NO LONGER FENDING FOR THEMSELVES
Unlike his camels' vociferous squawk, Wilsonville farmer Justin Timm finds the occasional babble resonating from his gaggle of llamas to be therapeutic.
At the same time, he thinks the llamas might be going through a therapy of their own.
"Without a doubt, I feel like these guys know they're in a much better scenario than they were in, and you can almost feel their appreciation and relaxation compared to where they were at," Timm said.
Timm, who owns Frog Pond Farm on Advance Road in Wilsonville, recently bought a herd of nearly 100 neglected llamas in Oklahoma and drove them to Wilsonville. He plans to use some of the llamas to restart his breeding program and to resell others.
Timm said his family once had as many as 130 llamas and has been raising the animals since 1985.
"It's in our blood," he said. "We love owning them and working with them."
However, Timm sold his breeding herd a few years ago and was down to just a handful of llamas, and recently began growing Christmas trees. But he also wanted to restart the breeding program and happened upon an opportunity.
Timm said the previous owner of the llamas was once one of the top buyers in the country, but turned the llamas out to fend for themselves after the Great Recession in 2008.
"His interest level never returned, so these animals have essentially been range animals out there doing their own thing without human involvement for the most part," he said.
Timm said the llama herd once included 300 llamas but dwindled to 85 after a prolonged drought. The llamas also were confined and their resources were depleting.
"We have a number of animals here that are in their late teens, and it's a miracle they've lasted this long given the conditions they were in," he said.
While talking with the owner, Timm's interest was piqued when he learned that some of the llamas could be hot commodities. One of the animals with a rare bloodline, for instance, was originally purchased for over $30,000.
"He's an extremely valuable herd sire (the male llama used for breeding). He's never been bred before. His breeding and genetics will be heavily used in breeding with these females," Timm said.
So he agreed to purchase the entire lot of llamas.
"I inquired about breedstock. As our conversation evolved, he was at the point where he was ready to move the entire group of animals and be done with it. He wasn't interested in cherry picking. He wanted them all to go and go at once," Timm said.
He and a couple Oklahoman haulers completed the long drive to Oregon without stopping because long trips are unsettling to the llamas. Once they reached Wilsonville, Timm used body posturing and nurturing techniques to gain the llamas' trust and was in the process of shearing them and examining their health last week.
"Between the purchasing of the animals, the transportation of the animals and the medical care that it takes to get them in proper condition, (this) is a large financial undertaking," Timm said. "That's why we're offering the animals we aren't going to utilize here to recoup that expense."
He identified 20 llamas through the International Llama Registry and thought he could identify 15 more that previously had their bloodline documented.
However, Timm surmised that the majority of them would never be identified. Unable to be used for breeding, some of those llamas will be sold and used as guard animals, packers that carry baggage during long hiking treks or as pets. Timm also might sell some llamas with better physiques to local 4-H programs.
"They're (llamas) very protective of animals, so if an unknown dog or coyote comes into a pasture, they will attack them and chase them away," he said. "They can carry between 70-90 pounds, and you can have a string of them (that are) tied to the packs.You can have six to seven animals going into the mountains carrying all of their gear."
Timm said the Great Recession caused many farmers to stop breeding llamas and that there is currently a shortage of them in comparison to demand. In turn, he said he's been inundated with purchase requests.
"I've got people who are wanting to take some of these guard animals back as far as New Jersey, people in Texas, Nebraska," Timm said. "If we can't find them a suitable home, they will stay with us. Llamas can live into their early 20s comfortably with the proper care."
Meanwhile, the herd sire and the female llamas that will be introduced into the breeding program will spend the remainder of their days at the farm.
Instead of foraging for food like they once did, the llamas are fed Eastern Oregon orchard grass and a livestock grain and sit and rest for much of the day.
All in all, Timm hopes the llamas will have a better life than they would have had they remained in Oklahoma.
"We look at it as, we take care of these animals until they can take care of us and then we take care of them again," Timm said.