The End of the Llama Saga

So, how do you bury a 350-pound llama in the middle of a MN winter?

Sounds like the start to a bad joke, doesn’t it? Luckily, our senses of humor remain intact, so we can chuckle about this.  But when our beloved llama Chachi died two weeks ago, the question became very relevant.

When Zipper died a few months ago, the weather was still warm enough that Melissa could deal with him the way we deal with all our dead animals. (Not that there are that many….)  We used to put carcasses in a pit in the ground, but over the years this small pit filled up, in large part because we let a friend put her dead donkey there.

Melissa decided composting was a better way to go, so she built a pile of soil and straw behind the barn. Any sheep or lamb that died was buried at the bottom of the pile, safe from coyotes and turkey vultures. Every once and awhile a skull would surface, but mostly the carcasses composted as they should. Zipper joined this pile.

But here we were with Chachi, in the middle of the coldest winter we’ve seen in over thirty years. The compost pile was frozen. There was no way Melissa could cover Chachi. We certainly couldn’t dig a hole, since the frost extended four feet down. And we didn’t want to just leave him exposed to be chewed on by scavengers.

Melissa’s original plan was to take him up to the U of M for an autopsy. It would be good to know what had weakened him, but as the time neared to do this, I was seized with a strong emotion:  I didn’t want Chachi to leave the farm. Once finished with the autopsy, the U of M would dispose of Chachi’s body. I wanted him here with us, on the farm. I thought he deserved that.

Melissa agreed. But now what? For two weeks we’d passed his body in the barn while doing chores, both of us saying “Hi,” and often bending down to pat his frozen neck. There’s no way around it: farmers can be weird. But Chachi had to move, for it’s going to warm up eventually (at least that’s what they tell us…)

Farming isn’t about chores or physical labor or the love of the land. It’s about solving problems. We put our heads together. If we could move him out of the barn and next to the compost pile, then the local excavation guys could deliver a yard of sand. $5 for the sand, $55 for the delivery. We put the plan in motion.

Did I mention Chachi was over 350 pounds? Melissa and I managed to get him onto a wooden ladder, and drag the ladder to the back of the barn.

Then Monday morning two teenaged boys, Colin and Kyle, came to help. Melissa and the boys dragged the ladder out the back door and through the snow to the electric fence, which I’d turned off. It was very hard work, since Chachi was so heavy. Here’s the trail to the fence, with bits of hay dragged from the barn:

I held the fence open and they dragged Chachi into the driveway and over to the base of the compost pile. They covered him with straw.

Then 30 minutes later the guys came with the sand. They backed down the field driveway, which Melissa had cleared of snow with the tractor the day before, and dumped a huge load of sand onto Chachi’s body.

The sand should freeze, keeping Chachi safe from scavengers until the spring, when Melissa can incorporate him into the compost pile.

I don’t know how the boys felt about wrestling the frozen carcass of a dead llama to his final resting place, but they put their backs into it and made it happen. We couldn’t have done it without them.

So, what’s next? I don’t know. I could use a little warm weather, perhaps in the 20s. But until then, a friend sent us this card of a llama cavorting in the spring flowers… a lovely image to hold on to until the real flowers arrive…!

12 thoughts on “The End of the Llama Saga

  1. I enjoyed reading your post, even though the story is sad. I often wondered what farmers in MN did with livestock that dies in winter. I am from MN, but live in the Mid Atlantic now, and only have chickens (which are MUCH easier to “compost” in the winter than llamas). Your solution was perfect!

  2. One does have to develop a different set of problem solving skills than someone living in a condo with maintenance services provided, doesn’t one? (Cough-choke-cough-cough.)

    Enjoyed this post depicting the realities of a day on the farm. Keep ’em comin’. (Although, hopefully, not always pertaining to disposing of dear departed animals!)

  3. I am just a few years into this whole farm-with-livestock thing and while we have not had to deal with dead carcasses yet (other than chickens), I spend an inordinate amount of time thinking and worrying about it Thanks so much for writing about this and giving me a plan that I can fixate on in case something happens, this is a good solution! And so sorry about Chachi. Do you think you will get another llama?

  4. I used to bury my animals in the far end of my property, and have quite the little cemetery going back there, each with their own rock cairn. But my back issues preclude me digging the necessary holes any more. So now I load them into the back of my mini van and drive out to BLM land, where they feed a wide assortment of wildlife. I’m waiting for our snows to subside a bit to make another trip out, since I recently lost 2 older ewes. It is a sad but necessary part of the farming life.

  5. Urgh….I’ve often wondered what we would do with one of our llamas if it died in the winter! We did lose an alpaca during one of the cold snaps her in the UP and put her in a trailer covered with plywood and snow until we can unthaw some ground…maybe….

  6. Our llama, Larry, just died yesterday and we’re struggling with what to do with him until we can bury him in spring. Sand isn’t an option as it is more into the hundreds — but we may cover him with a trap. Only wish is known if he was sick or if it was just age. Larry was over 15

  7. Jade, so sorry about Larry. Our llamas were 16 and 18, so for Larry to reach 15, that’s pretty good. Llamas, like sheep, are pretty good at hiding illness, so it’s very hard to know what’s going on with them.

  8. I love that you cared enough about you llama not to just throw him out for the scavengers. We’ve lost a lot of kids this winter, but they are much easier to deal with than a large full-grown animal.

    May Chachi enrich your soil as he has enriched your lives!

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