I made some charming new friends at Moose River Farm near Old Forge, NY.
There’s something peaceful about Adonis. His ears curve inward. And wispy strands of white hair blow in the breeze. He wiggles his soft nose and sniffs this new human in his corral. His large gentle eyes look over at his sidekick Bravo who’s checking out his new friend too.
My daughter Grace and I click lead ropes onto the two llamas' halters and give them a slight tug. They step along beside us. Their soft two-toed feet beat a steady rhythm on the ground.
Adonis isn't the least bit stubborn. He steps into the wooden shoot for grooming. Anne Phinney tells us this is the first stop on our llama trek. It'll help us bond with the animals, she says. I pull the comb through Adonis’ long luxurious hair. The thick layers of fleece feel springy under my hand. I'm starting to bond already.
Some Llama Facts
Anne's a sixth grade science and math teacher at the Town of Webb School District in Old Forge. So she gives us a lesson about llamas before we set off on our trek through the Adirondack forest.
“Llamas are native to the Andes mountain region,” she says. “They’ve been domesticated for hundreds of years for work as pack animals. They’re related to the camel and the wild guanaco.”
She goes on to explain: “Llama fiber can be used for clothing but is mostly used for utilitarian items like rugs and blankets because alpaca is so much softer and desirable for clothing.”
Llamas naturally have a distinctive scent, something like popcorn. It’s pleasant enough for people, but Anne says her horses don’t like it. “The horses won’t go near them!”
And why do llamas spit? Well, they don't if they've been raised right. Llamas only spit when they aren’t handled properly when they’re young. Anne says she has never seen Adonis and Bravo spit at anyone since they arrived at Moose River Farm. Although she says, “They can look at each other and start to gurgle a little.”
Taking Care of Her Llamas
Llamas are not much trouble to care for, Anne tells us. They leave their manure in one spot in their paddock. This makes it quick to clean up and it works well as garden fertilizer. They need to be shorn just around their middles to be cool enough in the summer. And they need to have their toenails clipped. Anne does these two chores herself.
“My llamas eat all the hay they want, graze on grass and are fed a specifically llama formulated pelleted ration that we buy at the feed store,” she says. “The cost of feeding four llamas is equivalent to feeding one horse, so not very expensive when compared to other farm animals.”
Our Llama Trek Begins
After 15 minutes of grooming and learning about our llamas, we set off on our walk down the woodland path. Sunlight streams through the trees. Yellow wildflowers cover the forest floor. We walk down a grassy hill and pass a sparkling pond.
Then we step onto a sandy part of the path. Suddenly Adonis drops to his knees, folds his feet under him, and rolls over on his back! He twists and turns happily scratching and tossing a cloud of dust in the air.
“They love dry sand,” Anne says. “Anything to do away with that nice brushing job.” We all laugh and watch Bravo throw himself on the ground to join the fun. After a couple of minutes of dusty frolicking, the two llamas are up on their feet.
Moose River Farm, a Haven for Animals in Old Forge
Anne moved to Moose River Farm with her husband Rod 14 years ago. Rod built the house and barn himself. Together they’ve given a home to many animals over the years including dogs, chickens, horses, goats, donkeys, iguanas, tortoises, pot-bellied pigs, and now llamas. Anne's books, Finding My Way to Moose River Farm, Living with Animals in the Adirondacks and They Teach Without Words, the Animals of Moose River Farm tell the stories of her adventures with all of these creatures and more.
But it wasn't until 2016 when Anne first heard of llama trekking through Dakota Ridge Farm in Ballston Spa. She bought Adonis and Bravo there in December 2017. [Update: Now in 2021, the llama herd has grown to eight.]
We continue on our trek on a smaller path lined closely on both sides with young pine trees. The llamas swerve out into the trees and brush their long hair through the branches.
“That’s another thing they like to do,” Anne tells us. “At Dakota Ridge Farm there was one place along the path with prickly tree branches that were covered with llama hair where they had been scratching themselves.”
The path grows steeper, but the sure-footed llamas step carefully down until we reach the river’s edge. A scene as tranquil as an Adirondack watercolor painting greets us at the bottom of the path. We stop to admire the sunlight sparkling on the water.
Llama Communication Sounds
On the way back to the farm, Adonis suddenly makes a cooing gargling sound in his throat. “They hum like that when they feel anticipation,” Anne tells us. “He’s anxious to get home to his hay.”
“They make another sound -- like the one you hear on the radio when there’s a test of the emergency alert system -- to sound an alarm. We’ve heard the llamas do it when they see a deer come into the yard or our potbellied pig gets too close to their pen.”
Back at the farm, we unlatch the lead ropes and let Adonis and Bravo loose in the horse paddock. They scamper, romp, roll, and pull up a few mouthfuls of grass to munch. They seem joyful to be off-duty after their hour-long hike.
Anne retired from teaching this year (2018) and looks forward to spending more time offering llama treks mostly year round. She says the llamas love cold weather. Winter treks offer scenic sights in the Adirondacks too. But spring, fall and most of July will also be available. In August, black flies will keep the llamas off the trails. I think most people would agree with them.
Anne can create a customized trek for any group. She has a shorter path that takes about an hour to walk, which is ideal for young children and older adults. She can also design a longer hike for people who want a more athletic experience. For long treks the llamas can wear saddle bags and carry water bottles and picnic lunches. Other animals like the two donkeys Frankie and Bing and the three frisky goats can also join the trek.
To set up a trek for your family or group, email Anne Phinney at email@example.com or send her a message through her Facebook page.
(This article first appeared in the July 2018 issue of ACCENT Monthly magazine, published by the Utica Observer-Dispatch.)