Wallace King always wanted llamas on his Montezuma, Ga. farm. But he could never come up with a logical reason to buy some.
"They would have just been lawn ornaments," he said. "We couldn't justify putting out the money to buy them when we didn't intend to show them."
King and his wife Ila found their logical reason to buy some when a South Carolina 4-H llama club leader invited them to a llama show.
Georgia's First 4-H Llama Club
To the Kings, Georgia's first 4-H llama club seemed a natural next step. In January 2000, they began promoting the new club to Macon County 4-H'ers.
Just two months later, the club walked away with 12 ribbons in their first Alpaca and Llama Show Association event. By October, four students placed high enough at a Perry show to go to the regional show in Gainesville. From there, one 4-H'er competed nationally in Columbia, Mo.
Word is spreading. "We've had several people tell us they've been trying to start a club," said King, now the Macon County 4-H program assistant.
The Kings raise chickens, so caring for llamas was new. They rely on books and on other llama owners for help. But King said the llamas make it easy because they're hardy and easy to care for.
They Don't Like Georgia Summers
Llamas are native to cool areas of South America. "We keep reading about llamas getting too hot in the summer, but we haven't had any problems," King said. "They lose their heat through their stomachs, so we shear the hair off their stomachs and backs so they can lie on the ground and keep cool."
Llamas can be costly -- "anywhere from $250 to $40,000," King said. "We bought two to start up, and then one of the local growers here sold us two at a really good price because he knew they were for the 4-H club."
Since then, a North Carolina woman heard about the club and donated five. Then a 4-H'er bought four, and a couple from Blairsville donated one. The Kings' farm is now home to 22 adult llamas and two new babies.
The 4-H'ers are required to learn all about llamas. "4-H is supposed to be a learning experience and be fun," King said. "They have to study the llamas and learn about their anatomy, feeding habits, how they're bred, the gestation period and their bone structure."
Llamas and Kids Make Great Teams
The Kings learned at seminars how to train llamas. "We teach the kids how," he said. "All of our llamas have been trained by our 4-H'ers. The kids really take to them, and the llamas work better for the kids than they do for adults."
Working on a farm with any kind of animal was a new experience for the club's members. "Our group is made up of city kids," King said. "Most of them were very scared at first, but within an hour or so they lost all their fears."
King considers the llamas safe. "Llamas' feet are padded," he said, "so even if they did kick you, it wouldn't hurt. And they can't bite, 'cause they don't have upper teeth in front."
One Rude Habit
They do have one bad habit. "If they get really, really annoyed, they'll spit on you," King said. "It's their only defense. I have one who spits when we try to halter her. They spit on each other to establish dominance."
King said the middle of these "spitting fights" feels like being sneezed on. "It's annoying, but by no means life-threatening," he said.
The 4-H'ers use their llama-training skills another way. The llamas have entertained at two birthday parties, earning the club $80. "We'd do more parties, but my wife and I just don't have enough hours in the day," said King.
(Sharon Omahen is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)