This article was the 17th in a series of columns under the heading Observations from the Pasture in the GALA Newsletter. It was originally published in October 2002.
Several of our yearling females and I have recently returned from a three-day stint at an agricultural fair in central Maine. The Maine Llama Association provided coverage for the nine days of the fair by arranging to have three groups of three farms stay for three days each. This process ensures that both the farms and lamas will be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed for the public.
At this particular fair we see a wide cross section of the public ranging from those who are currently involved in agriculture to those who are interested only in the rides and concessions. Our experiences at the fair are also wide-ranging.
Jeanne and I often discuss, with some concern, how we, as a society, are losing touch with our agricultural roots. This does not bode well for our relationship with animals. Two symptoms of this problem are first, a developing lack of respect for animals, and second, a failure to understand the human/domesticated animal relationship amongst some of the more radical animal rights groups.
Each year, during “fair duty”, I see at least one glaring example of our disassociation from animals. This year when several mothers came into the lama tent with their children, the children wanted to feel the fiber on one of my llamas. The llama was willing but one of the mothers immediately spoke up and said that she had forgotten to bring the antibacterial wipes and that the children could not touch the animals. A lesson that those children most likely learned that day was that “animals are dirty”. (I personally view the current pervasive move to antibacterial soaps and cleansers as a terrible mistake. We need to keep our immune systems challenged so that they can perform their essential tasks when needed.) As this group was leaving I wondered whether this particular mother held the same view of the rides and concessions which is where my concerns would lie.
The positive aspect of this encounter is that I became more convinced than ever of the value of participating in such events as this fair. Each time we bring our llamas to a fair, participate in an open farm day, open our farms to groups or individuals, or visit schools and nursing homes we help dispel some of the misinformation that is extant.
More often than not those who visit the lama tent at a fair and who complain that lamas spit have had a bad experience or know of someone who has had a bad experience with a lama spitting at a petting zoo. Amongst the many problems I have with the concept of petting zoos are:
During Maine Open Farm Day Jeanne and I spent a considerable amount of time trying to convince an individual that setting up a petting zoo was not in the best interests of the animals or the public. To compound the problem the individual has no experience with large animals. I am sad to relate that what we had to say seemed to fall on deaf ears.
During my fair duty a poultry exhibitor came into our tent to voice her concerns about the welfare of several llamas that were in a “farm animal exhibit” elsewhere on the fair grounds. While these animals were receiving care well within the State of Maine regulations, it was not at a level I felt was appropriate. When I went to see the llamas in question I was considerably shaken when it appeared that one of the llamas belonged to a line with which I was quite familiar.
What can we, as individuals, do about these operations? First, and foremost, we should take steps to ensure that none of our lamas end up in one of them, either directly or indirectly. Second, we should take every opportunity available to convey to the public that we do not believe that such operations are suitable places for the animals. Whenever someone complains that lamas spit I view it as an opportunity to discuss the inappropriate environments that petting zoos provide.
In my last column I mentioned how I have observed that the females in our herd were assisting us by guiding their crias into a mini-catch pen whenever we wished to work with them. In this issue of the newsletter it is the males that get the honors.
We run all our males together. We feel that the benefits of companionship and healthy exercise outweigh the risk of the minor injuries that might occur in their rough and tumble play. We now have seven males and one gelding in our male pastures. On those rare occasions when their play seems to be getting out of hand we have noticed that all the nonparticipants will line up and interpose themselves between the two llamas who are acting out. The confrontation then rapidly cools down. A similar reaction has occurred when one of our males started bothering a newly introduced weanling.
Editor's Note, April 2010: We have now separated our males into three groups which segregate the llamas by disposition. We have a goup of mature llamas into which we introduce weanling males. We have a second group of younger males with a mature llama as a leader. The third group consists of 1 male who has high testosterone level behavior. The groups are separated by a 4' high fence which allows them to interact. While any of the males could leap the separating fence, they respect the fencing.