If you Got 'Um .... Pack 'Um
by Kurt Pihera of Love Lady Llamas in Ball Ground, GA
It's a three mile trail, downhill for the most part, with a nice grassy meadow along a river at the end. A small group of hikers has gathered at the trail head to start the overnight trip. Along with the hikers and walking sticks are three young llamas being trained for packing. The llamas are carrying packs but are not old enough to carry full loads. The weight that they will carry will be weight out of my pack and that's a good thing.
On the top of my pack I have a large hay bag stuffed with some really nice Coastal Bermuda hay as a treat for the llamas later. "Why don't you let the llama carry his own hay?" "Oh...he's in training and I don't want to put too much on him too soon; besides, it's not heavy."
It's not a tough trail but some warm temperatures make for some damp brows. At the campsite in the meadow everyone takes off their packs and settles down on a comfy log or nice grassy spot. Off come the llama packs and in go the tie-downs. "What's this? The llama brought down coolers with ice and cold drinks! Now we know why I carried the hay bag!"
Those llamas are now older and able to carry full loads. An adult can carry up to 25 percent of his body weight ten to twelve miles at a time. On a five-day trip we now take three llamas, more to share the load, and have had about 70 pounds on our largest llama. We try to take more llamas rather than putting too much on any one animal.
We start packing our llamas at about one and a half to two years of age with small loads and short trips. When we started we did not have any experienced llamas to show the youngsters the ropes so we went at it ourselves. We learned by trail and error and by talking to anyone we could find about packing with llamas. You will find that people with llamas are more than willing to talk with you and help in any way they can.
The first lesson in packing with llamas is to get the llama used to the tie down line and being tethered. If your llama does not learn how to maneuver on a tie down line they will have to sleep in the tent with you. We use the screw type pin they sell at pet stores for dogs. We put a rubber bungee strap on the top with a clasp for the lead line. Stake them in a flat open area with 8 to 10 feet of lead line. Stay with them to make sure they don't get tangled and hurt themselves. You will be amazed at how quickly they learn how to get untangled and back to browsing. In fact, the more they are tied out, the less often they get a foot or neck tangled in the lead line. The first llama we tied out backed away from the tie down, got to the end of the line with his neck out-stretched and just stood there with slight side to side movements of his head to see what was going on around him. He finally settled down and got used to it.
Now that your llamas are staked out, calm and having no problem with the tie out line, it's time to hit the trail. The type of pack you use depends on the type of camping or function you're planning. We start our llamas out with a soft, woven two-pocket pack. The pack drapes over the back of the llama with no cinches. They are great for training, day hikes and parades.
Your back country, heavy duty packs consists of two parts, the saddle and the panniers. The saddle comes in two different types, the soft, flexible saddle or the rigid saw-buck type saddle with horns and a separate pad. The panniers are the bags or packs that attach to the saddle and hold your gear. The panniers range in size and style from smaller day trip to jumbo, or even hard-sided coolers.
There are several different manufacturers of these pack systems that make interchangeable parts that will fit whatever type saddle or panniers you get. Before you choose a system, you should get some hands-on time with the different types of packs and saddles. We have both the saw-buck and soft saddle systems. We got them for different purposes so we like both. The soft saddles tend to be easier to put on and fit better on the "hard to fit" llama. The saw-buck saddles have the advantage of versatility in hanging things from the horns on the saddle.
The best advice is to go out and take a trek, either with a commercial packing outfit or with anyone who has llamas and packs with them. Talk to as many people as you can, llama folks love to talk llamas. The main comment people make after trekking with llamas is how they really experience watching the llamas on the trail. "They look like they really enjoy being out there." They should, they have been doing it for 2,000 years.
A few helpful hints we have picked up along the way: freeze bottled water to use in your cooler and when it thaws, you can have water to drink. Freeze what few items you can and use them to keep things cool in the coolers. If you have to make pasta or rice for a meal, put it in a water bottle with some water while you hike and it will cut down the cooking time later. As a general rule of safety and etiquette, when hiking and you come across horses, the llamas get off the trail and let the horses go by. And finally the best thing for your llama is to get him, or her, out in the woods and go for a hike. Long or short you both will benefit. So remember what we always say, "If you got 'um ... pack 'um..."
We welcome visitors by appointment , call or write
Jack and Tracy Pearson:
Pearson Pond Ranch & Llama Co.
242 Llama Lane (Charles Lane), #6017
Ellijay, GA 30540
Phone: (706) 276-3658
Fax: (706) 276-3680