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Girls learn alpaca care with 4-H

Six girls led alpacas and young llamas over short jumps before they used a weaving pattern to navigate small orange cones. Presleigh Ely’s alpaca stopped in front of one jump and refused to walk forward. Erica Kuhns, owner of Heavenly Grace Farms where the alpaca obstacle course run was being held, walked up and patted the reluctant alpaca’s rump, and with that little bit of coaxing the alpaca stepped forward and completed the jump.

The biggest challenge working with her alpaca is how stubborn it can be, Ely said.

The alpacas wore colorful halters with names like Moose, Dean, and Zelda carefully stitched onto them. The Heavenly Grace Farms 4-H Llama Alpaca Club formed in September, with 12 members ranging in age from eight to 15.

Each girl is paired with an individual animal. When the girls joined, only one of them had hands-on experience with llamas or alpacas.

The oldest member, Penny Cooper, works with a huge alpaca named Hercules. The biggest challenge with him is getting Hercules comfortable with being touched, Cooper said.

The first step for all of the girls was to get their animals desensitized to human contact and used to trusting people, said Kuhns.

Club members are learning all about alpaca and llama care, from grooming to medical needs, Kuhns said. The girls will compete with their animals in the Hancock County Fair next September. Along with running the alpacas through an obstacle course, the girls will dance with their animals for the free style division, Kuhns said.

Preparation for the fair will include building obstacles, making costumes, grooming and caring for their animals, learning a dance routine with the alpacas and training the camelids to run through the obstacle course.

“It’s really fun. I’ve never worked with llamas and alpacas before,” said Ophelia Cooper.

Half of the group members are homeschooled, said mom Laurie Ely, so the club gives them a chance to spend time with other girls their age.

The girls needed no experience to join, and no animal, because the llamas and alpacas are owned by Kuhns, who keeps them at her farm. The girls work with their animal at least once a week and pay a $45 monthly care fee.

Since the alpacas are herd animals, keeping a solitary animal causes them distress, said Kuhns. It is a challenge to find a veterinarian in the area to provide medical care for the animals, Kuhns said, so the club’s meetings are also open to other local alpaca and llama owners who want to learn more about caring for their animals.

The group’s goal is to teach the girls everything they need to know if they want to keep alpacas or llamas when they grow up, Kuhns said.

In April, a groomer will shear all of the alpacas and the club will have a shearing party, but the next obstacle for the club’s members will be acquiring microscopes so they can check their animals for parasites, Kuhns said.

To learn more about the club, visit the HGF 4-H Llama Alpaca Club Facebook page.