Lease lets 4-H members take care of exotic breed 4-H: A Finksburg couple give children a chance to train llamas by letting them lease the animals for $1 a year.

November 15, 1998|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,SUN STAFF

Sarah Ballew's 4-H project is called Cookie Dough, but she isn't baking it.

Cookie Dough is a llama.

Sarah, 10, of Finksburg is training him to walk through an obstacle course, jump low barricades and tolerate a little whimsy, such as being dressed in a hat and costume for the entertainment part of the "Llama-rama," the first statewide 4-H llama show Saturday.

The show will bring young llama trainers such as Sarah from Carroll, Anne Arundel, Montgomery and Kent counties to the Carroll County Agricultural Center from 11: 30 a.m. to 3 p.m. The show is open to the public.

Sarah will dress Cookie Dough in a skiing costume, but first she had to get him to relax, little by little, about having his legs and head touched. Because llamas are grazing animals, their head and legs are linked to feeding and are very sensitive.

"We have to get him used to touching," Sarah said.

"Llamas and kids kind of go together," said Jerry Brubach, a business consultant and accountant who "leases" his llamas to 4-H youngsters for a nominal $1 a year.

"They [llamas] are very intelligent, they relate well to younger people, they learn fast, and it's kind of fun because they all have unique personalities," he said.

He and his wife, Judy, and their two children raise 25 llamas at their small Briar Patch Farm in Finksburg.

Someday, he'd like to see more than llama trainers from four counties come to the show.

While most 4-H animal projects involve farm animals such as steers, hogs and fowl, Carroll's "lease-a-llama" program gives children a chance to raise exotic breeds. A llama would cost about $5,000 to buy.

Sarah and five other Carroll youngsters agreed to visit their llamas every Saturday morning, plus help around the farm by cleaning the llama barn, building a gate, feeding and deworming. And they help to shear the llamas, whose soft, silky wool is sold to spinners in the region who turn it into sweaters and other items.

"They don't think of it as work," said Vicki Mahr, whose daughter, Anna, 8, is training a llama called Monty, short for Monterey Jack.

"I was kind of nervous at first, but I knew if I was really patient with him and didn't force him to do anything, it could be really good," Anna said. "If you're patient with them, they'll really cooperate with you."

4-H Club member Nicky Wetzleberger, 12, raises horses at home, but said llamas are smarter.

"They're more skittish, and they're small and compact," Nicky said. "They're definitely smarter. You show them one thing and they get it down."

Vicki Mahr heard about the program when her younger daughter was in ballet class with the Brubachs' daughter, Hannah, 5, who, with her brother Brian, 13, gets to name most of the llamas.

"Anna really wanted a pet," Mahr said. "That's a little beyond my style right now. Judy [Brubach] told me about this program. I get my daughter her pet fix, and someone else owns the animal and feeds and takes care of it."

Mahr and Debbie Ballew, Sarah's mother, said the 4-H program has given their daughters important skills.

"Anna, at 8 years old, had to get up in front of 100 people and show her llama," Mahr said.

Ballew said Sarah has grown more sure of herself since she started training Cookie Dough two years ago.

"At first, Sarah didn't want to do it. She was afraid of the llamas because they're so big," Ballew said. "Now she's an old hand at it.

"I think it's given her a lot of confidence," Ballew said. "She's a quiet child. And it's taught her some responsibility to take care of someone else."

Pub Date: 11/15/98

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