Llamas, alpacas steal the show at MC Fair

SLAYTON – The Murray County Fair had its inaugural 4-H llama show Thursday afternoon – a competition open to all types of llamas and alpacas, and even featured a few miniature llamas.

Jaysa Davis, 10, along with her mother Sara and younger brother Ryker, 7, were preparing their alpacas for the show by walking them around the fairgrounds and familiarizing them with their surroundings.

“If you don’t spend a lot of time with them, they won’t build trust with you,” Jaysa said as she was getting ready to lead her alpaca, Ariel, to the show ring.

“These guys are really gentle,” her mother Sara said. “They’re very easy keepers.”

Compared to llamas, alpacas “are a little bit smaller” and have different fur “that is a little bit softer” than a llama’s coarse coat, Jaysa said.

“And they don’t spit as much as llamas,” said a friend of Jaysa.

Along with proving trust between the animal and its leader, competitors must also answer questions about their animal and its traits during the showmanship competition.

Sara Davis explained that, unlike other grazing livestock, llamas and alpacas don’t have a top row of front teeth, so when they eat, they cut the grass instead of pulling it out of the ground.

That lighter touch means they are very gentle on pastures and could even be used to mow a lawn. They are also very clean animals and have a community dung pile where they will concentrate their waste, keeping the rest of their pasture or pen clean.

“Where one goes to the bathroom, they all do, so they’re really neat and tidy,” Sara said.

Beside the showmanship competition, the 4-H youth also have the opportunity to compete on an obstacle course with their llama or alpaca. Obstacles include “jumps, tunnels and steps,” Jaysa said.

It’s just another way to “prove trust in the animal and the trainer,” Sara said. “They used them for carrying packs and they had to go through all kinds of different landscapes.”

University of Minnesota Extension Program Coordinator for Lac Qui Parle county, Mary Ann Anderson, judged the 4-H llama show and said she looks for the animal to be “calm and socialized.”

“Llamas are social animals,” Anderson said, “and a lot of people will bring into nursing homes, schools and things like that.”

Thad Gunnink, 15, competed in both the obstacle course and the senior showmanship competitions with his miniature llama, Pretty Girl. He said his family has kept mini llamas for two years and their herd is up to 23 llamas. The Gunninks raise their llamas for not only their fiber, but for their manure that is very high in nutrients and is commonly used in gardens.

To prepare for the show, the llamas had to be trimmed and Gunnink said he gave his llama a bath Wednesday night. Because of their dense fur, it takes a very long time for it to dry and “if you gave it to them today, they’d still be wet,” Gunnink said.

Gunnink and his llama successfully completed the obstacle course. He said the only trouble he had was when he had to lead his llama onto a trailer and back out again.

“She thought she was going home and she didn’t want to get off,” Gunnink said, but he managed to lead his llama back onto the course.

They are very trusting animals and Gunnink said, “if you go through the obstacle with them, they’ll do it, too.”