It is only some days you come across a Llama Farmer. So when I recently caught up with Western Australia-based farmer Nichelle Scholz of Fox Hill Llamas, I had a lot of questions! I have always held a quiet fascination with these quirky-looking creatures. They appear like a cross between a camel with long necks and cute heads and a mountain goat with shaggy coats. And they have the most adorable face with large eyes and long eyelashes that would envy any red carpet event. There’s something about them that makes me smile.
At any given time, Nichelle’s property holds a herd of 25 personable llamas, allowing room for a few visiting llamas to add to the pack. Initially purchased as llama lawnmowers for their large rural property, it soon became evident that these friendly creatures could have value, too, by using their soft lanolin-free wool. As llama wool is soft and lanolin free, they adapted regular sheep shears to include extra teeth and added oil to cool the comb down. “The llamas generally stand quite still. Some move back and forth a bit, and the odd one who is nervous may jump initially but will calm down pretty quickly. Every year they are shorn, they are more relaxed, which is usually quite quick for each animal. They are clever and seem to know that we mean no harm to them”.
Llama wool is easily felted and is a technique Nichelle uses to make her Fox Hill Llamas homewares range, including vessels, rugs, throws, and dryer balls. She even uses the remnants to make bird nesters – an idea she had after seeing local birds make off with the fiber and discovering their nests in local trees. Using every last “drop,” Nichelle also recycles sanitized llama poo, mixing it with recycled pulp to produce Llama Poo Paper! Fascinated? Nichelle shares more about her llama farming journey below.
When and why did you choose to raise Llamas on your property? I think I decided to raise llamas as a child, although I didn’t know it until much later. Something is enchanting about a llama encounter, and at the age of five, I met one and fell in love with them. When I was old enough to have my driver’s license, I contacted Burnbrook Llama Farm in Western Australia and asked if I could visit for work experience. Luckily for me, the answer was kind and generous, ‘Yes,’ and I have smitten all over again. I was drawn in by their quiet curiosity, intelligence, and gentle nature. I found them quite fascinating, with so many similarities to other animals and so many differences.
Thirteen years later, my husband and I would find ourselves a beautiful and unique piece of land south of Perth. We wished to enjoy it sustainably, with little impact on the ground and existing wildlife. I found myself again drawn to llamas with their minimal environmental impact. This time a visit to the llama farm saw us leave as llama owners.
What inspired you to start working with Llama Fiber? What do you make with it? When we purchased our first llamas, we had no intention of farming them. We wished for a small herd to share our land and keep the grass down. Becoming increasingly aware that many people had never seen a llama or didn’t know the difference between alpacas and llamas encouraged our family to discuss them. People were often bewildered when we mentioned that we had llamas on our property. A barrage of questions would follow, constantly questioning or requiring a justification of their value. A comment regarding one of our dearest llamas was playing on my mind when I decided I wanted to give each animal tangible worth. I decided to do this to end the ‘lack of worth’ assumption and show my children how to do it. I was in tune with the usual llama products and decided to make anything but those. I didn’t want to copy someone else’s ideas and hard work. I had loudly heard all the negatives about using llama fiber, so used these to design my products. I now make llama fiber home decor products and a range of handmade recycled paper with llama fiber and llama poo.
Describe a typical day for Fox Hill Llamas. Each day can vary quite a lot. All days begin and end with checking social media and email, preparing orders from the store, sourcing supplies, and working with the llamas. Some tasks are routine, but most need to be flexible. I create daily and prioritize my day for the time I have between my children’s school hours and mail run.
Each week will consist of some fiber processing, papermaking, and creating. The weather largely influences my choice of tasks, as most of my work takes place outdoors. Days with unsuitable weather drive me indoors to complete the job I have put aside