Traverse City Record-Eagle

June 4, 2012

Family loves llamas in the mix

Special to the Record-Eagle

---- — On a cold Christmas morning, Graceanne Tarsa crawls out of bed, but instead of running to the pile of presents and bulging stockings under the family's brightly lit tree, she heads out to the barn to feed the animals. Although this is all part of Graceanne's daily routine, today isn't just business as usual. The rabbits and goats she and her brother Nicholas feed every morning are awake and alert, but something is different. Graceanne is flabbergasted to discover her "first big animal pets" — llamas.

"The llamas were the first things I saw," Graceanne said. "I was a little bit scared because they were so big, but was excited to have them."

The Tarsas had previously borrowed their neighbors' alpacas to show at the Northwestern Michigan Fair, and were intrigued.

"We have llamas for the same reason other people have dogs," Graceanne said.

Over the years, they have raised two other llamas, three goats, three sheep (which they raise in the summer), turkeys, and several rabbits. Nicholas and Graceanne both say llamas are their favorite animals.

"They live forever," Graceanne said. "They don't get butchered. They're soft. They seem kind of standoffish at first, then they come up and give you kisses."

Nicholas likes llamas for their quirks.

"If we move their fence line, they won't cross where the fence used to be," he said. "They can be running down the road, but if you shake a pan of grain, they come running back."

Even though llamas are unconventional to some, Graceanne doesn't view her family's pets as unusual because they participate in 4-H, so taking care of animals, then showing them at fair, is what they're used to. Despite the downside of having to scoop manure, Graceanne says they're pretty normal pets.

"They're not strange at all, compared to my siblings," Graceanne said.

In addition to the Tarsas' five llamas, they have two cats, and a steer named Legacy that Graceanne won in an essay contest. Each year a veterinary business buys a young steer, also known as a junior beef, at auction and the businesses gives it away as a contest prize at fair.

Because of the variety and the number of their pets, the Tarsas' daily schedule is rigorous and restrictive. Since their animals require regular care, they can't go on vacations longer than a night.

"I get up between 6 and 6:20 and we get into our barn clothes and go outside and we feed them and give them fresh bedding and water," Graceanne said. "We go through the rest of our day, and when we come home we do the same thing. On some days we have to walk them too. Even when it's cold, and you want to snuggle down in your warm bed, you still have to come out and feed them."

Nicholas said that because of their animals' bigger needs, he and his sister are learning life skills such as responsibility, dedication and work ethic.

"It's so hands-on," he said. "It's fun to take care of them, then go to fair. I like the competition and performance because I'm competitive and I like to perform."

Although there are definite negatives to having farm animals as pets, there is never a boring moment at the Tarsa household.

"The second day we ever had our llamas, they escaped," Nicholas said. "We got them all in, but were chasing one around forever."

The Tarsas get a kick out of them every day, and the llamas are full of surprises.

"When we came home one day, we found a baby llama. We didn't know that one of our llamas was pregnant, and we didn't know who the mom or the dad was," Graceanne. "We still don't know who the dad is."

Even though the llamas hold the spotlight, they aren't the Tarsas' only mischievous pets.

"We had a sheep chase a biker down the road once," Nicholas said.

Although they may be a handful at times, through all the sweat and manure Nicholas and Graceanne continue to adore their pets, and couldn't picture their barn being empty.

"If we didn't have our animals, it's a big section of our life that wouldn't be there," Nicholas said.

Fiona Muha is a sophomore and a staff writer for the Black and Gold, the newspaper at Traverse City Central High School.