Meet the Minnesotan playing sidekick to her ribbon-winning llama

17-year-old Rachel Meany has been showing llamas at the State Fair for years.
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All llamas are lamas, but not all lamas are llamas.

That's just one of many llama facts Rachel Meany taught GoMN at the State Fair Thursday morning. The 17-year-old is a second-year Minnesota 4-H State Ambassador and has been showing her llamas at the fair since she was in third grade.

Meany has 22 llamas (the common name for the domesticated mammals of the genus lama) at her family's ranch in Rose Creek, which is near Austin. 

But she chose just one of them to work with at the fair this year – 4-year-old "Iffy," aka If You Love Me. Meany has raised Iffy since she was a cria (baby llama), so they have a tight bond.

Meany and Iffy are competing in multiple categories this year, including the wackiest animal competition at the fair: the llama costume contest.

Handlers dress up their llamas (and wear corresponding outfits) to demonstrate the animal's composure and trust in its handler. Meany and Iffy took second place as Batman and Robin.

The two are also competing in the more "serious" categories of showmanship, obstacle, and public relations. Meany told GoMN she practices with her llama at least once a week.

"Since I've been training with her since she was a baby, I am able to do a lot of things with her now," Meany said. "She has trusted me a lot, so I don't have to work a ton with her."

Meany says training a llama is similar to training a dog – you have to keep calm in order to see the best results. And though she raises and shows other animals like sheep and goats, Meany likes llamas best.

"They're probably my favorite animal just because of how docile they are," she said.

Meany has earned some purple ribbons (grand champion or first place) over the years, but says that's not all it's about – she loves being in 4-H and showing her llamas because it's fun and offers many opportunities. 

Erin Kelly-Collins, senior communications specialist for Minnesota 4-H, told GoMN studies show that kids who participate in youth programs like 4-H not only stay out of trouble after school, but also develop important life skills that help them become successful adults.

Meany will be a senior at Southland High School this fall. She actually starts the day after her 12 days at the fair end. 

She plans to continue showing llamas with 4-H for the next couple years (you can remain in 4-H for one year after your high school graduation), and after that, she can keep showing off her herd in the open show category, which is open to Minnesotans of all ages.

Q&A

Llamas seem nice, but I've heard they spit. Yes, llamas do spit, but it's only for certain reasons. Like if you're in their way of getting food, or if you're making them very agitated. But they show other signs before they spit at you, like having their ears back, or making it known by doing a little stomp with their front foot saying, "I don't like that." 

They do a little clucking sound to get some spit into it. There's other signs to know, like if you are messing with their head – they don't like their face touched. It's not just because they want to spit, it's for a definite reason.

Why do you love to show llamas? Since I've been doing open shows, I've met a lot more people. It's another family, I like to say. It's just another way to meet new people, gain more responsibilities. I've learned a lot from when I started. I'm always learning something new every day.

What kind of treats do you reward your llama with after you win? Llamas are foragers, so they eat mostly grass and hay. If I do want to give them a special treat, it'll be something like oats with molasses mixed in, just to make it more sweet for them.

If kids are interested in showing llamas, how can they get started? Talk to your program coordinator, the person involved in your county. They'll be able to help you find the person in charge of a program. If there's no program in your county, there's always people that will be more than happy to lease an animal, which is not owning a llama, but where you do work around the farm to earn ownership in an animal.

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