A Market Collapse

D. E. Larsen, DVM

“Tell me again, Jack.” I said. “What are you doing with these gals?”

Jack had called to have his llama herd checked but was not very specific as to what was going on. I did a lot of work, Jack.  Most of the time, I worked on his cows.  The llama herd was sort of an expensive hobby. 

Llamas were expensive animals, I was never able to figure out why. I guess they were sort of a status thing. There was certainly no viable use for them that supported the prices that were being paid. Female llamas were valued at $20,000 to $40,000 each. I had worked on one llama that the owner had declined an offer to purchase for $80,000. Nobody ate llamas, and their wool was used, but it was not valuable. In South America, it was considered to be peon’s wool.

Jack was a smallish man, but with rugged features and physique. Jack was a long time fixture in the Lebanon/Sweet Home area. I was not sure of all his trades, but his name fits. He was a “Jack of all Trades.” He had owned both a feed store and a grocery store at different times in Sweet Home. He probably made most of his money in logging. He told once that he was the first logging company into the Thomas Creek drainage.

“I need to have them preg checked,” Jack said. “I am selling the whole bunch of them in a couple of days.”

“The whole herd!” I said. “You must be planning some major vacation.”

“Well, the price is getting high enough, I just think it is time to cash in,” Jack said. “I got this herd at a pretty good price almost 10 years ago. We have made more off of this bunch of 20 some llamas than we make off the whole cow herd. If you can believe that. I get a little nervous, these twenty females are approaching a half million. And there is no basis for the price. You can sell the males for pack animals and get $700 each. The wool is worth pennies, and nobody eats them. How do you justify such a price?”

“I agree, there is just no basis for the price,” I said. “I just wish that I could tell you the sex of the baby when I do a preg check. How much do you think it would be worth to know whether the baby was going to worth $700 or $20,000 if you were buying a new llama.”

“That would be great information,” Jack said. “Why don’t you work on that, Doc?”

“I have thought about it a little,” I said. “A guy could probably do an amniocentesis and make the diagnosis. Just too much else to do right now.”

A pregnancy exam on a llama was a little worrisome for me. Llamas were much smaller than a cow but still large enough to accommodate a rectal exam. Their reproductive track was different. They had a long vagina, and the non-pregnant uterus was small and easily reached before you were in up to your elbow.

We worked Jack’s herd through a regular cattle chute, and the twenty head did not take long to complete. 

“Let me know if you need anything else with these girls,” I said as I loaded my things into the truck. “And you have a good time on that vacation.”

I had a feeling that Jack had made the right decision to sell the herd. I had heard several other llama owners who were concerned about the continued escalation of the price of a llama. 

One breeder was continually trying to get me into the business.

“I can almost guarantee you will own one or two female llamas, free and clear, after two years,” he would say. “And it doesn’t matter what you pay. If you’re lucky, all the babies will be females.”

The next Spring, when I visited Jack’s ranch to look at a cow, I noticed he had a new bunch of llamas.

“Aw, you must have missed the llamas,” I said as Jack approached me at the barn.

“My accountant made me go out and buy another herd,” Jack said. “He said I would lose too much in taxes. So what is a guy going to do. You lose money one way or the other.”

I did my routine work for Jack for the rest of that year. We always had some cow work to do, and there were a couple of sick llamas also. 

Then, in the Spring, there were rumors that the price of a llama was falling. The stories soon became fact, the price had dropped almost overnight. Wealthy llama owners were taking catastrophic losses. It was hard to put a dollar figure on their losses because nobody wanted to talk about it in exact terms.

Jack called shortly after the collapse, he had sold his llamas and needed them preg checked.

We were working his herd through the chute when Jack was explaining the loss to me.

“This gal you are checking right now, I bought for $27,000 last Spring,” Jack said. “Tomorrow, I am selling her for $1,150. I guess my accountant will be happy.”

Published by d.e.larsen.dvm

Country vet for over 40 years in Sweet Home Oregon. I graduated from Colorado State University in 1975. I practiced in Enumclaw Washington for a year and a half before moving to Sweet Home to start a practice.

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