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Llamas are her friends

October 19, 2000

Llamas are her friends



By RICHARD F. BELISLE / Staff Writer, Waynesboro


GREENCASTLE, Pa. - "The one l lama, he's a priest. The two l llama, he's a beast. And I will bet a silk pajama there isn't any three l llama."

This ditty by the late poet Ogden Nash could be Pam Knepper's favorite poem. The retired Washington County school teacher lives on Cool Hollow Road outside Greencastle with her husband, Sam, two dogs, four alpacas and five llamas.

Her retirement is devoted to the nine South American native camelids who live on the Knepper's three-acre farmette.

"I just love being out in the fresh air with them and I love their gentle natures and regal qualities," Knepper said as she was in amongst her animals in a back yard pen. The animals' attentions were focused more on the bucket of feed Knepper had under her arm than on their mistress.

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The Kneppers moved to Pennsylvania from their home on Hopewell Road in Williamsport in 1996. She retired from the Washington County School District where she taught for more than 30 years.

Her husband owned Valley Music in Hagerstown. The store has moved to Chambersburg, Pa. A trumpet player, Sam Knepper has played with the Woody Herman and Glenn Miller orchestras, his wife said.

The couple owned horses in Maryland until 1991 when Pam's parents, familiar with her love of animals, bought her a pair of gelded llamas for Christmas. The idea of owning llamas had never crossed her mind, she said.

Soon the horses were gone and more llamas moved in. Llamas are much easier to care for than horses," Knepper said. "They don't eat as much. All they need is a little hay and grain in the winter and pasture in the summer. They don't even need a barn, only the three-sided enclosure to protect from the wind," she said. A single acre can support four to five llamas.

Equally important, Knepper said, her llamas and alpacas use a common dung pile which makes cleaning up after them easier.

She calls their droppings "Llama beans" which she rakes up into a wheelbarrow and dumps in a pile in a corner of the property. Neighbors and a nearby nurseryman covet the droppings for their fertilizer value, she said.

Primarily a beast of burden in the highlands of South America, they are among the world's oldest domestic animals. They provide natives with wool, meat and hides. An estimated 7 million llamas and alpacas live in South America, according to the International Llama Association. There are more than 50,000 Llamas and 2,500 alpacas in the U.S. and Canada where they are kept as pets, for show and for their wool. Knepper hopes to train her llamas to carry packs and pull carts.

Their gentle disposition and easy keeping qualities also make them ideal for 4-H projects.

Knepper also prizes her animals for the wool they give her. Llamas and alpacas are clean animals. Unlike sheep, their wool is not oily with lanolin and can be carded and spun without having to be washed first. Much of Knepper's time is spent working with the wool. She shears her animals by hand. She has carded and accumulated so much wool, including the more valuable alpaca wool, that plastic bags of it are stuffed into a big wooden cabinet in her living room. She will start selling it when her inventory is sufficient, she said.

Knepper is also getting adept at breeding her animals. She has bred four llamas and one alpaca so far and has several females of both species ready to have babies, or crias as baby llamas and alpacas are called, in the next few weeks. She also keeps a stud animal of each species on the farm, including "Excellente," her big, black male llama which she raised from a baby. He has been seen marching in parades in Mercersburg, Pa.

Knepper has taken to bringing her llamas to visit area nursing homes to the delight of residents, yet another example of the ease in which llamas and alpacas are kept.

Horses and cattle require expensive, bulky trailers that are pulled by big, gas-guzzling trucks. Knepper's animals ride in style in her Chrysler Town and Country van.

She usually takes one at a time, but there's room in the van for three, she said. "They just walk right in and settle down," she said. "They're clean animals. They never poo in the van, but I always make sure they go before we leave."

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