And a new routine starts. Charles comes galloping into the corral, and Joey gets worked so he goes in and gets his grain. And at least once a week we play, here's your grain supplements, and now that you have eaten, "Stand" and be handled.

Fast forward to yesterday (about time eh?) and the first of two red letter events (about time eh?) Yesterday as small as it may sound, for the absolute first time, I opened the corral gate, Charles came galloping in past me, and Joey walked in behind him....WHILE I HELD THE GATE LATCH. That meant he walked past me within 18" of me. And that is a true RED LETTER MOMENT in my mind.
But wait, there's more (no it's not a commercial). The hay feeding routine sometimes include putting some hay up on a couple of stumps in the boys pasture areas, just for grins and giggles and to give the boys a little bit of diversity in their lives.
Today was one of those days. I grabbed a large flake of hay and was heading over to a stump and there was Joey, attentive and fully aware of what I was going to do and where I was going. So just for the sake of seeing if he would, I held the hay out towards him, and called him by name. AND HE JUST WALKED UP EVER SO CALMLY AND POLITELY and took a mouthful of hay as if it had always been a part of his life. And that is how you hold your head high and know you have crossed the threshold of connecting solidly with a llama. 12 months and 2 weeks later, I have crossed over and met him halfway.
We have a long way to go yet when it comes to halters and leads, but there is new sense of safety he has with me and that is a step that when it happens you feel in your core.

But what you ask (or not), about the BLACK LETTER MOMENT; the moment I will quite possibly look back at forever, and know it was a moment that turned a different corner for me, and has come as the result of a diminishing sense of belonging to what even in the comparatively short time we have owned llamas (10 years) was a sense of belonging with a greater community of llama owners. That dear readers is a tale fo another day; when a bit more time has passed to put it all into perspective and into words. Watch for it.... it will come.

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