Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Our First Morning with Dilly

I have sooooo much to write about Dilly's first night and day, but no time this minute. Enjoy this video and check back for the story later.

Ok, I am back and settled in from another normal busy day, with time to write a little before I capture some well deserved sleep. To start this tale, I must confess that I love living in a community where people are willing to help one another. Even when they don't know you personally. Just because they can. So with that, I thank Seth and Brianna, KelLee, Jake and Sarah. And, this is why:

I wrote a few days ago about the male guard llama for sale in Waldoboro that we called on. What I failed to mention is that Sean and I own neither truck nor animal trailer - highly inconvenient for the venture ahead. Sean called our friends Seth and Bri to see about borrowing their truck. Like the true spiritual brother and sister they are, they kindly agreed.

Truck secured, we tackled the problem of the trailer. I called on my friend, KelLee. KelLee called on one of her friends, who had a trailer, but it was not in any condition to haul a 400 pound llama. Undeterred, she called another friend of hers. Within hours, she texted me with Jake and Sarah's names, phone number, and address. Seriously. Just like that. Trailer secured.

We put the address of Mr Farmer and Jake and Sarah into the GPS and we were off on our adventure. Our first stop was to pick up the trailer. As we pulled up, Jake and his young son were preparing to pump up the tires for the trailer, which was sitting ready in their yard. Then, they attached the license plates, gave us the registration, and assisted with hooking up the lights. Sarah and I met and talked about our different farms' production and goals. As we discussed Sean and I getting turkeys later in the summer, I offered to give them the 2 turkeys we would not be keeping as breeding stock. Sarah accepted and the guys finished up their preparations. Just like that, within 20 minutes, we were back on the road with an animal trailer supplied by people who had up until those moments, had no idea we even existed. Who does that? Small family farmers in Maine, willing to help other small family farmers. I am overwhelmed with the generosity we have once again been shown. How can I express how blessed we are by our friends and neighbors?

When we arrived at Mr. Farmers, he called Dilly to meet us. Dilly is friendly and inquisitive.  Immediately, he stuck his nose in my hair to give me a good smell. Dilly was a little wary of Sean, but warmed up to the bread Sean offered. He was definitely fondly attached to Mr. Farmer, nuzzling his neck and allowing him to put the new halter we brought on. We visited for several more minutes and then, Mr. Farmer opened the gate and began walking Dilly to our trailer. Concerned that I would be comfortable handling this large, shaggy beast, I asked if I could walk with him. Dilly allowed this change of handling all the way to the trailer, but when Sean and Mr. Farmer left to get some fresh hay, Dilly decided to follow along and I (mindful of my recently healed fractured left humerus) let go of the lead rope and watched Dilly trot off to be with his human.

Sean and Mr. Farmer loaded Dilly into the trailer. We exchanged email addresses, we made the agreed upon payment and I accepted a gift of the two day-old goslings carefully boxed to be ready for out trip home. The trip was uneventful, excepting the misguided GPS taking us on every dirt road it could find for our return trip, until we mutinied and used our human sense of direction to find a paved road. Not to be ignored, mother nature chimed in with a drenching thunder and lightening storm to pass directly over our home, just as we got there.

We waited the storm out inside and settled the goslings into the ducklings brooding cage until it passed. Then, Sean, Meg and I walked Dilly into the paddock to meet our goats and Jasmine. Both Dilly and the goats were unsure of this new arrangement, but no one looked inclined to start trouble, so we left them alone to get themselves sorted during the night. Jasmine ignored all the goings-ons.

White sweater + muddy goats= laundry!
In the morning, Sean and I decided to interact with Dilly to start getting acquainted with our new addition. Though Dilly seemed aloof at Mr. Farmers, he was not actively guarding a herd and therefore behaved vastly differently than he did in the conditions at our growing farm. You have to understand, Dilly is not a pet to be loved on or trusted. Dilly is a guard llama. His instincts are all telling him that he must defend his territory and his herd - even against us! Armed with grain, Sean and I broached the paddock for our first encounter. As you can see in the video above, Dilly was alert, but interested in us only slightly; the grain we had to offer him, more so. We watched for tell tale signs of Dilly's displeasure: ears pulled back, stomping and blowing, charging into our personal space and NEVER did we take our attention off him or turn our back on him. Then, Sean accidentally made a mistake.

Sean here.  As Sonja stated, Dilly seemed fine with us.  His ears were forward, he was calm, and seemed happy with being fed.  Until he and I ended up alone in the stall.  At which point, Dilly decided that I constituted a threat to his position as Alpha Llama, a position I was not even aware was in contestation.  Llamas really don't look formidable in repose.  When you are on the receiving end of an angry llama's attack, you suddenly realize that they are twice as big as you and have much stronger teeth and jaws.  Although he did not employ these (thankfully), he did try to force me down to the ground with his body and neck.  I tried to get out of the way but he cornered me and wouldn't let me pass.  My wife is terrified and unable to help while the llama screams and blows in my face in his attempt to throttle me into submission.  A llama scream is like the cross between a donkey baying and a horse neighing, only much louder and continual.  I eventually was able to push him off and maneuver my way over the stall wall to escape.  The whole attack lasted less than 30 seconds but seemed a lot longer.  Our ignorance to llama husbandry was to blame. While we will attempt to curb this kind of behavior in the future, the experience has certainly reminded us that no matter how calm and friendly an animal may seem, when taken out of its environment, it is nothing but unpredictable and dangerous and MUST MUST MUST be treated as such.

Sonja continues: What we underestimated and were unprepared for was the llama's natural instincts. Were a coyote or fox to breach our fencing to menace our livestock, and Dilly sprung into action to defend our does, we would praise him for his watchfulness. That is exactly what Dilly did to Sean. Dilly does not know us yet or accept us as part of his herd. Sean's going into the stall with him, in a confined space, with does and kids present, was a dangerous situation that we should have recognized and avoided. And, we added him to pasture with a herd of females, (which is a known trigger to male llamas- only, we didn't know that at the time), instead of acclimating him in his own pasture for a time, first. Additionally, Dilly is an unaltered male with his fighting teeth intact. The first part of which, must be remedied immediately. Castration alone will not change his protective nature and territorial dominance, which is desirable in a guard animal, but the absence of testosterone will affect it markedly. And, in time, we hope he will be more accepting of our presence.

For now, while we reconsider the wisdom and our ability to continue caring for an animal of this sort, he will be moved to Jedidiah's pasture. Jedi is a sweet boy, but he is also intact and horned. A fitting companion, we hope. So far, there has been no signs of hostility among them, but this will be watched for. It has only been the one day, so we cannot jump to any conclusions without further research and experience. As a precaution, our girls have been clearly warned to stay completely away from the llama fencing. Appropriate no trespassing and warning signs will be posted to warn others of the potential for danger. If he shows no signs of improvement with our working with him, then, Dilly will have to find a new home. That would break my heart, but we will not keep an aggressive animal on our farm. We'll keep you posted.

Good night, friends!
Sean and Sonja ♥

Shared with Backyard Farming Connection Hop #14


  1. Glad Sean is O.K. I know that was scary. Dilly is serious about his job!!

  2. Wow... I just want to say that I'm sorry for your frightening experience and (having no idea if you ended up keeping Dilly), want to say that a guard llama (well, any llama) absolutely should NOT ever act that way toward people.

    We have raised llamas for over 20 years and sold dozens of successful guardian llamas. Not a single one has ever behaved in a threatening fashion toward people.

    In addition to raising Boer goats, I also work with people and their llamas and alpacas as a Camelidynamics practitioner. I am in Massachusetts and would be more than happy to consult with you if you still have this boy, or are looking for another llama at any point.

    Take care and stay safe!

    1. Thanks, Sara. :)

      Dilly spent a week with us and then was returned to his former owner, Mr. Farmer. Dilly never calmed to us. Even with peace offerings of food treats, he would spit and become aggressive whenever Sean got too close to the fencing. He was better with me, but still very aggressive. It was best for him to return to where he was comfortable.

      In the future, we are interested in having another llama, but before we do, we will spend more time with them.

      I appreciated your comment. And, I will definitely keep your kind offer in mind.