Llamas welcome visitors at open house

There's something magical about llamas - their owners know it, the breeders know it, and most of all, llamas have known it all along.

This time next week, you'll have an opportunity to try and crack the code of magic at the 5th annual "Walk-A-Llama" open house in Gardnerville.

Dick and Carolyn Denning of Rafter D Llamas will again be hosting this event sponsored by the Sierra Nevada Llama Network, a group of around 70 Northern Nevada and California llama owners who share information with each other and make it their business to educate the non-llama-literate public about these intriguing mammals.

The Dennings, both retired special education teachers from Bishop, Calif., have been "llama llovers" since a 1988 trip to Canada where they bought two male llamas on impulse to use for backpacking. Finding that magic in llamas, their two males grew to 40 animals in four years.

"It was like potato chips for us - we couldn't have just two," Dick said.

In 1992, the Dennings moved to the Carson Valley and set up Rafter D Llamas on 10 acres. By spring of this year, their 40 llamas had grown to 75. Now downsizing, Rafter D is currently host to 34 llamas - some old favorites and young offspring of 12 years of breeding, including two three-month-olds that are beyond cute.

All will be available for viewing Saturday and many will be working to educate the public on what a llama is, what a llama isn't, training, grooming, using their wool and more. Children and adults will be able to lead a beautiful male llama through an obstacle course under the guidance of artist and llama expert Cheyenne McAffee from Bishop.

Llama owners Diane and Chuck Campbell and Walt and Evelyn Weaver will demonstrate camping and backpacking skills including loading packs and setting up a llama-friendly camp.

Llamas look like camels without a hump, and in fact that is what their ancestors are, Denning said, starting in North America as prehistoric camels, then evolving into vicunas and guanacos. Around 6,000 years ago, the Incas domesticated their then-native guanacos and bred them for packing. These eventually became llamas and the vicunas eventually became alpacas, Denning said.

William Randolph Hearst is credited with first bringing 50 llamas to the United States in the 1930s. Those animals and a small herd concurrently brought to Texas constitute the original breeding stock of "American llamas," he said.

Llamas live up to age 25, eat around one ton of hay per year, are smarter than horses, can get to 500 pounds, are multi-stomached and chew a cud like cattle. They have a variety of calls - a hum, a scream, a cluck, a snort and an "orgle," they do spit, but at that can be better than a kick in the leg, she said.

"One of the things people want to know about llamas is the spitting," Dick, 72, said. "Mostly it's the males who spit at each other, but pregnant females will also spit. It's not like they spit all the time. Our llamas are well-trained to be polite."

n Lots of fun and information. Vendors selling llama accessories, art and information will be on hand Saturday, and there will be door prizes. T-shirts designed by McAffee will be for sale and free llama fertilizer will also be available. Dick's demonstration garden of "llama lleaving-grown" tomatoes, eggplant, peppers and mint might inspire a few gardeners.

The Walk-A-Llama open house is free and open for anyone interested in llamas, and finding on what is going on behind their big, dreamy brown eyes. If you've never been "up close and personal" with a llama, try it and maybe you'll be lucky enough to share their secret.

The open house will take place Saturday, Sept. 30 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Rafter D Llama Ranch, 1600 Orchard Road in Gardnerville.

To get there, from Highway 395 and Buckeye, turn east on Buckeye, following it a few miles to Orchard and turn right. The ranch is the first house on your right. Access for handicapped individuals will be possible. For more information, call 782-2742.


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