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It’s a llamarama

By Staff | May 1, 2009

Troy Mann, 4, of Oskaloosa, gives Angel Boy, an 11-month-old mini llama, a hug Saturday afternoon during the Heartland Llama Show at the Hamilton County Fairgrounds. Mann named the llama himself.

WEBSTER CITY – If someone in the audience at the Heartland Llama Show at the Hamilton County Fairgrounds was asked what was the last thing they expected to see that day, a nun in full habit leading one of the animals through the obstacle course might be one of their answers.

Sister Mary Juliana lives in the traditional community of the Holy Rosary Abbey in Galesburg, Ill. The members started raising sheep as a source of income then turned to llamas after doing some research on the animals.

“Economics won out,” she said. “They eat less.”

In addition to eating less, she explained that the llamas are also easier on pasture than sheep; they don’t eat the grass down to the roots.

The sisters send the wool to a fiber mill where it is turned into yarn. Some of that is used to knit helmet liners that they donate to the Citizen Sam program, which gives the liners and other items to soldiers.

Breanna Brown, 15, of Colfax, spends some time with her llama Sundot during the Heartland Llama Show Saturday at the Hamilton County Fairgrounds. Brown is the current Iowa Llama Princess.

They may eventually be able to do that themselves.

“One of the sisters is learning to spin,” she said.

Sister Mary Juliana also explained that besides the economic benefit to the community, the sisters have found the animals work well with the daily schedule of work, prayer and Mass.

The llamas are also quiet and produce very minimal odor.

They also, by their calm presence, add to the sense of peace and serenity in the abbey.

“If you go out to the pasture for a few minutes all your earthly cares melt away,” she said.

The calm nature of the animals is something that attracts owners to the animals – as is their personality.

Cassie Ruth, 17, of Havensville, Kan., has been training and showing llamas since she was 8. She has 10 llamas and three alpacas.

“They’re more personable than any other animal,” Ruth said.

Maddie Gisch, of Lone Rock, was spending some time in the barn with her llama named BHR Six Shooter, relaxing in a chair. He stood next to her looking around at all the other llamas.

Her involvement with the animals grew out of a 4-H project where she got to take care of and show a loaner animal.

“A couple of years later ,we started acquiring our own,” she said.

Her mom, Kelly Gisch, is now helping out with the same 4-H project that got them started.

For anyone considering getting a llama, they pointed out that llamas are social herd animals and need the company of other animals.

“They don’t do well by themselves,” Kelly Gisch explained.

Kathie Walters, of New Hartford, and Sharon Williamson, of Trempealeau, Wisc., were both busy during the show turning bags of wool into yarn on foot-powered spinning wheels.

The pair were working with a blend of llama and alpaca wool. They said they prefer the blend since it spins better. Walters prefers to keep the yarn to make projects.

“There’s so much work when you hand spin, it’s hard to part with,” she said.

Besides being warm and wearing well, the llama and alpaca wool have another advantage, according to Williamson: It won’t make a person itch like sheep wool can.

“It has no lanolin,” she said.

The Heartland Llama Show continues today at the Hamilton County Fairgrounds from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Admission is free.

Contact Hans Madsen at (515) 573-2141 or hmadsen@messengernews.net

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