Rhodie Hill Farm actually began in 1982 when we started raising premium Dorset and Dorset-cross sheep. Our marriage had joined a country girl with two horses to a suburban guy with a green thumb. We started with a small farm that had no fencing and a burnt down house but it did have a two-story barn built in 1935. A small house was built, some fencing put up to corral the horses, and the thought processes started to decide what livestock to raise. We both worked as research scientists so our home life was supposed to provide interesting but relaxing diversions. Bob’s suburban life hadn’t generated any pertinent input about livestock so more consideration was given to Viv’s childhood experiences. Viv likes cows but remembering the continual commitment to milking twice a day every day quickly eliminated them from the list. Since Viv had raised sheep as a kid and knew that her grandfather had enjoyed them until he died, they seemed to be a safe and reasonable type of livestock to consider. Additional local and regional support was available so the raising of sheep for meat, wool, and breeding stock became the purpose of Rhodie Hill Farm.
During those first couple years, we joined our local sheep organizations and got involved in the fiber festivals and other sheep related events. It was at one of those festivals when Bob was supposed to be helping Viv with a fleece competition, that a previously unknown tidbit of information was revealed. Apparently Bob had “always been interested in llamas” and the presence of a llama from Marty McGee’s (now McGee-Bennett of CAMELIDynamics fame) farm at this event kept drawing him to that booth. After the festival (and the fleece competition) was over, Viv joined Bob at Marty’s booth to see what all the fuss was about. The wonderful thing was here were livestock that you could raise, get attached to, and not have to kill. Not like the lambs sent off to market or even raised up for freezer trade. Definitely worth a second look. So essentially, the whole idea of raising llamas at Rhodie Hill Farm became Bob’s fault!
We visited Marty and Perry at their farm in the Finger Lakes area of New York and arranged to bring home our first llama right after we were to return from a cruise to the Caribbean. Andy, a breeding male, arrived home that fall in 1985 and by the following spring, we bought our first two females from Brad Sprouse of Great Lakes Llamas in Michigan. One of those, Arrow, was pregnant with her first cria (a Monsieur son) and the other was a yearling named Trumbull. We were starting a magical journey.
Over the years, we chose to reduce the size of the sheep flock and increased the llama herd. We sold most of the sheep breeding flock and had the privilege of letting many of the original foundation ewes live out their lives here at Rhodie Hill Farm. Our oldest ewe died at 19 years of age and many of them were between 14 and 16 years old when they trotted over the rainbow bridge. Andy went on to father some of our first crias, was gelded at 10 years old, and became our guard for our sheep flock until he died just 8 days shy of his 21st birthday. Trumbull grew up to become one of our favorites and although she was a much bigger llama than we had expected, was a true lady and gave us some wonderful offspring before she died also just shy of 21. Arrow was the herd leader for many years although she was only a medium sized llama and outlived both Andy and Trumbull dying just a couple of years ago a month shy of her 26th birthday. The llama herd grew as we added a couple of other great studs and occasionally purchased additional breeding stock. We also took in a few animals in need of forever homes ultimately making us one of the largest llama farms in New York; more than 165 llamas have called Rhodie Hill Farm home.
With the number of llama rescues occurring and our unwillingness to follow fads in the industry just to make a sale, we chose years ago to discontinue our breeding program. We had always sold our llamas and sheep with lifetime mentor support, written contracts, and the typical “package extras” including free re-breedings, reproductive guarantees, halters and leads, insurance, registrations to training clinics or conferences, magazine subscriptions, books, gift certificates to equipment suppliers, memberships to industry organizations, and ALWAYS the willingness to take back any llamas that we sold at any time. However, in spite of new buyer assurances that they would contact us if they wanted to return the animals; we found that once the animal had left our property, we no longer had any control on the fate of that animal. Consequently, we no longer offer any of our llamas for sale preferring to let them live out their natural lives in the company of their fellow herd-mates right here where they were born.
Whether sheep or llamas, we consciously bought and selectively bred our animals with a strong emphasis on inherent good conformation, health, and reproductive soundness. We believe that as “shepherds”, we have the responsibility to provide the basic needs of our woolly friends but also, must allow Mother Nature to work her magic without interfering with over-medication, over-management, and subsequently over-pricing. It’s been a formula that has worked for us.
Llama Industry Involvement
One of the main reasons we became interested in llamas was for their use as a pack animal. We both liked the outdoors and thought that hiking with llamas would be a comfortable fit. Our very first cria was taught to pack and we helped organize the very first llama packing event in New York in 1988. Since the early 90’s, we became part of show management for the first NY county fair llama shows and the annual New York and Ohio State Fair Llama Shows. We eventually stepped down as clerk and/or ring steward from those positions after almost 10 years of volunteering.
After organizing the first llama event in New York (a manned display with llamas at the Empire Farm Days), we also helped start the New York Llama & Alpaca Association (NYLAA). Viv served on the Board of Directors for a number of years. We have also been with the Greater Appalachian Llama & Alpaca Association (GALA) since its start. Viv has been a Board member representing NY for a couple of terms, co-chair of the Packing Committee, and both have been involved in the annual GALA Conferences. We are also lifetime members and continue to serve in their Mentoring Program. Bob has been on the BOD for the national show association (ALSA) and has served on the Election Committee of the lama registry (ILR).
In support of our packing interests, Viv served as President and Board Member of the national Pack Llama Trial Association, Inc. (PLTA) for 6 years and both helped organize and conduct PLTA sanctioned pack trials since 1998. We have Stewarded trials across the United States (NY, PA, VT, NH, NC, KS, CO) and in New Zealand (Wow – was that a great experience!). Viv was also a PLTA approved Course Certifier and Certifier Workshop Instructor.
Our Latest Focus
It took a while to pass on the PLTA responsibilities but in the meantime, we became involved more with the fiber aspect of our animals. In PLTA’s place, Viv now spends a fair amount of time involved with the Central NY Fiber Artists & Producers organization. The CNY FAP puts on a fiber festival each June in Bouckville, NY and we’ve become part of the organizing committee. Viv is Secretary for the group and have also become the liaison between the Board and the website manager. Planning for each year’s CNY Fiber Arts Festival scheduled for the second weekend in June, is a year-long event since we immediately start on the next event right after the current year’s festival has passed. We are there as vendors as well and bring one of our rescue llamas, Copper, too. You’ll have to stop by and say Hello!
Since we started with llamas in 1985, we have of course harvested their fiber routinely but more for husbandry reasons than treating it as an income source. Over time, our sheep fiber friends’ pushing for us to do more with the fiber began to take over our spare time. So as we and our llamas get older and a bit less physical, we find ourselves just as busy but now involved in fiber activites rather than out hiking down a trail in the woods. Fiber seems to be our focus now and we’re enjoying it immensely.