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4-Hers take reins of llama project at fair, elsewhere

Members of the Pierce County 4-H Llama Project took their animals under some nearby shade while waiting to march in the Ellsworth Cheese Curd Festival parade.1 / 3
Norris Berg, left, and Brian Patterson held the Pierce County 4-H Llama Project banner before the Ellsworth Cheese Curd Festival parade. Berg and his wife, Kay, are the retired project leaders, while Patterson and his wife, Patty, have assumed the leadership.2 / 3
Trimbelle Valley Fiber Farm, west of Ellsworth, was where members of the Pierce County 4-H Llama Project gathered for a meeting in June. The farm is owned by Project Leaders Brian and Patty Patterson.3 / 3

When the Pierce County 4-H Llama Project needed new leaders, representatives of the Veritas Seekers 4-H Club answered the call.

Patty Patterson, a leader of the 25-member club (along with Pam Knutson), and her husband, Brian, succeeded original Project Leaders Norris and Kay Berg in the role last year. Owners of Trimbelle Valley Fiber Farm west of Ellsworth, the home to 50 llamas, the couple now guides 4-Hers involved with the project, whether they're among the Veritas Seekers or in one of the other 23 clubs in the county.

"The Bergs coached us through the job the first year," Brian Patterson said, indicating this year is the first they've handled it on their own.

However, their mentors are still regular attendees at the shows where project members take the llamas, Patterson said. He and his wife got interested in owning llamas after talking with the Bergs at the Pierce County Fair, an annual highlight for the project.

Previously, the Pattersons had kept exotic sheep and goats on their six acres, mainly for mowing, he said.

"You can't do a lot with them," he said, comparing those animals with llamas, which are easier to shear, have wool that's hypoallergenic and other advantages.

The new leaders bought their first llama from their predecessors, he said. They recently sold that gelding for a guard animal. Today, they go to a couple of auctions per year to buy or sell for their herd.

Once the couple began raising llamas, they started showing with 4-H on regional and national circuits, Patterson said. The first show they participated in was in Eau Claire.

"The people were nice," he said he found after being slightly skeptical about getting involved. The same was true at the next show where they went and they were hooked, he added, remembering signing up for and taking llamas to Llamapalooza in Southern Minnesota.

"Our kids just had a blast and have ever since," he said, referring to their daughters, Hannah, now age 19, and Sarah, 14, plus son Joseph, 18 (there are another two daughters, Nicole, 26, and Ashley, 25, as well as a grandson).

For breeding purposes, they bought one herd sire, ending up with the three sires they have now, Patterson said.

"Llamas are like potato can't have just one," he joked.

Mostly, they're fed hay, though the females get grain along with hay in the summer, he said. The animals in their herd are de-wormed regularly because of often being exposed to other llamas at shows. The show season normally gets underway in May and continues until November.

"We were surprised to have a national class champion in our third year," said Patterson, who's presently the llama superintendent for the Northern Wisconsin State Fair at Chippewa Falls.

4-Hers in the project compete in several classes at the shows, including: performance, obstacle course, public relations (for taking the animals to nursing homes, schools and other public places) and pack class (with the animals wearing packs like they often do in their native Peru), the leader said. There are divisions for ages 8-13 and 14-16. He usually hauls 15-20 llamas from the project to shows, some owned by the 4-Hers themselves.

The average adult male llama weighs approximately 450 pounds, while the female weighs 350 pounds, he said. Both males and females get full body shears if they're susceptible to heat; otherwise, they're "barrel-cut" around their middles.

"You can shear a full-grown adult llama in around 20 minutes," he said, recalling the struggles he used to have shearing sheep.

Southern Minnesota natives, Brian and Patty Patterson moved to Prescott 21 years ago. He said he works in the Twin Cities as a service manager for an office technology company. But they decided they wanted to live in the country, so relocated to their current property in 2002.

The family has been involved with the Veritas Seekers almost since then, he said. The club had up to 60 members at one time in the past. Perhaps 98 percent of the members have been home-schooled.

Besides the llama project, the club has been responsible for such community service efforts as roadside clean-up, helping military families and corresponding with soldiers overseas, he said. The members' top activities include bowling and skiing.

The other 4-H clubs in Pierce County and their leaders, as listed by the 4-H office, are:

--Busy Fingers, Vicky Hoffman and Sara King;

--Cady Creek Crickets, Sandy Rawson;

--Cloverleaf, Theresa Fusilier, Tami Gregg, Robbyn Engen;

--Country Partners, Linda Donnelly, Dennis and Cindy Baird;

--Falcon Falls, Cheryl Hoffman, Alisa Raehsler, Kathy Curtis;

--Fancy Doers, Jeff Olson;

--Green Clovers, Crystal Hines;

--Helpful Workers, DeAnna Hines;

--Helping Hands, Gail Stewart;

--Hill and Dale Achievers, Cindy Robey, Shana Colburn, Sandy Gilbertson;

--Isabelle Creek, Kelly Neidemyer;

--Maiden Rock Rockets, Evelyn Johnson, Teresa Meier;

--Mann Valley, Scott Wagner, Carmen Markgren, Kim Larsen;

--Martell Rushers, Terri Rinke;

--Olivet Otters, Beth Ingli, Susan Hayes;

--Optimistiks, Betty Lamb;

--River Ramblers, Andrea Nthole, Michelle Swenson;

--Rock Elm Skyrockets, Kathy and Gwen Geraets;

--Royal Rushers, Pam Dressen;

--St. Croix Stars, Katy Swan;

--Town and Country, Shelly Hansen, Jane Webb;

--Valley Eagles, Sara Anderson, Peggy Larson.

Bill Kirk

Bill Kirk was editor of the Pierce County Herald in Ellsworth, from 1988 to February, 2015 and is now on staff as a reporter. He holds a bachelors degree in journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. He previously worked in the media distribution department at the University of Minnesota's Minneapolis campus and is past editor of The Tri-County News in Osseo, Wisconsin.

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