It is not everyday you come across a Llama Farmer. So when I recently caught up with Western Australia based farmer Nichelle Scholz of Fox Hill Llamas, I had alot of questions! I have always held a quiet fascination with these quirky looking creatures. They appear like a cross between a camel with their long necks and cute head and a mountain goat with their shaggy coats. And they have the most adorable face with large eyes and long eyelashes that would be the envy of any red carpet event. There’s something about them that just makes me smile.
At any given time, Nichelle’s property holds a herd of 25 personable llamas, allowing room for a few visiting llamas to add to the pack. Initially purchased as llama lawn mowers for their large rural property, it soon became evident that these friendly creatures could have value too by using their soft lanolin free wool. As llama wool is soft and lanolin free, they adapted regular sheep shears to include extra teeth and added oil to the process to cool the comb down. “The llamas generally stand quite still. Some move back and forth a bit and the odd one who is nervous may jump initially but will calm pretty quickly. Every year they are shorn they are more relaxed and it is usually quite quick for each animal. They are clever and seem to know that we mean no harm to them”.
Llama wool is easily felted and is a technique used by Nichelle to make her Fox Hill Llamas homewares range, which includes vessels, rugs, throws and dryer balls. She even uses the remnants to make bird nesters – an idea that she had after seeing local birds make off with the fibre and discovering their nests in local trees. Using every last “drop”, Nichelle also recycles sanitised llama poo, mixing it with recycled paper pulp to produce Llama Poo Paper! Fascinated? Nichelle shares more about her llama farming journey below.
When and why did you choose to raise Llamas on your property? I think I chose to raise llamas when I was a child, although didn’t know it until much later. There is something enchanting about a llama encounter and at the age of five I met one and fell in love with them. When I was old enough to have my driver’s license, I contacted Burnbrook Llama Farm in Western Australia and asked if I may visit for some work experience. Luckily for me, the answer was a kind and generous, ‘Yes’ and I was smitten all over again. I was draw in by their quiet curiosity, intelligence and gentle nature. I found them to be quite fascinating, with so many similarities to other animals and yet so many differences.
Thirteen years later, my husband and I would find ourselves a beautiful and unique piece of land south of Perth. We wished to enjoy it sustainably, with little impact to the land and existing wildlife. I found myself again drawn to llamas with their minimal environmental impact. This time a visit to the llama farm saw us a leave as llama owners.
What inspired you to start working with Llama fibre. What do you make with it? When we purchased our first llamas, we had no intention of farming them. We wished to have a small herd to share our land and keep the grass down. Becoming increasingly aware that many people had never seen a llama or didn’t know the difference between alpacas and llamas encouraged our family to talk about them. People were often bewildered when we mentioned that we had llamas on our property. A barrage of questions would follow, often questioning or requiring a justification of their value. A comment regarding the value of one of our dearest llamas was playing on my mind when I decided that I wanted to give each animal tangible worth. I decided to do this in a way that would end the ‘lack of worth’ assumption and show my children how to do it. I was pretty in tune with the usual llama products available and decided to make anything but those. I didn’t want to copy someone else’s ideas and hard work. I had loudly heard all the negatives about using llama fibre, so used these to design my products. I now make llama fibre home decor products and a range of handmade recycled paper with both llama fibre and llama poo.
Describe a typical day for Fox Hill Llamas. Each day can vary quite a lot. All days begin and end with checking social media, email, preparing orders from the store, sourcing supplies and working with the llamas. Some tasks are routine, but most need to be flexible. I create daily and prioritise my day for the time I have between my children’s school hours and mail run.
Each week will consist of some fibre processing, papermaking and creating. The weather largely influences my choice of tasks as most of my work takes place outdoors. Days with unsuitable weather drive me indoors to complete work I have put aside.
What are your main challenges working with Llamas? Working with llamas is nothing but pleasure. I love every minute of my time spent with them. The biggest challenges are the ones I place on myself, to utilise what they provide me to the greatest value. They deserve this because they are such unique and amazing animals! I wish for others to see their uniqueness and simple value in their being and the joy they provide many people. My challenge is to, in a world that values worth, create a no-harm product that is worthy of value.
Llamas are very easy to work with. They mean no harm to anyone and their curious nature is delightful. They love dust baths and rolling in the hay, providing me the challenge of removing the debris from their fibre. There are a few different types of llama fibre. Some animals are extremely woolly with double coats and guard hair and others have short single coats. I tend to process the fibre according to the state of it! One particular animal has fibre that catches and keeps absolutely everything in it.
Do you have any favourite Llamas? Hmm a favourite. That would be the trickiest of all questions. They all have a place in my heart. It sounds really tacky but is true. Kronk is super cuddly at the moment, Pepper is full of beans, Harz is needing some more exercise, Quasi is tasting EVERYTHING, Yarri is full of himself, Zed thinks he’s better than Yarri and Mulan is sweet and pretty, Shadow is super shy, Aladdin is all macho talk and I could go on and on.. I guess each one has a favourite trait that makes me smile and is endearing. They are all so different and individually special.
What can we expect to see from Fox Hill Llamas over the next 12 months? I am currently working on a new web site – www.foxhillllamas.com. This will further help to visually connect the llamas to the products that they inspire and provide the fibre for. I want to share the llamas of Fox Hill as much as it can be possible online. I will be continuing to add to the product range with new creations, and strengthening the quantity of stock available for my best selling products. My husband and I are also spending much time on our infrastructure at Fox Hill, further improving our fencing, animal shelters and my work spaces. We are both looking forward to sharing more of the llamas as Fox Hill Llamas becomes increasingly sustainable.