The Census of Agriculture reveals that lamas are disappearing. What happened?



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By Phil McCausland

The llama population in the United States seems to be disappearing, as an agricultural census released last week revealed that the number of livestock in the country had dropped significantly.

In the United States, there were nearly 145,000 llamas in 2002. In 2017, there were less than 40,000 llamas, according to the 2017 Census of Agriculture, published every five years by the Department of Agriculture the United States.

The decline probably came from the fact that the llama market – an industry that included celebrities and top athletes – has collapsed calmly, farmers, auctioneers and Lama experts told NBC. News.

"Previously, you attended major sales and exhibitions, and people came in these Class A motorhomes. These owners owned manufacturing plants, their own jet aircraft, etc.," said Mark Smith, who cultivates lama in Indiana for 25 years. "They ran the market when llamas were a good investment."

But these beasts from South America seemed to have value only because people thought they were precious. Their functional use includes providing fiber or working as a pack animal. Lamas also sometimes keep flocks of sheep. None of these are particularly lucrative uses, however.

"Once the industry has gone beyond the aspects of novelty and selection, the question has become: what are you doing with them?" Said Robert Van Saun, professor of veterinary science at Penn State University, specialist llamas and alpacas.

Where did all the lamas go?

Lama prices soared from the 1980s to the 2000s.

Darrell Anderson, an auctioneer participating in one of the first llama sales held in the United States in 1986 in Salem, Oregon, helped sell a lama at a price record of $ 220,000. Prices, he said, have become unsustainable.

A llama enjoys Nanci Sutton at Apple Valley, California on March 5, 2007.Irfan Khan / LA Times via Getty Images File

The llama's financial bubble burst slightly after the housing market collapsed in 2007, as people did not have more sustainable incomes to feed this speculative industry. Without an economy around livestock and without a huge market for their meat or fiber, llamas become essentially the equivalent of Bitcoin or Beanie Babies.

"It has to be an investment market and we have lost a lot of ordinary people," Anderson said. "It was good for sellers at the time, but it became more restrictive."

This has led the farms to consolidate and many have completely left the game of the llama.

"In 2008 or 2009, we certainly saw a slowdown," said Susan Hannah, operations manager for the International Lama Registry. "When we started here, we were 13. Now I'm working full time and I have another girl working part time – so that's not what she was. "

When the dollars dried up, the llama herds went astray.

Justin Timm's family discovered llamas in the 1980s and bought his first pet at age 13 in the 1990s. He saw the industry fluctuate for years, as a farmer and commissioner. auctioneer on the west coast.

"It started at a time when virtually all females were raised every year at about 20% of animals every two years," said Timm, who conducts online lamas auctions. He explained that the animals probably started to disappear naturally, as the older animals died when the animals stopped breeding.

Lama Wrangler Alan Householder leads a team of llamas under the Grotto Falls on the Trillium Gap Trail while bringing supplies to LeConte Lodge in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park on November 2, 2011.Adam Brimer / Knoxville News Sentinel via an AP file

But maybe there was also an environmental reason.

Van Saun noted that flocks of llamas were at increased risk of parasites as winters warmed due to climate change – a problem that also resulted in heavy losses for goat and sheep producers.

"We had an absolutely horrible weather for the amount of rain we received and the weather covered by the warmer weather. It was actually a parasitic paradise, "Van Saun said. "It will certainly only continue with global warming."

The return of the lama?

Despite the difficult times, many seem to believe that the industry is starting to recover and that prices are rising for llamas, especially among ranchers.

Smith, the lama farmer from Indiana, recently sold a premium lama at $ 20,000, which is one of the highest prices ever obtained for an animal in recent years.

"The market is coming back," Smith said. The quality of llamas that breeders in the United States have is as good as it has ever been, but that's not what it was in the '80s or' 90s. "

Llamas in an enclosure in Burlington, North Carolina, March 19, 2018.Peter Schumacher / Times-News via an AP file

The auctioneers and farmers of Lama said that although the USDA census in 2017 recorded a low population of llamas, it has only been beneficial for llama farms to recover on foot.

Farmers and ranchers said the low population of llamas has helped prices grow steadily in recent years, but the sector remains relatively affordable and almost everyone can participate.

"Some of the richest CEOs in the country will participate alongside a blue-collar employee at the minimum wage," he added, "and they are equal in the llamas community."

Jiachuan Wu and Joe Murphy contributed.


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