Kelly and Udell Hughes of North Platte started an alpaca and llama sanctuary in 2016 for animals that were no longer wanted.
“We had no ag experience – it was all a leap of faith,” Kelly said. “We had Google, the best of intentions, and nothing else.”
Originally, the husband and wife imagined an alpaca farm to produce fleece. However, the vision changed when six llamas needed a home.
Soon after, eight extremely neglected llamas from Colorado joined their herd.
“We explored a lot of animals before going this route,” Kelly said.
The couple recently took in a few excess llamas from Cody Park. Today, 30 alpacas and 31 llamas roam their 80 acres of natural grassland northwest of North Platte.
Llamas and alpacas are popular show animals, commanding prices up to $8,000 – but once they pass their prime, they are no longer considered valuable.
The standard sale price for llamas in this situation is typically $50.
Two large shelters are available for the animals on Hughes’ land. However, many of them prefer not to use the shelters, because they like to be alert to their surroundings.
The farm is completely solar powered and sustained by the chicken egg sales.
The Hugheses were instantly charmed by the llamas and impressed by their incredible ability to function as guard animals.
Llamas do not have hooves. They have “feet” with two toes and long toe nails.
Naturally, llamas attack coyotes by charging at impressive speeds. Lowering their heads, they tumble the canines between their front legs and thrust at them. Then they stomp and pierce the underbelly with their sharp toenails.
Other than that gruesome protective instinct, llama drama is at a minimum. The laid-back creatures will ‘neck wrestle’ or spit only if they are challenged. Otherwise, subtle movements of the head, body, and ears convey messages to each other.
They do spit as a defensive tactic. The “warning” spit is gathered from glands in the mouth and esophagus, and the “I mean business” spit is a rank smelling liquid pulled from the animal’s third stomach.
The stomach-spit is so foul, that after defending itself, the animal will dangle its lower lip from its mouth in an effort to avoid the taste.
“You can always tell who’s been fighting,” said Kelly.
Introducing a new male to the herd – especially an intact male – is sure to stir up the existing herd members. The Hugheses castrate the males in an effort to eradicate unwanted behaviors and pregnancies.
They hope to encourage park representatives to do the same.
Llamas are highly social creatures who become extremely bonded. They are driven to guard and protect not only the herd, but animals of other species as well.
Ranchers who have llamas among their cattle experience little to no calf loss to coyotes.
Alpacas, on the other hand, will only bugle and group together for safety when threatened by a predator. “Alpacas are drama,” laughed Kelly. “They fight over everything!”
Their alpacas also discovered how to turn on the water faucet, which they do at their pleasure.
Llamas and alpacas can breed to create an offspring known as a “huarizo,” which the Hugheses suspect a few members of their rescued animals to be.
Although most of the llamas and alpacas have warmed to the caring couple, many of them remain standoffish and avoid their touch.
The Hughes’s purpose behind the rescues are not to breed or re-home the creatures, but to rehabilitate them and give them a forever home in which they can live out the rest of their days in llama luxury.
Alpaca’s lifespans are typically 20 years, and llamas live for 25-30. Creatures living in the haven range from newborns to “out of miles.”
Watching and walking amongst the pseudo-ruminant camelids give the Hugheses a sense of Zen and happiness. The couple enjoys watching the spirited creatures run over the hills at dusk in what symbolizes a game of Red-Rover.
Trimming teeth and toenails are part of regular chores for these animals. They are vaccinated and wormed every year and sheered once every two years.
The animals eat mostly roughage and get nutrients through grazing and baled brome grass. Underweight animals are supplemented with grain.
Fleece, meat, and packing are the main production points of these animals. Clean llama fleece fiber is typically sold for $1-6 dollars per pound, and alpaca fiber $3-5 per ounce.
The Hugheses have 90 twenty-gallon bags of uncleaned fleece they hope to sell to a production mill.
Llama and alpaca meat are popular in many South American countries, and even the United States. However, the residents at the Hughes’s haven will never have to worry about that, Kelly said.
Milk is not a feasible resource among these animals because only nursing mothers produce milk at very low volumes of only 1-2 ounces at a time.
Other than a few uncommon skin issues in the newly-rescued bunch, keeping the animals is a breeze.
The animals use a community ‘poo-pile’ that they actually line up to use. This, as you can imagine, makes mucking chores easy.
They don’t challenge fences. The only time one crossed the fence, it was because there was a low spot she stepped over, Kelly said. It was a female llama that crossed the fence to guard the neighbor cow giving birth.
Recently, a deaf alpaca named “Whisper” was born at the facility. Since Whisper could not hear her mother’s clicks and hums, the mother became stressed. Eventually, with the help of the other herd animals, they began helping Whisper along by bumping or nudging her in the direction she needed to go, instead of calling her.
“They have all adapted to her very well,” Kelly said. “Everybody within the herd has a job and they take turns watching each other’s babies.”