the hunt for the real lla­mas of nz

This llama farmer is so ded­i­cated to her quest to find and save the real lla­mas of New Zealand, she is mak­ing a life-chang­ing move to a new home on a new is­land.

NZ Lifestyle Block - - Contents - WORDS NADENE HALL IMAGES JUDY WEBBY

This llama farmer is so ded­i­cated to her quest to save rare camelids, she is mov­ing house and is­lands.

Judy Webby loves her lla­mas so much, she’s mov­ing is­lands. She jokes her fam­ily has pon­dered stag­ing an in­ter­ven­tion.

“It is very hard to ex­plain and ba­si­cally you can’t be­cause it’s a pas­sion. I think pas­sion and ad­dic­tion start to get merged to­gether quite eas­ily.”

The sale of Judy’s sub­ur­ban home in Manakau will get her a life­style block in North Can­ter­bury.

“It is a big step, to say ‘no, this is not good for my lla­mas, I don’t have enough room, I’m wor­ried about fa­cial eczema, we’re all go­ing to go and do some­thing else.’”

Her love for lla­mas began in the 1980s when the pro­fes­sional pho­tog­ra­pher was asked to work on a brochure which in­cluded al­pacas and lla­mas.

“I was just so im­pressed with these mag­nif­i­cent crea­tures, but at that stage there weren't many of them and they weren't af­ford­able.”

It was al­most 20 years be­fore Judy could take con­sider camelids. Even then, she did ex­ten­sive re­search and kept an open mind on what was the right species for her.

“I had to have the right land and the fa­cil­i­ties. I think I joined the Llama As­so­ci­a­tion about 2005 and I gath­ered in­for­ma­tion and thought about it.

"When I fi­nally de­cided I was in a po­si­tion to buy some camelids, by that stage I'd got a bit con­fused by lla­mas and al­pacas. I went down and vis­ited a farmer who ac­tu­ally had both for sale. Of course, I took a whole lot of pho­tos. I came home and 70% of my pho­tos were of lla­mas and only 30% of al­pacas. That was telling me some­thing.”

Her first lla­mas were three geld­ings that were be­ing re­homed by a zoo.

“I got the three boys and we looked at each other in a fair amount of be­muse­ment for quite a while. Then I thought ‘ok, I'm start­ing to get the hang of these things, I am go­ing to be able to live with lla­mas'.

“It's their per­son­al­ity. (Lla­mas and al­pacas) are both camelids and there's a de­gree of sim­i­lar­ity. It's just to me the llama seems to have a more for­giv­ing na­ture. I used to put my big boy in my van and he would sit down and we would go to the beach and we'd go for a walk, he'd get back in and we'd go home. They're just eas­ier to han­dle I think.”

Un­til this month, Judy has been run­ning her small herd of lla­mas on leased land around the cor­ner from her home. It's a long, nar­row strip that bor­ders the main trunk rail­way line. But by the time May is over, Judy and her troupe will have moved to a new block in North Can­ter­bury to 6.5ha (16 acres). The move means she won't have the same health is­sues with par­a­sites as she does on the small area she cur­rently farms, and no is­sues with fa­cial eczema, which lla­mas (and other camelids) are par­tic­u­larly prone to. She'll also be nearer to her friend, long-time ex­pe­ri­enced llama and gua­naco breeder Keith Payne, who shares her pas­sion and quest to find pure­bred lla­mas.

The two llama farm­ers are fo­cus­ing on a breed­ing pro­gramme to cre­ate lines of pure­bred work­ing stock (known as Ccara llama). For Judy, it was clear dur­ing her re­search phase that there were some odd­look­ing lla­mas around and they didn't look like what you'd find on a moun­tain in Peru.

“In New Zealand, llama are clas­si­fied as a rare breed, there are only about 1500 of them. As I started to gather my stock, I would go to the Can­ter­bury Show and I'd look at these an­i­mals and they were all so dif­fer­ent. Some looked like al­paca, some looked like the lla­mas I'd seen in books. I found that over time, even back in an­cient times, there has been a cer­tain amount of

Some looked like al­paca, some looked like the lla­mas I'd seen in books.

cross breed­ing done, ei­ther ac­ci­den­tally or in­ten­tion­ally, to put more fleece on lla­mas or to put more meat on al­pacas. So you end up in most cases with the worst of both sides.”

She met Keith on these trav­els, and they de­cided to find out just how much true llama there is in the na­tional herd. If their small pool of find­ings so far is any­thing to go by, it’s not much.

Lla­mas were first do­mes­ti­cated from wild gua­naco about 5000 years ago. They were care­fully, se­lec­tively bred by hu­mans to be ex­tremely well-tem­pered pack an­i­mals that you could rely on when tee­ter­ing around the moun­tain­sides of South Amer­ica mov­ing food and sup­plies.

An adult llama is nat­u­rally tall (130cm to the shoul­der, up to 180cm to the top of the head) and weighs from 130-200kg. Al­paca were do­mes­ti­cated from the wild vi­cuna for their meat and fine, soft fi­bre. They’re smaller, stand­ing around 80-90cm at the shoul­der, weigh­ing just 70-80kg, and have a very dif­fer­ent body shape to the trained eye. Judy has a spiel on the dif­fer­ences that she can now rat­tle off by heart.

“Al­pacas have the pointy ears and lla­mas have the ba­nana ears. Al­paca have a rounded back, lla­mas have a straight back. But where you get the hint on your hy­bridi­s­a­tion is on your hind legs, be­cause the llama still has the hindquar­ters that can drive it up a hill, whereas the al­paca just am­bles around a pad­dock and hasn’t had to re­tain that same strength of body.”

DNA test­ing has meant they now have a bet­ter idea of just how much llama is in their lla­mas.

It’s a very ex­pen­sive process. They’ve had to care­fully pick and choose which an­i­mals to test, first by look­ing at an an­i­mal and mak­ing a con­sid­ered judge­ment on whether its con­for­ma­tion is cor­rect for the llama, es­pe­cially in its hindquar­ters and fleece cov­er­age.

“You say to your­self, yes, this looks like a llama, I’m sure it’s a llama, I’m go­ing to spend $1000 to find out if it’s a llama,” says Judy. “Of the ones that were tested, only 25% of them were pure llama. We’ve got 10 that are ver­i­fied by DNA and there’s another eight that we are wait­ing for re­sults on.”

The DNA test is limited in what it can do and oddly, it doesn’t test for llama DNA. A blood sam­ple is taken by a vet, then pro­cessed in NZ so it can be safely and legally ex­ported to an in­ter­na­tional lab for genome test­ing. The llama and its wild coun­ter­part, the gua­naco, have the same DNA, while the al­paca was bred from the vi­cuna. The lab tests for vi­cuna DNA. A pos­i­tive re­sult means even if it looks like a llama and climbs a moun­tain like a llama, if it tests pos­i­tive for vi­cuna DNA, it’s not a pure­bred llama.

“The hunt is al­ways there and we have a stand­ing invitation, if any­one thinks they’ve got a pure­bred llama, they can send pho­tos, if they’re pre­pared to spend the money on DNA test­ing all the bet­ter. But def­i­nitely by look­ing at the ba­sic images you’ll know whether an an­i­mal is worth test­ing or not.”

It’s im­por­tant for the breed that they keep their fun­da­men­tal at­tributes.

“What we’re do­ing at the mo­ment is we have Dna-ver­i­fied males and we are pick­ing the best-look­ing fe­males, the ones that in­di­cate that they’re pretty close, and putting the pure­bred males over them. You have to have the ver­i­fied ones to start

with and that’s what been missing.”

Her goal is to breed good lla­mas and in 2016 her first prog­eny won best all-round llama at the Can­ter­bury Show. How­ever, it was Monte that first in­spired Judy to breed for bet­ter an­i­mals.

“I no­ticed he was hav­ing trouble with cer­tain ob­sta­cles such as walk­ing down hills. That was what started me on the search for in­for­ma­tion about what makes a llama con­for­ma­tion­ally cor­rect. An­i­mals that suc­ceed in shows can some­times be fash­ion­able so I went back to the ba­sics of the gua­naco.”

Keith, Judy and other llama en­thu­si­asts have a plan and it’s am­bi­tious in its scope. They want to show peo­ple why lla­mas are a great an­i­mal to con­sider, then sell them the off­spring of their pure­bred an­i­mals. They’ll take care of the messy part – the han­dling of males at breed­ing time, the preg­nancy and birth, and raise the cria (baby) up un­til wean­ing – al­low­ing new own­ers to start with a weaned an­i­mal of pure blood­lines.

“We don’t want to wait un­til they’re worth $20,000. What we want to do is get other peo­ple, younger peo­ple en­thused, make these other an­i­mals avail­able to them, and help them as much as we pos­si­bly can to in­crease their own herds. It’s a se­cu­rity (for the breed) as much as any­thing else.” ➤

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Ricardo De Llanos (Rici to his friends) is one of only 10 ver­i­fied pure­bred lla­mas in NZ. To Judy's de­light, he took out Cham­pion Sire at the 2016 Can­ter­bury Show.

Judy and Monte. ABOVE: Mon­tezuma or Monte is Judy’s PR llama and he’s trained to Pack Level 2.

“There are three lev­els of pack train­ing recog­nised in Aus­trala­sia – we didn’t do three be­cause that in­volves overnight and a lot more walk­ing than I wanted to do.”

Monte is such a quiet, po­lite, well-trained an­i­mal, he goes into rest homes.

“They’re good around chil­dren, you can put a pack on them and they will carry your pic­nic and your wine or your deck chair wher­ever you want to go, then you can put them on a long lead and they’ll wait around un­til you are ready to go home.

“A niche we think would be won­der­ful and that we’re work­ing on is train­ing lla­mas to pull a cart, I think that would be very ap­peal­ing to peo­ple. I haven’t got one trained yet, but oth­ers are work­ing on it.”

Who: Judy Webby What: Cham­p­enoise Lla­mas Where (un­til May): Manakau (1.8ha), an hour north of Welling­ton Where: (from late May): Blythe Val­ley (6.5ha), 100km north of Christchurch Web: www.face­book.com/ cham­p­enoisel­la­mas

An­gelique, a new and po­ten­tially exciting find for the llama hunters. ABOVE: An­gelique is a po­ten­tial star and a rare find in the world of the NZ llama. Judy works on res­cue op­er­a­tions for the NZ Llama As­so­ci­a­tion and was called to help with a group of lla­mas found on a Wairarapa farm.

“She looked pretty amaz­ing and she sheds – this is an in­di­ca­tion of the pure­bred, that fact that their coat will shed – so I’ve blood tested her. We haven’t got those DNA re­sults back yet, it’s exciting.”

Monte has a level 2 pack cer­ti­fi­ca­tion.

One of Judy's fe­male llama.

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