IOWA FALLS – A dozen llama trotted, leaped and maneuvered through 4-H assistant Bill Steinfeldt’s obstacle course on April 23 during the season’s first 4-H Llama Project Workshop in Hardin County.
Hosted by leader Marilyn Johnson at her farm in Iowa Falls, the workshop for 4-H youths ages 6 to 18, is the first of many and culminates with their participation at the Hardin County Fair and Iowa State Fair.
“Saturday was only my second day of working with the llamas,” said 15-year-old Elizabeth Vogel, a first-year llama handler. “I’ve shown cattle before in 4-H and llamas are a lot easier to handle.
“This year I wanted to add to my 4-H experience with another animal since I’ve also shown chickens and I do photography.”
Vogel, a ninth-grader at Iowa Falls Alden High School, said she has her life mapped out for the next several decades. “I want to continue my interest in agriculture, maybe have a profession with plant genetics or become an ag teacher or a seed salesperson.
“Then, when I retire, I want to be a 4-H director and offer programs just like my leader Marilyn Johnson does.”
Vogel is also the vice president of Iowa Falls-Alden FFA chapter.
Johnson allows each of her 4-H students to ‘adopt’ or lease a llama for the duration of the season. The animals remain on the Johnson farm where Marilyn feeds and houses all of the llamas, covering their food, shelter, veterinary costs and other expenditures herself.
“I don’t know many people who offer this kind of program like Marilyn does, since none of us have our own llama,” said Suzanne Murphy, co-leader with Johnson. “Marilyn makes sure every /child who wants to participate has that opportunity.”
Murphy’s daughter, 13-year old Nevaeh, is a third-year 4-H llama handler.
“There are a lot of kids who would never have this opportunity to be around farm animals and involved with 4-H because they live in town, not on a farm or acreage,” said 20-year-old Becca Wilson. “I am one of those.
“I assist Marilyn now, working with the kids and llamas, but I started out several years ago as one of Marilyn’s 4-H kids in her llama program.”
Wilson is a veterinary assistant with Ackley Veterinary Center.
Paige and Allison Jaenke are first-year, second-generation 4-H llama handlers. Their mother, Kortney, was in Johnson’s program as a youth.
On April 23, first-year handlers learned to halter, lead and brush their animals. Seasoned handlers not only did more advanced animal work, but encouraged and helped the younger members.
As 9-year-old Allison Jaenke struggled with the concept of working with an animal taller than she and twice her weight, high school senior Victoria Butt, used a double lead rope on llama, Lola, so the two could work together.
Carrie Kube, helping with the day’s events, did the same with her son, 10-year-old Wilken Kube who choose 9-month-old Scooter from Marilyn’s herd for his first year llama project.
The program generally begins in late March, weather dependent, continuing through fair season. Most projects culminate with the Hardin County Fair, but some 4-H members compete in the state fair, and many return the following year to continue working with llamas.
Meetings are held weekly on Sunday afternoons at the Johnson farm in Iowa Falls for 4-H members to take classes, work with, brush out and care for their individual llamas as well as work as a group.
Bill Steinfeldt, father to 14-year-old Lorren, a fifth-year llama handler, coordinated the obstacle course for this first meeting.
This course included two hurdles, a plank crossing and imitation waterfall. The courses change over time, increasing in difficulty with the objective being to build trust and a working relationship between handler and llama.
“When the kids and llamas enter the show ring, no one knows for sure what kind of obstacle course might be laid out. It might be water to cross, a tunnel to go through, ramps, jumps. We never know,” said co-leader Murphy.
“The highlight for me every year is watching the kids start at the beginning of the season and then to watch how their confidence grows as they work with these animals,” said Johnson. “Llamas are a great stepping stone for the youth before showing a larger species, such as cattle or horses, and much easier to handle.”
Johnson owns 35 llamas which include three breeding males, 15 breeding females and about a dozen juveniles and yearlings. Her 220-acre family farm houses the breeding stallions in separate pastures and barns as they are territorial.
“I prefer breeding on a schedule and having the young born in the fall and spring,” Johnson said. “Llamas have what is referred to as induced ovulation, which means at any time of the year they can come into heat, triggered by the near presence of a male.”
A baby llama is called a cria. They will nurse from their mother for five to six months, at which time they become weanlings. Johnson uses many of her weanlings, juveniles and yearlings for the llama 4-H program.
“After fair time, I generally sell about eight to 10 head every fall,” Johnson said. “Llamas make excellent guard animals for goat and sheep. Some people purchase them as pets and others for their wool.
“I sell a lot of them for breeding stock, but always keep back enough that the 4-H program thrives.”
This year the program has more than a dozen 4-Hers participating. Sign-up for registering is still open.
For more information call 4-H leaders Marilyn Johnson, at (641) 858-3112; or Suzanne Murphy, at (641) 373-1194.
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