I haven’t written about the Dolly Llama much lately, so this is for Angie (and probably Marla and Tiffany too!). Here she is!
She is doing much better these days, compared to the er, flood incident that happened in January of 2009.
I guess it just takes camelids longer to adjust to new scenarios and people as compared to domesticated ruminant species. For the longest time, she hated me, didn’t trust me, avoided me like the plague, and was generally impossible. After the flood incident, I contemplated whether it was irresponsible to keep her, if we could not get her out of the flood plain when it is about to flood!
But she has really come around since then. I haven’t explicitly worked on training her, per se. She’s not a pet or a companion, she’s solely here as a guardian for our sheep investment. But I do look for opportunities to reinforce good behavior. Feeding grain to the sheep has been an opportunity. She likes eating COB, but she doesn’t like jockeying for position with the sheep to gobble it. She has decided it’s worth coming close to me so that I can serve it to her in a private bucket above the height of the sheep. She’ll even eat out of my hand now! So that makes it easier to get her to go someplace where I want her to go. Most of the time anyway.
A few times, she’s been stubborn about going somewhere that I ask her to. But here were more training opportunities. More than once, I was able to shut the gate on her and leave her isolated in a field alone for a day or so. I’ll also leave her stuck in the same area as the dog if she doesn’t cooperate, and then she has to put up with a lot of hassling. She doesn’t prefer either scenario, so has stepped up her own accountability to go where I’m recommending. I think she is a pretty keen observer and learner, so it doesn’t take her long to catch on to these things!
Is She Half-Blind??
I find, too, that she needs more time to assess where to go, especially if I’m asking her through a narrow gate. If she feels too pressured, she’ll abort the mission and run away, and stay away. I find this interesting, she acts as though she is somewhat visually impaired and really ogles a narrow opening before proceeding through it. She lowers and cocks her head, and looks all spooky toward the opening, like she can’t quite make it out. I don’t know if this is normal for llamas, or whether she really does have poor vision for some reason. The sheep, by comparison, have the kind of brain that rapidly maps out areas of movement. So, if they’ve been through a gate once or twice, it’s old hat and they stream through it efficiently without question or slowing down.
90% of the time, I try to just let her eat her grain and go on her way, to earn her trust. Every now and then, I’ll grab the dog collar on her neck, and make her put up with some handling and massage. She doesn’t like that part! The first few times I did it, she held a grudge for a week or so, and refused to eat the grain I had to offer. But, she is adjusting and deciding it’s not that big of a deal to be caught. Now when I’m pouring grain for the sheep, she makes all sorts of muttering and impatient whining noises, reminding me to save her some.
In late summer, I had her in “the channel” with the rams, to help protect them while they were not under the jurisdiction of the dog. That is a good spot to catch her. Camelids are funny in that they can be cornered with a single rope at chest height. They don’t perceive that they can jump over it or duck under, so you can tie the rope to the fence near the corner, and gradually walk them into the corner by shortening the rope. This would not work with sheep or cows! They will run headlong into any solid object, no matter how big or small, if they are fearful of being cornered. Dolly has actually tried running into the rope before too, but if I hold on, she gives in easily and I can nab her.
I did this once while she was in the channel this summer, in order to cut her toenails. For this activity, I put her in a halter and tied her to the fence. She battled me, enough that she whacked her lip on the fence, and then bled all over me while I worked on her feet! I got whacked a few times too, she is a pretty big animal and can do some damage if she crashes into you! But we got the job done, so she is free of maintenance tasks for a while.
I’ve been surprised at how slowly her wool is growing back in, after being sheared last summer. I don’t think she’ll need a shearing again this year. She will need some more tooth grinding, however. Her teeth are so misaligned that they just don’t seem to wear well from grazing; and they are getting long again.
Manure Pile Redemption
Kirk used to dislike the llama, he thought she was useless (since sheep had been killed in her presence) and kept trying to talk me into getting rid of her. But he has changed his tune recently. Because of her poop! It’s well known that llama manure is good plant fertilizer. Lore has it that llama manure is better than other kinds of manure. I don’t know if this is scientifically proven.
But one interesting thing about llamas is that they tend to poop all in one spot in a pasture- this is unique trait among ruminants. That, combined with the large volume of manure they produce, makes them useful for garden fertilizer production. Kirk has been regularly going out to the pasture to “harvest” the llama’s manure piles for his fruit trees. He even put some manure into an indoor potted plant’s pot (but the Border Collies have been trying to eat it, so I don’t know if that’s going to work out). So, now he’s decided the llama is OK, she can stay, because she makes nice manure piles.