For the first time on Long Island, hikers can do their thing … with llamas.
This unique adventure is now being offered at the Long Island Yarn and Farm in Yaphank and is the brainchild of Tabbethia Haubold-Magee, who spends most of her time shearing llamas and sheep on the North Fork and along the East Coast. The program presents an opportunity to connect with nature and retreat from daily life while being outdoors and bonding with an animal.
It took a lot of planning, according to Ms. Haubold-Magee, including clearing the trails, prepping the animals to walk with people and training the baby llamas. “The yearlings are in training and might start hiking soon, but generally people like to just come see them,” she said.
“We’re going to have people who have no idea how to handle a llama and part of the hike will be to show them how to properly lead the animal,” she explained. “We’ll talk to them before we set out and there will be one or two guides with the group to make sure everyone is safe while they’re having fun.”
My 40-minute hike along the trails at the 17-acre farm, which is nestled in the Pine Barrens, was peaceful and relaxing. As our group made its way, I held tight to the leather lead of my llama, Sir Arthur, a six-foot-tall male. The whole time, I was aware of how strong he was.
With a halter on his face, Sir Arthur walked at an easy pace, keeping a small distance from the llamas in front of and behind him. We stepped over branches, leaves and tree roots on the trail while taking in the quiet of the forest, listening to the birds, smelling the trees and feeling the peaceful wind while looking for deer and turkeys.
Sir Arthur didn’t give me any trouble until he wanted to chomp down on leaves from the trees above. He was persistent, and obviously hungry, and it was tough to hold him back with the lead.
“He thinks the forest is like a salad bar,” Ms. Haubold-Magee said.
Grace Fish of Bayport, 22, and Kaitlyn Eckles of Manorville, 13, also work at the farm. Grace, a recent college graduate, said, “In college, I fell in love with animal husbandry and now I’m experiencing this world.” For Kaitlyn, feeding and working with the animals is teaching her about caring for the llamas.
“We’re trying to make the hikes a positive experience because we’re dealing with live animals who have different personalities,” said Ms. Haubold-Magee. “Matching up the hikers with the right animal is important because some walk slow, and others go faster. Also, people get to know the animal they’re hiking with. They become partners on the hike.” She said she plans to limit the groups to a maximum of five hikers, but added that, depending on who books the adventure, she could have up to nine people and llamas on an outing.
The hour-long hikes she offers can accommodate families, single people and groups. It could be a fun family hike, a hike at dusk, winter hikes for heartier people who are bundled up or a romantic hike for a couple. She also plans to create space for a lunch-type experience where the hikers sit down alongside their llamas , which are tied off. “Most of the animals are trained to carry a backpack, holding the lunch we need,” she said.
The llamas are fed breakfast and dinner and do not get food or water while hiking. Like Sir Arthur, however, they do tend to forage and snack on grass and foliage as they’re walked through the forest. Hikers are not allowed to hand feed them.
There is also a small hill where hikers can sit and take selfies with their llama partners..
“We’ve got five older males that we’ll be using in hiking,” she said. “We also have three younger boys who will be incorporated into this program. The girl llamas stay home. If you mix genders, it gets a little crazy, if you know what I mean.”
But don’t llamas get aggressive and sometimes bite people? “That’s a myth,” said Ms. Haubold-Magee. “They will spit at each other because that’s their form of communication, or I’ve heard of llamas spitting at each other when they’re competing for food. But I’ve never seen them be aggressive toward people. That is not their nature.”
Ms. Haubold-Magee, the only breeder of llamas on Long Island, said she didn’t start the hikes during the summer because it would have been too hot for the animals. She said llamas don’t hike in the summer because they can suffer heat stress. “It’s for their health and well-being that we don’t take them out in July and August. They do better in cooler climates, ” she said.
If you’re interested in hiking with llamas at the ranch in Yaphank, call Ms. Haubold-Magee at 631-680-6721 for pricing and scheduling or visit lilivestockco.com.