September 18, 2019
If you’ve never been on a llama trek, this is a story for you! No worries, I hadn’t either until a recent trip to upstate New York that landed me at Dakota Ridge Farm to meet FarmHer Katrina Capasso. Katrina started with one llama, Dakota, as a wedding present from her husband Gary 25 years ago and today that has grown to 57 of the unique livestock. I arrived at Dakota Ridge, not quite sure what to expect, but was instantly greeted by Katrina and Gary. The first things I noticed weren’t llamas, but the unique decorations around the farm. From a red telephone booth to and actual Cessna with a (fake) llama in the cockpit and a crossing signal…for llamas, I knew I was in for a fun day. We started out in the barn, where Katrina went through separating and feeding the llamas. She explained that llamas can live for a long time and so many of her llamas were born years ago and are starting to age. She uses the llamas for various purposes from showing to fiber and even boards some for other llama owners but the most recent addition is the llama treks…I’ll get to that in a bit!
We then continued onto another barn, full of even more of the interesting creatures. I couldn’t help but notice how unique the animals were. They seemed as curious about me as I was about them. They would walk right up close and don’t have any hesitation about personal space limits! Katrina assured me that they wouldn’t intentionally hurt me, so I took a deep breath and settled in. After the llamas were all fed and the poop was scooped (that is Katrina and Gary’s bonding time haha) we went to check on a pregnant llama that was due to have a baby (cria) anytime. Llamas are pregnant for 11.5 months and this girl was a few weeks overdue so Katrina was eagerly awaiting the cria’s birth. She also checked on a few of the more recent crias born at the farm. They were as cute as could be, super soft and slightly timid. Katrina does the shearing of their fur right there at the farm so next up was to shear one of the mother’s before the heat of the summer hits. Katrina even let me have a try at running the clippers…I sheared a few rows but decided it was best to leave the real work to the professionals! She explained she then saves all of the fur and sends it off to a local cooperative to be spun and made into various llama products like scarves or throws that she sells at her on-farm store.
About that time a van full of people showed up and they eagerly spilled out. It was a group of adults with special needs that Katrina and Gary welcome to the farm on a regular basis. Katrina explained that a number of years ago Gary had a brain injury and they credit being around and working with the llamas for much of his recovery. Because of this, they decided to open up the farm to volunteers. The group was eager to go through the tasks Katrina had such as sweeping the barn or brushing the llama. They were all super excited to pose for pictures with Mike the llama and it warmed my heart to watch them enjoy their visit so much!
Last up for my visit to Dakota Ridge was the llama trek. I had read a little about the llama treks before but really wasn’t sure what to expect. Katrina explained that it was something they added to the farm as an attraction a number of years ago and it has really grown. They have scheduled treks most days of the week and people come from all over the U.S. and even other countries to spend time with her animals! We each picked out a llama - I got Mike and she picked Joey. She put a pack onto Joey, explaining that llamas are pack animals and can carry hundreds of pounds if needed! We headed out of the barn and towards the path through the woods. We talked and walked and the llamas came along. Mike had to stop for a rest at one point, and of course snacked on a few leaves too, but otherwise was a pretty agreeable hiking partner! Katrina told me that many people bring a picnic lunch and head out with the llamas for hours.
As I mentioned, I arrived at Dakota Ridge not knowing what to expect and left with a new appreciation for what Katrina calls “mystical, magical creatures.” Katrina cares for and loves each and every one of the animals. Their health and well being is at the top of her mind all of the time, and finding fun ways for the public to come to a farm and interact with livestock is her goal in business. If you’re looking for something unique in upstate New York, head to Dakota Ridge…I promise you’ll have a few laughs and leave with a warm heart and maybe a new friend in Katrina and Mike, the llama!
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