If there was a prize at the county fair for the most unusual show animal, Cassidy Hacker would win hands down.
Cassidy has been showing llamas at the county fair since 2007, when Minnesota recognized them as a 4-H class of animals.
Cassidy said llama are originally from North America, but went extinct. They were later found in South America and imported to America to be used mainly as guard animals for sheep from predators such as coyotes and wolves because they have a very protective instinct.
Cassidy was quick to add that while they may make excellent guard animals for livestock, they are a gentle animal that is fairly easy to train.
“Some of the animals can be shy, but they are easy to train if you work with them,” Cassidy said. “If you take time, a llama can be trained in about two weeks to do most everything you ask of them.”
To show the animals at the county fair, Cassidy said an obstacle course is set up in an outside arena. The llama handler is then given a set of instructions from the judge to take the llama through the obstacle course a certain way. Some of the obstacles include walking them through dangling pool noodles and having them jump a small obstacle.
Cassidy said the obstacle course is a pattern of cones that must be followed specific to what the judge requires. She added that it not only shows how well the llama and handler work together, but also to test the memory of the handler as the judge verbally gives directions.
“When you are showing a llama you want to talk to them because if you don’t, they won’t do what you would like,” she explained. “And you want to go through the obstacles too, because if you don’t the llama won’t follow you.”
Since llamas are a fairly unusual animal to show at the county fair, Cassidy began attending clinics near St. Cloud and in Windom to learn the basics of showing llamas.
Cassidy, together with her dad, Brian, and mom, Patty, own a herd of eight llamas. They said the life-span of a llama can range anywhere from 15-30 years. The oldest llama in their herd is Lady, who is estimated to be 14 years old. The youngest llama is four-year-old Chile.
Cassidy also advocates for llamas by leasing the animals to show at the county fair.
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Cassidy has grown up with llamas on her farm. Her mom, Patty, said that she has been leading llamas since she was two years old.
“They are really good for younger children because they are such gentle animals,” Patty said. “And you look into their eyes and fall in love with them.”
Cassidy, a freshman at Sleepy Eye Public School, has been in 4-H since she was in kindergarten. At the county fair she also shows rabbits, sheep and pigs and has projects on exploring animals, crafts, food and nutrition, fine arts, flower gardening and clothing.
In addition to rabbits, sheep and hogs, the Hacker farm is also home to peacocks, Scottish Highlander cattle, horses, ducks and chickens.