Llamas, alpacas to premiere at county fair

AVONDALE — Heads will turn and smiles will appear at this year's  Osceola County 4-H FFA Fair as a new 4-H club makes its debut with llamas and alpacas in the show ring.

Thirteen members make up the Wooly Llama 4-H Club, which formed just months ago. The group is led by Denise Fehrenbach, who has more than 50 llamas and eight alpacas on her family farm in Avondale, north of Evart. She breeds both animals, has shown them throughout the country and also spins yarn from their wool.

"My daughter started showing llamas in Grand Traverse County in 2004 when we bought our first llama, and they have a llama and alpaca program though 4-H," Fehrenbach said. "I'm a teacher with the MOISD, and working with kids is what I do. When we moved down here a couple of years ago we wanted to bring that here."

Both species originate from South America, llamas are larger than alpacas, have different ear shapes and have slightly courser coats, among other physical details. Both have large personalities, are simple to train, are friendly, sociable and have docile temperaments.

"Most people know about alpacas. With the llamas, people don't tend to know much about them," Fehrenbach said. "This is the kids' opportunity to teach more people about the animals."

Siblings and veteran 4-H members Amber and Kenny Eastman are enjoying the new experience.

"It's a new animal that I've never shown before and it's a lot of fun," Amber said. "Some parts are harder than other animals, like knowing the parts, showmanship and knowing what you have to do."

This year's Osceola County 4-H FFA Fair, which will take place from July 27 through Aug. 2, will provide the club with new challenges. With llamas, the club members must learn showmanship and posing, cleaning and brushing, care, and must work with the llama or alpaca through a small obstacle course. The course has a number of tasks, including a bar to jump over, a platform to walk on without stepping off, and making sure both feet go into two bowls.

To further the children and teen's 4-H education and service, Fehrenbach encourages them to visit the Kettunen Center in Tustin, Exploration Days at Michigan State University, local and distant youth shows and more. The club members are still learning about the llamas and alpacas, and Fahrenbach believes this first year for the group will be a positive experience.

"I want the kids to have fun," she said. "We want people to know what the animals are about. They're work, but they're fun work and there is so much you can do with them. You can use them for so many things. They're a very versatile animal and really neat."