After 1 sniff, Salisbury couple smitten by llamas

August 24, 1993|By Susan Canfora | Susan Canfora,The Daily Times

SALISBURY -- It was purely coincidence that Chuck Gross and Joanne Crain discovered llamas.

They visited northern Maryland this year and were driving home when they spotted a herd of the animals. They got out of the car and approached, and the llamas, appearing interested, sniffed at them.

And with that friendly gesture, they were smitten.

"We stopped just to look and ended up talking to the man who raises them for three hours," Mr. Gross said. "On the way home we thought, 'That's the thing we should get into.'"

Mr. Gross and his girlfriend bought their first llama, two-year-old Whoopie, around Mother's Day, and have since purchased three more -- Julio, 3, Col. Baha, 7, and Senor Don Quixote, 6 months.

"I like animals and I always wanted an ostrich, but they're very aggressive," Mr. Gross said. "Llamas aren't mean at all."

"They're nice pets," Ms. Crain said as she nuzzled baby Don Quixote's neck. "They don't smell. They don't kick. They're very lovable. They all go to the bathroom in the same place and there is no smell. There are no flies buzzing around their dung piles."

Llamas don't bite and they wouldn't do much damage anyhow, since they don't have top teeth. They only spit if they feel threatened or it they're teased, Ms. Crain said. "They're very smart," she added.

So evolved are they that their babies are consistently born between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. They don't have long tongues and, in their native South America and the Andes, they depended on the midday sun to dry their babies' fresh coats, said Ms. Crain, who has learned about them by reading magazines and other available information.

Natives of South America, llamas were first brought to the United States in the early 1900s, Ms. Crain said. They're members of the camel family and are accustomed to ice, snow, and rain. Rain water runs right off their fur, In very hot temperatures, they have to be hosed down to cool them off, Mr. Gross said.

The couple plans to breed the llamas. Whoopie has been bred, but it isn't yet certain if she conceived. Mother llamas carry their babies 11 1/2 months and don't look pregnant, because of the way they carry the young. They can breed any time of year.

A baby llama costs between $1,000 and $1,500 and the price for an adult female starts at $8,000 and can go up to $40,000.

Adults weigh about 450 pounds and are about seven feet tall.

The animals can carry up to 100 pounds and can be shorn for their heavy fur, often used to make expensive coats. When their thick fur is brushed it yields five or six pounds of hair every year, which is sold for about $22 an ounce, Ms. Crain said.

"They are used as pack animals because of their sure footedness," Mr. Gross said. They're also used by sheep farmers to guard against predators, such as coyotes. They're less expensive to keep than sheep dogs because they eat the same food as the sheep.

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