The following are true stories based solely on our observations of our llamas’ behaviors.
Talk With the Animals
I was talking with my helper a couple weeks ago. He’s 14 and we were talking about how many words the llamas know. He said, just like dogs are trained to understand the word, “walk” the llamas had probably been reinforced with consistent words followed by consistent behaviors.
He might be right. I hadn’t gone about it in a methodical manner, but that was probably what I had done.
Then we got onto how the animals communicate with each other. The llamas have various levels of spitting that is part of their communication with each other. Caleb said he has seen dogs and cats communicating with each other.
Our musings continued: so, they can learn some of our language, and they can communicate with each other, but we don’t seem to understand their language very well. I said, “How great would it be if, like Dr. Doolittle, we could talk with the animals.”
Which leads me to what happened with Tippy Canoe. After I had put out food for the group, Tippy stood by “his” feeder just staring into the distance. Tippy’s favorite feeder is outside and since it was raining I hadn’t put food into that feeder. “OK” I said. “I’ll give you some food out here.” So I got a small flake of hay, put it into the feeder and thought that was that. I started to go inside when I saw Tippy standing at the doors to the tack room – just standing and staring straight ahead.
I got it. I went into the tack room and filled a bowl with supplemental feed. He ate it, and returned to the rest of the herd. I guess Tippy was talking and I heard him. He communicates with me pretty well. Or maybe he is training me!
The apple tree is starting to get apples so we didn’t want llamas snacking on leaves and baby-apples. We decided we didn’t need a full field fence, just a line across some T-posts that would discourage llamas from going into that area. It worked, sort of. We started out with just the wider yellow line at the top. Imagine my surprise when I saw Tippi Canoe snacking on leaves and apples. Then I realized that Tippi was a 4-H llama before we got him. As a 4-H llama he was trained to run agility courses that probably included dipping under poles. I imagine him looking at the new set up and saying to himself, “Oh. I know what this is. I can do this.”
Putting up the lower line fixed the problem.
We bought Fearless Kiss in June, 2007 after all the other females had been together for 3 years. It took her a long time to integrate with the herd – partly because she had been a loner in her old home. She was used to being left outside in all kinds of weather. When it was raining and the other llamas headed to the barn, she would sit down at the feeder and just let the rain fall on her.
One day we let all the llamas out into a newly fenced in pasture. Everyone was enjoying munching on the tall grass so Larry and I didn’t think twice about leaving them alone.
All the sudden Larry yelled out – “Fearless is loose!”
I ran outside to see Fearless nonchalantly grazing on grass. She had walked out of an open gate, not aware of the fact that the rest of the herd was pretty far from her. She looked up at us and casually started walking back up the hill to the new pasture.
Apparently, Fearless was the only llama to notice the gate was open and to walk out into the open field.
As Fearless walked back into the fenced area, we carefully secured the gate and sighed a sigh of relief.
Tippi Canoe is a 6 foot tall male gelding. We initially borrowed him to guard the 8 month old male crias after they were separated from their mothers. He seemed to understand his role immediately. When one of the baby boys came over to him to nurse, he just grunted and moved up the hill.
Tippy was very protective of the crias. When Larry and I took one of them out for a walk, Tippy was alert, intently watching us the whole time we had Canute out of the pen. One time I saw Tippy break up a fight. Another time I saw him assess a situation as just “horse play” and didn’t bother to break it up. Twice I saw him herd “the little boys” into a smaller catch pen area and lay across the entrance to keep all of them safe in a small area. I don’t know why he did it. Coyotes are common but don’t bother the llamas. Larger hoof stock, deer and pronghorn, aren’t a threat. Still, Tippi knew there was danger and he took the action he needed to take care of his “little boys”.
When we had to do regular toenail care and immunizations of all the llamas, Tippi stayed in one corner of the tackroom watching over each of his charges. When the herd is let out into an outer pasture, Tippi keeps track of who still needs to come in at the end of the day and gets whichever llama stays out too long.
Tippi Canoe is a very serious llama. He doesn’t sidle up to me for petting or kissing. But one day he gave me great big kisses. This is what happened. It was late winter and we had had a lot of snow. Drifting snow had totally enclosed the pasture leaving a very small space for the llamas to roam outside of the barn. I decided to encourage the llamas to walk around in the snow, get into the upper pasture, and exercise a little. I walked up the hill with great difficulty trying to clear enough of a path for the llamas to follow. Some did; most gave up, turned and returned to the barn. Tippi kept following me until he was in snow up to his knees. I could tell he was struggling so I turned around expecting him to follow but he didn’t. He looked like he felt trapped. I walked back to the barn, got a halter and lead rope, walked back up the hill, haltered Tippi and in that way led him back to the barn. As I took the halter off, Tippi bent his nose into my face and nestled in for a good minute. I could almost hear him say, “Thank you! I was really scared and you helped me get back.”
The boys are all adult llamas, now. Tippi’s job is done. But he still keeps watch. We call him Uncle Tippy.
Actually her name is Evening Star. She was born at night which is very unusual for llamas. Her birthing didn’t go smoothly and for a few minutes it looked like she wouldn’t make it. But she did. In fact, she is one of our largest (tallest and heaviest) llamas. Even so, I still think of her as the little girl she was when she came to live with us. She is so gentle with large, black, pensive eyes.
She has survived several traumas – first her difficult birth, then two dog attacks. The first dog attack involved two Labrador Retrievers. I think they just wanted to play but they scared her and in the process she jumped the fence and ran off into the vast, open, wild, Wyoming prairie.
Our friends, the people we bought her from, spent two days trying to find her. Finally Gayle took Dewey, climbed the ridge behind our house and hiked the ridge line looking for Star. Meanwhile, Julie brought in her brother with his ATV and they tracked her into the ranchland. They found her but she wouldn’t come close to us, so Gayle and Dewey hiked down the ridge. Dewey clucked at Star, Star came to Dewey, and they both hiked out together.
At one point, Star wanted to turn into the mountain ridge away from the path back to our house. We assume that was the way she had come but it was not the most direct way back home. Dewey clucked at her, she reluctantly came back into line, and we all made it back.
The other three llamas (we only had five at that time) were anxiously waiting for her. The clucked and nose kissed her through the fence until she was back inside with them. The joy they exhibited at her reunion mirrored our joy that afternoon.