LONGMONT — They’re intelligent, they can ride in the back of your minivan, and you really have to make them mad before they’ll spit on you.
And they were enough to inspire Carolann and Kim Evans to turn their backs on their former careers and take up life on the ranch.
“When I met her, she said she always wanted to have a bed and breakfast and she always wanted to have llamas,” said Kim Evans, a former mechanic for United Airlines.
The 13-year married couple did have two bed and breakfasts in the area but were forced to sell them after Sept. 11, 2001 accelerated an already significant economic downturn.
But they still have the llamas.
The owners of Lladyhawk Llamas — northwest of Longmont — now have about 30 llamas, including the ones they board for other people.
“When we started, we bought two llamas as pets,” said Carolann, a former Federal Express driver. “By the time we left, we had 17 — on two acres.”
The couple now live on 37 acres, allowing plenty of room for the animals and for raising a crop of hay to feed them.
Boarding is one of the ways the couple earns a living; they also offer services such as grooming and shearing and something called “show service” — for which they charge $230 a day.
Breeding is another avenue for income. A brochure advertising the services of Riley Legacy de Amigo speaks of the national champion’s “impressive size, solid bone, and charming disposition.
“Book your ladies now!” the brochure says.
On the side, the Evans’ operate a tack business — Llama Stuff — where they sell all sorts of llama accessories. They take a trailer full of merchandise with them to llama shows all over the country.
Kim, an avid hunter, also operates a taxidermy business.
“It’s hard to make money off of llamas until you’ve got a really, really high-quality stud business,” said Kim.
Still, there is money to be made for those dedicated enough. The Evans’ recently sold two llamas, one for $1,000 and one for $800.
“A thousand dollars is a good llama; a show llama can go $10,000 and up,” Carolann said.
The couple have been in the llama business for about nine years, and they say the first six years they sold only two. In the past year, Kim said, they’ve sold about 10 — most in the $500 to $1,000 range.
The $10,000 llamas are few and far between, but they are out there. The show-biz side of llamas is an industry all to itself.
For those llamas that aren’t pretty enough to be show llamas, there’s always packing or acting as four-legged security guards against coyotes.
“We’ve sold quite a few as guards,” said Carolann. “We’ve just sold two that are guarding turkey and sheep, of all things.”
Llamas are curious and easily alarmed.
A llama’s talents will determine what kind of price it can bring.
“When I got into llamas in 1978, every male llama was $500 and every female llama was $2,000, and gradually things went up from there,” said Bobra Goldsmith, the owner of Rocky Mountain Llamas, near Haystack Mountain.
Goldsmith was a “horse-crazy kid” when she was first introduced to llamas on her father’s ranch in northern California in 1978.
“I was very impressed, and I had all these questions — what do you feed a llama, what do they like, what don’t they like,” Goldsmith said. “In two months, I had 11 llamas.”
Today, if you have questions, Goldsmith is the one to ask. She has about 95 llamas on her ranch, including ones she boards.
“Every summer, the Denver Museum of Science and Natural History brings a tour out here and they get a two-hour lecture from me about the history of llamas,” said the retired University of Colorado professor. “I guess I’ve always been a teacher of something all my life — and I just love these animals and really want to share all this information.”
Goldsmith publishes a catalog offering llama-related items, and she offers shearing services and training classes, in addition to hosting tours regularly.
She also donates some of her animals for use by the U.S. Forest Service, which employs them to haul supplies to crews working on trails. The 73-year-old often leads the llamas into the mountains herself.
“Packing is in llama’s genes,” Goldsmith said. “The whole Inca civilization was built on the backs of llamas.”
Unlike a horse, llamas have soft leather pads on their feet. Studies have shown that they make no more of an impact on a trail than a human footprint, making them environmentally ideal for mountain use.
“Also, llamas are browsers, not grazers,” said Goldsmith.
Another advantage a llama has over a horse? You don’t have to buy a trailer to transport a llama.
Llamas can be trained in a matter of just a few repetitions, Goldsmith said.
She said the popularity of llamas has waned somewhat in recent years. Alpacas, a cousin of the llama, are the “hot new thing,” she said.
“I’ve heard female alpacas can go from anywhere from $4,000 up to $20,000,” said Goldsmith, who boards some alpacas on her ranch but doesn’t own any.
She explained that the animals — those animals are raised strictly for their wool — produce 7 to 10 pounds of wool when they’re sheared once a year.
“But it will sell for something like $2.75 an ounce, if I remember correctly,” said Goldsmith.
But Goldsmith’s affections clearly lean toward llamas — even if they do spit.
“Spitting is the ultimate put-down against llamas, and they don’t like to spit,” she said. Llamas are competitive, Goldsmith explained, and the dominant males will often use spitting as a way to intimidate an opponent. First will come a “warning spit,” Goldsmith said. “What they happen to have in their mouths.
“If they get really teed off, they bring their cud up. And it smells bad.”
As Kim Evans puts it, llamas spit “like dogs bite.”
In other words, not frequently, but it can happen.
Evans and his wife seem to have found their true calling — even if a life of llamas is not for everybody.
“We work from sunup to sundown every day, so it’s definitely a lifestyle choice,” said Kim. “My three kids come out and say, ‘We don’t want to do that.’”
Added Carolann: “They think we’re out of our minds.”
Tony Kindelspire can be reached at 303-776-2244, Ext. 291, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.