Estacada llama owner Sherri Tallmon has become one of the nation's top breeder
Sherri Tallmon never set eyes on a llama until she was 15. Now, she has 95 llamas and couldn't imagine living without them.
Tallmon, who graduated from Estacada High School in 1988, grew up in Boring and was always surrounded by horses.
In 1985, her family began showing Arabian horses in national and international competitions under the name KCSA Farms.
'Arabians are powerful high-stepping horses that are very spirited,' Tallmon says. 'I showed them until around 1996, when I began phasing out of them.'
Tallmon and her father showed horses in the 'English Pleasure' style of riding and, at times, she was ranked in the top 10 nationally in both the United States and Canada. With a small taste of that success, Tallmon yearned for a national championship.
Competitions would separate competitors into classes and levels before announcing the top 10 in each. Once the horses were narrowed down, judges would name a national champion and a national reserve champion.
Tallmon never moved higher than third.
Little did she know, however, her goal would be reached in a way she never could have expected.
With the escalating expense of showing Arabians, Tallmon and her family dramatically slowed their competition schedule.
While at an Arabian membership meeting, however, Tallmon's life changed forever.
'I noticed there were several llamas inside the hotel at an annual event,' she says. 'I ended up purchasing my first two in 1995, and after that I was hooked.'
Tallmon and her husband, Wil, purchased a 50-acre farm off Currin Road and began developing an impressive farm. Their first purchase was a breeding male from a farm in Newberg, a llama she still has.
'I was truly obsessed with llamas and collected anything and everything related to them,' she says, joking. 'I'm thankful to have such a wonderful husband, who puts up with my obsession and helps with feeding, maintaining the farm and even assists with birthing.'
One aspect of owning a llama farm in particular that intrigued Tallmon was the concept of bloodlines - a big part of the horse world. In particular, Tallmon was interested in how bloodlines contribute to llama breeds - an interest that may be a large contributor to the competition success she has found recently.
As she researched those bloodlines, Tallmon's herd has grown considerably from the two llamas she owned in 1995.
'I love the athletic ability that a llama has and the fact that there is so much you can do with them,' she says. 'They're extremely smart, and I love the challenges that come along with working with them.'
As the farm continued to grow, it quickly became a full-time job and profitable business for Tallmon. Aside from selling babies, farms can profit from the animals' fiber fleece and any winnings they generate at competitions.
According to Tallmon, despite their relative anonymity, llamas can provide a large number of services to their owners.
'They can be used as pets, to guard sheep and goats from predators, for breeding, for packing and for therapy,' she says.
She compared their therapeutic use to that of the Delta Society of Dogs, which takes animals into assisted living centers and schools.
'They have a lot of stamina for pulling a cart or packing, and they can jump really high if they need to jump over things - they can go a lot of places that horses can't,' she adds. 'They don't tear up ground, so they're allowed on a lot of trails that horses aren't because they have padded feet like dogs.'
While many people have seen llamas only in videos that show them spitting on people, Tallmon is out to prove that's not the norm. She attributes those instances to a poor upbringing or poor circumstances, and assures people that her animals in particular are more well-behaved.
'I had one go into a hospital, and it's amazing how aware they are - because it was very careful with where it placed its feet, so as not to step on cords,' she said. 'They're very, very smart.'
Coming home winners
After years of coming up short with Arabian horses, Tallmon's first 15 years with llamas didn't offer much improvement. Despite the discouraging results, however, she entered the 2012 World Futurity competition in Oklahoma City with six llamas.
A futurity competition is for animals younger than 2, and according to Tallmon, it's the greatest award a llama trainer and breeder can win.
The animals are judged in a number categories: confirmation (balance, body structure), movement (gait, fluidity), fleece quality and overall appeal (attitude, presence).
'People have been doing this for years and have never won a futurity,' she says. 'It's the best of the best coming together.'
After the llamas are placed in classes depending on their specific age group and gender, their trainers walk the animals in front of judges.
'I don't get nervous in the ring, only when they're announcing results,' Tallmon says. 'It's a lot of work leading up to the show with grooming and preparation, but the day of showing is relaxing to me. If you have an animal that likes to show and wants to be there, it's a fun thing to walk them around because they like it.
'It's kind of funny how a new haircut and a bath make them act like they're really something.'
With nerves out of the way, Tallmon couldn't possibly have prepared herself for the day she was about to have.
First it was her llama HOLR Crazy Kid (HOLR identifies which farm bred the animal, in this case, Tallmon's Hidden Oaks Llama Ranch), which took home first place in the Suri Male Futurity Class ages 5-15 months.
For Tallmon, the excitement of this win in particular went far beyond her first futurity championship. Crazy Kid, an 11-month-old Peruvian Precedent, is considered a miracle because of the circumstances surrounding his birth.
'I just couldn't believe that llama won because it was a miracle he was even born,' she says. 'His mom was 18 when I bought her and she was supposed to be pregnant at the time, but she turned out not to be. Then she had problems that prevented her from getting pregnant, but all of a sudden, the next spring she was pregnant with Crazy Kid.'
While llamas can live into their 20s, the average lifespan is 15-20 years, so an 18-year-old llama giving birth is quite unusual.
Next up for Tallmon was Angel's Starina, which won Tallmon her second futurity championship of the day, this time in the Suri Female Futurity Class, ages 16-24 months.
To cap off an extraordinary day, Tallmon almost did the unthinkable and won a third futurity, but her llama HOLR Estafania came up just short, taking second place out of 20.
Like Crazy Kid, Estafania's story made the performance even more special. While llamas are weened from their mothers around five to six months after birth, Estafania was only 5 1/2 months old at the time of the competition.
'It was Estafania's first show, so to travel for 10 1/2 days in a trailer and then compete like she did and do as well as she did was quite amazing,' Tallmon says.
So after years of coming up short, Tallmon's experience at the World Futurity competition was nothing short of euphoric.
Years ago, a day like this would have won $10,000 per futurity championship, but in 2012 the smaller number of competitors has driven down the amount of prize money. Still, Tallmon walked away from the competition with $4,000 in total winnings.
Despite the long list of accolades to add to her already impressive career, one of the things Tallmon is most proud of is the number of animals that success has allowed her to help. Since getting involved in the rescue world in 1999, Tallmon has sold 379 llamas - 175 of which were rescues.
For anyone interested in llamas, Tallmon's farm is open for people to come and visit at no cost. The farm is expecting plenty of baby llamas this year.
'It's just education about them is the direction I'm taking now because there are so many things you can do with them,' she says. 'This is the first year we're having quite a number of babies, and I wanted to let people know that they're welcome.'
For more information about Tallmon and her farm, visit hiddenoaksllamaranch.com.