MARSHALL - The Sinclair family of rural Wood Lake never dreamed of adding to their llama herd this summer but felt compelled to answer the call from a Wisconsin family who had suffered a tragedy a few months back. Now, with the addition of the seven rescued llamas, more kids in Lyon County will have the opportunity to learn about and show llamas, helping turn a tragic situation into something meaningful.
Upon returning home from a llama workshop in Benton County in June, John and Mary Beth Sinclair spotted an unusual e-mail.
"The e-mail came from a farm that raises llamas and they were looking for somebody to help a family out," John Sinclair said. "So I sent them an e-mail back, saying that we had some pasture land and could help them out with a couple of them."
Photo by Jenny Kirk
Lyon County 4-Her Molly Sinclair, center, provided some guidance to younger participants before the start of the 2012 Llama Show on Tuesday at the Lyon County Fairgrounds in Marshall.
After some conversations back and forth via Internet, the Sinclairs learned the family had suffered a tremendous blow in September, when the wife was accidently kicked in the head by one of her horses, leaving the husband to raise their children, ages 4, 8 and 12, and assist with their 20-year-old daughter's wedding this month.
"The mom reached down to get something off of a horse's hoof and it kicked her," Mary Beth Sinclair said. The incident left her in a near vegetative state. "They had llamas, goats, sheep and horses and the father just decided that he couldn't handle both the kids and the animals. It was just too traumatic for him."
The Sinclairs, who are both members of the Llamas of Minnesota Association, agreed to help out by adding a few of the llamas to their herd. It seemed a perfect fit, they said, since they had been leasing their own llamas to 4-H children to show at the Lyon County Fair for the last three years.
When they learned that the family wanted them to take six or seven of the llamas, the Sinclairs were caught a little bit off-guard.
"We've spent up to $100-$150 on llamas, but these were high-quality llamas," John Sinclair said. "We told them we couldn't go buy six or seven llamas at one time, but that we'd help them out by pasturing them for awhile."
The Wisconsin family had other ideas, though. And after the father explained that he wanted all of the animals on the farm gone within a week - and that he didn't want any money for them - the Sinclairs couldn't say no.
"It was just one of those incidences where you start out trying to help somebody, but it ended up being a shocker," John Sinclair said. "He doesn't hate the horses or other animals or anything. He believes it's just a bad thing that happened."
So the Sinclairs met the father in Norwood-Young America to rescue five female llamas and two yearling males.
"The father wanted the llamas to go to somebody who would use them for kids," Mary Beth Sinclair said. "He wants them to be used by kids because his daughter showed them. It was his wife's thing, too. He didn't really know much about them."
After arriving home safely and unloading the llamas, the Sinclairs realized two things: that all of the female llamas were pregnant and that all of the animals were well-handled.
"They're very well-trained," Mary Beth Sinclair said. "We haltered them to change pens and when we led them, they were just perfect."
Within the week of arriving at the Sinclair farm, the first llama baby, called a cria, was born. Baby "Brock" even got to make his presence at the fair this week, though baby "Boomer," who was born on the Fourth of July, was too young to bring this year.
"We've had two babies so far and three more to go," Mary Beth Sinclair said. "(Our youngest daughter) Molly really likes the babies. We all do. There's just nothing sweeter than a baby llama."
Molly Sinclair, who will be a sophomore at Southwest Minnesota State University this fall, is active in 4-H, following in her older sisters' - Nicole and Heidi - footsteps. And Molly Sinclair made the most out of her final year of participation, earning grand champion honors in both the llama obstacle course and llama showmanship categories Tuesday evening at the Lyon County Fair in Marshall.
"We try to pair kids up so they can work with the llama all summer," Mary Beth Sinclair said. "We try to have one llama for every kid, even though each llama can be shown by two kids. We lease them to them, but we don't charge them."
At weekly meetings, Mary Beth Sinclair teaches the children about llamas and how to handle them. She'd love to see even more 4-H'ers show llamas in the future.
"Every Monday, starting in May till right up to Fair time, we have a meeting," she said. "We encourage families to come."
Llamas are a good animal to show, Sinclair said, especially since it is not a terminal animal, unlike swine, beef or sheep, which usually go off to slaughter after being raised by 4-H'ers all summer,
"Kids have a hard time with that," she said. "Llamas are very social. If you're good to them, they'll be good to you. And you can show the same llama year after year."
Llamas, which are primarily used as a pack or guard animal, have a mind of their own, however, as was noticeable at the llama show Tuesday. Some of the llamas easily maneuvered through the 13-item obstacle course - which included going over and under a bridge, stepping over objects, changing pace, walking across a wide teeter totter, weaving through poles, loading into a trailer and being tied up. But some of the llamas liked to roll in the dirt or pause to relieve itself.
"They love dirt," Mary Beth Sinclair said.
Isaac Timmerman of Marshall found that out during his turn at the show when "Klinger" dropped to the ground and rolled. Timmerman's sisters - Anna and Monica - also showed llamas Tuesday, as did Kaitlin Lingbeek and Marisa Konjura. Since Murray County does not have a llama show, Thad Gunnink and Tanner Gunnink also competed alongside Lyon County 4-H'ers.
Show participants received three attempts at each obstacle and were given up to 10 points for each one completed. Jane Schauman said she was more than happy to assist with the meet-and-greet obstacle, which involved bringing the llama over to meet a stranger (Schauman).
"It's a great learning experience for every one of those kids," she said. "Most people have no idea what a llama can even do. It's fun."
While the rescued llamas are a great addition to their herd, the Sinclairs said, it was too late to register them for the Lyon County Fair this year.
"Registrations have to be in by May 15th," Mary Beth Sinclair said. "But you will definitely see them next year because they are very well-trained."