Every year the Antelope Valley, which includes the communities of Lancaster and Palmdale here in the High Desert of Southern California, not far from Edwards AFB where the Space Shuttle occasionally landed, has their “Antelope Valley Fair and Alfalfa Festival.”  Besides the normal carnival rides that one would expect at such an event, there are the various displays and farm animals to see. Besides being noted as the place that built the Space Shuttle and most of the military aircraft used in the United States arsenal, the Antelope Valley is also home to many farms raising a variety of animals.  There are also excellent vineyards and wineries. 

Now, given that we have farms around here, it would not surprise anyone to know that the fair had displays of the typical horses, cows, chickens and hogs.  What might surprise folk who aren’t from around here is that we have a lot of llamas.

And one of the things that my wife and I did Saturday afternoon was spend at least two hours watching a llama competition.

What’s that?  Good of you to ask.

Individuals would lead their llamas into an arena in a large covered barn of a size in which one could park perhaps a 747 or two.  There, they would lead their shaggy beasts through a set of obstacles: poles that they would go around, then wooden steps that went up and then down.  They had to get the llamas to walk sideways for a distance, and then backwards.  They had to run with the animal.  It was very much like the sort of thing you might see at a dog competition, except llamas are the size of ponies.

My wife and I watched and commented to one another about the compliance or lack thereof of the various contestant animals—and spent a lot of our time laughing, since llamas are beasts with attitudes and if they don’t want to participate or cooperate, well, they just won’t.  The only llama owners we felt sorry for who had recalcitrant animals were the children.

In between contestants I did a quick Google search on my phone to learn a bit about the animals.  Like dogs, they can be had for rather cheaply, anywhere from 50 to 300 dollars for good pet animals; but the fancier sorts can set you back up to 20,000 bucks.  Unlike dogs, however, you need a bit of property for them: about what you’d need if you had a horse.

They are related to camels, apparently originating in North America and then migrating into South America.  The North American varieties died out during the last ice age, while others of their kind migrated across the Bering Strait. Apparently the camels of the old world are thus descended from these North American ancestors.  Unlike the camels of the old world, however, llamas are very pleasant creatures and generally make excellent pets.  Of course, they are also quite a bit smaller and don’t take up nearly as much room.  They are used in South America commonly as pack animals, and their hair—especially the hair of their close relative, the alpaca, are used to make cloth that is very soft.

I wouldn’t mind having a llama—certainly my oldest daughter (the one graduating from college in the spring) would love one (every cute animal she sees she wants).  But my suburban back yard just isn’t quite big enough and the neighbors would most likely complain.