Originally published for Brighton Standard Blade in Brighton, CO.
Pythons, alpacas, and next week’s steak dinner, oh my!
Each of those creatures will be at the Adams County Fair next week, along with about 175 hogs, 160 goats, 140 sheep, about 20 cattle, about 15 other llamas and alpacas, and numerous rabbits and chickens, said Kenzie Kimmel, a 4-H agent of the Colorado State University Extension.
Children ages 8 to 19 years participate in livestock caretaker programs put on by the 4-H – about 300 in all in Adams County, according to the Adams County 4-H group, which is affiliated with Colorado State University Extension office.
Morgan Barba of Henderson shows llamas at the fair. The Prairie View High School sophomore also owns ducks, a goose, lambs, wool sheep, rabbits, guinea pigs, chickens, alpacas and a dog.
She has trained her llamas and alpacas to take on an obstacle course at this year’s fair – a little different type of performance than most animals go through at the fair.
Morgan must guide her llama, Mason, around 10 obstacles on a course. The obstacles include crossing a bridge, weaving around posts, and putting on a sombrero hat.
Like other caretakers, the county fair is a way for Morgan to show off how much she has trained and cared for the animals. Morgan has owned her five llamas and three alpacas for about three years. In addition to showing at the county fair, she performs at the National Western Stock Show and will be at the Alpaca Llama Show Association Nationals this year in Kansas.
A day in the life of llama training starts with approaching the animal and saying, “halter.” The llama knows the cue for Morgan to put a halter on, which is a casing that goes around the llama’s nose and face, allowing her to put a lead line on.
After checking its legs, back, teeth and ears, Morgan guides the llama to each obstacle. If her llama correctly completes the obstacle, she’ll give it an apple horse treat. If the llama does it incorrectly, she’ll redo it, “because you don’t want to train your animal to get away with that,” Morgan said.
In addition to training the llamas on obstacles, Morgan must groom and wash them. Because she has five llamas, that can take up to two full days.
After meeting the llamas for the first time, Morgan said she, “fell in love with them, they had great personalities.”
Just like Morgan, all students who join 4-H learn important life skills, Kimmel said. The program is a, “secret way of teaching them responsibility, patience, record keeping skills, leadership,” she said.