Did you ever catch a llama by the leg?
I did. Today.
I should have known this Sunday would be an interesting, and not altogether pleasant one. Usually Sundays start with a bit of Johnny Cash and some pancakes. The pancakes can be served on their own (straight-up with maple syrup), with fruit, or better yet, with bacon and eggs. And the JC? Well it can be older or newer depending on the day, or if I can’t make up my mind, I’ll sometimes just put on one of the many ‘Best of’s” that are around. I should have known that by setting out to move the sheep without either of those fundamental Sunday morning rituals, things were going to turn out bad.
And they did.
When we move the sheep we also have to move the llama, as her job is to be in the paddock with the sheep protecting them from whatever wild beasties that are around that might want a little sheep for dinner. Until last week we used to have to move the sheep, the llama, and the goat, Moby, but last week he fell off the train and was unceremoniously coerced, pushed, and pulled, back to his own pen, where he gets to spend the next few weeks. So without the goat to contend with we (stupidly) thought that today was going to go a little smoother; just twenty-four sheep, happy to get to fresh pasture, and one llama, happy to get, well anywhere other than where the sheep are. But, it appears our sheep guardian llama doesn’t particularly care for sheep, or anything else for that matter.
The strategy is to gather everyone up into a smallish pen using electrified netting, remove the semi-permanent fencing, and then set it all back up again in the new area of pasture before letting everyone back out again to munch their way through another area, thus allowing us a little control over what they eat, and them the freedom to graze the best stuff.
So, we had everyone in the pen, llama and all. They were hanging out, chewing stuff, drinking a little water, and generally having a good time; all except (yep, you guessed it, the first llama herself, Michelle O’llama). She had decided that the pen wasn’t quite big enough for her and all the scary sheep, so took it upon herself to jump the fence and run back to the safety of the orchard. Instead of getting myself all worried about a loose llama (which I’m prone to doing), I decided to continue with the sheep moving and then worry about Michelle. So, after a great deal of knot untangling and post readjusting, we had ourselves a new fence, suitable for (fingers crossed) holding the sheep for the next week or so. We let the sheep out into their nice new stand of starthistle, and went to have some well-needed breakfast, at about 1.30pm. On the way back to the trailer we checked on Michelle and ensured she was somewhere we could get to her easily and threw her some hay, to try and discourage further movement.
Well, when after a quick bite to eat, we got back to the spot where last we saw the llama, there was no llama. After a bit of a search, I spotted her in the furthest corner of the property, next to the road, looking for all the world like a kid playing hide-and-seek. We quickly made a plan; open a gate, shut in the horse, get some hay, drive her towards the open gate, close the gate. Easy, right? No.
Lex tried coercing her toward the open gate to the horse paddock with little luck. Michelle apparently has a sixth sense for knowing when it’s feeding time, and when it’s feeding time with extras. So we moved to phase two – push the llama (using low-stress animal handling techniques, of course) towards the open gate, and to safety. Well, that didn’t work either. I don’t know how many of you have ever herded a llama, but they don’t herd quite the same as say a flock of sheep, a herd of cattle, or even a gaggle of kittens, they do their OWN thing. They are quite adapt at going in the way you want them to until the very last-minute, at which time, they’ll do a 90, or 180 degree turn and sprint in the opposite direction. Michelle did exactly that. We had her pushed all the way to the corner of the fence. All we had to do was make sure she walked along the fence line until she found the open gate, at which point she would find herself suddenly free from harassment and with all the space and alfalfa she could possibly want. She chose to go and try to find her own alfalfa, the kind that is still in a field; our f@*#+^g neighbor’s field!
Lex had pushed her all the way to the corner, at which point she did her best David ‘Campo’ Campese impersonation and goose-stepped past me, did a complete 180, and raced back past Alexis leaving us standing in the field looking like the English back line after just being blitzed by a barn-storming Jonah Lomu (Google it).
It was at that point that the Cavalry arrived; our friend Quinn, who’s currently camping in the orchard, and his buddy Chris, fresh off the mountain after a weekend climbing in the Sierra Nevada, turned up thinking they were going to go floating down Cache Creek and have a nice leisurely Sunday afternoon bbq only to find they were going to get a crash-course in llama wrangling.
While I was getting those guys up to speed on the strategy – get da bloody llama in da bloody pen – Michelle had skipped another fence and was making her way through the neighbor’s alfalfa field with Lex in hot pursuit. The problem with this new scenario was threefold; we have never met the neighbors, there are strict laws and attitudes towards trespassing in this county, and the neighbor’s alfalfa field has little fencing between the llama and either the busy Hwy 16 or 30’000 acres of wilderness – somehow we now had to catch the llama before she either got hit by a truckload of drunk creek floaters (not a pretty sight), or disappeared forever into the Cache Creek Wilderness.
I drove up to the neighbor’s yard to let them know that it was us who were running around all over their property and if they had somewhere that we could herd (a’hem) our llama into so we could load her into the trailer. They opened up a pen for us and told us which gates to open or close and then (I suspect) went back inside to watch the show unfolding in their very own front yard. After several shouted directions we eventually got the llama moving in the right direction. Moving slowly, at walking pace, towards the holding pen. That is until she decided that the way she actually wanted to go was the completely opposite direction. So it was the old goose-step, a shimmy-shammy, and all four of us were left either laying face-down in a waterlogged alfalfa field, or scratching our heads and picking out llama-induced wedges.
We then went to plan C, or is it D? Anyllama, we now had a very hot, nervous, and frustrated llama and three hot, anxious and frustrated people all heading back towards a busy Hwy 16. Quinn and I took off in the truck to head her off and Chris and Lex brought up the rear. We soon had her surrounded, again.
It was at this point that Michelle started making a brand new noise. It was a kind of screaming bark; Imagine a barn-owl and a jack Russell, high-pitched and weird.
Having now got her surrounded; Quinn and I blocking her escape and impending doom on the Highway, Chris stopping her from going back to the neighbor’s yard and further embarrassment (for all concerned), and Lex getting some capture device rigged up, we had to make our move. She broke left, towards Quinn. Quinn threw himself at her head and wrapped his arms around her long (yet short for a llama) neck and I dove at her back legs and managed to hold on long enough for her to collapse onto her front legs under the (not altogether insignificant) weight of Quinn. Holding onto a llama by its back legs while it proceeds to relieve itself all over you is not the most pleasant way to spend a Sunday afternoon but I was also somewhat relieved to have her under some measure of control. Chris and Lex soon got her down on her side, I tied her back legs together, and all suddenly became calm. We had her.
That is except for the ant’s nest we had unknowingly landed in. All five of lying there, getting slowly eaten alive by about a million bitey little ants. We soon had her moved and heaved into the back of the ZZ truck. Driving the 100 feet down the road to our gate I half expected to get a ticket for driving down the road with three people and a llama riding unsecured in the bed of the truck. We didn’t and are now able to sit and write this less that three hours after the event while Michelle sleeps off what will surely be a three-day hangover in a secure stall in the barn.
If only we had gotten a guardian donkey!