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A llama dolly? Couple's farm is a real menagerie

Staff writer

If you drive west of Goessel, you might encounter a pasture with a flock of sheep overseen by a pair of llamas.

While it might seem odd to encounter Peruvian camelids in the midwest, to Carol Duerksen and Maynard Knepp, they’re just another part of their farm.

“We got our first llama shortly after we moved here, 33 years ago,” Carol said. “They’re here to help guard the sheep.”

Although llamas usually are seen as cute animals, popular in toys, video games, and other media, they make fantastic guard animals.

They are intelligent, oftentimes stubborn, and more than capable of handling animals that go after sheep. They will chase coyotes and wild dogs that come too close, rearing up to stomp them into submission.

“I’m collecting llama stuff just because it’s popular right now, and I love it. But it’s neat to actually have a live one,” Carol said.

“The one we have now,” Maynard said, “is getting old and very fussy when I come into the pen. The other morning, he reared up. I had walked by him, and he didn’t appreciate that. He’s always threatening to spit at me.”

“But you know what?” Carol said, motioning toward the interviewer. “If she went out there, he would not spit at her. He would just give her a kiss — I promise! — because he’s curious about strangers. He’s just fussy at us.”

As Carol predicted, a gentle kiss was received later while taking photos of the farm.

The couple also have used a donkey to protect their sheep.

“Many years ago, we had a dog that just showed up that we adopted,” Carol said. “But the donkeys didn’t know it was one of our dogs, so when I went for my walk in the pasture and got to where the donkeys were, they took off after that dog because, first of all, it looked kind of like a coyote, and it was a coyote-colored, but it wasn’t a dog they recognized, so they charged after it. If I hadn’t picked her up, they might have killed her.”

The current guardian for the flock — Zinnia, a black-and-white great Pyrenees — sticks close to the couple’s youngest lamb, Friezen, born during the cold spell in February. He nearly died, hence his name.

Along with sheep, sheepdogs, llamas, and previously donkeys, the couple keep chickens, guinea fowl, rabbits, around 80 cattle, four goats, a riding horse, a goose, three other dogs, and barn cats. In the past, they also raised hogs, potbelly pigs, peacocks, doves, and raccoons.

“We have at least one of everything that’s domesticated, except pigs! We used to,” Carol said.

Although they make good money selling lambs around Easter, the primary reason they keep sheep is because they enjoy them. It cost more money to shear them last summer than they made on the wool, Maynard said.

“Our check was $17,” he said.

Carol laughed.

It’s a common theme with their animals, which often provide more enjoyment of ownership than anything else. It really is a hobby farm, according to Carol.

Two of the goats are fainting goats, bred to go stiff and fall over when under stress. Elsewhere, this makes them “sacrifice animals.” When a coyote attacks, the goats become targets so the sheep can get away.

The couple don’t use their goats that way, however. Carol finds it morbid.

“Why do we have those? Just because,” Carol says. “Most of our animals are “just because”.

Carol and Maynard were born on farms and have had animals since they were young. Maynard got his first when he was 8. The couple managed a hog farm near Hutchinson until 1985, when they moved outside Goesseland began collecting animals.

Although llamas are naturally from Peru and guinea fowl from Africa, the couple claim they’re easy to keep, even easier than the more “regular” livestock.

Outside of shearing the llamas in spring to keep them cooler and taking away the guineas’ eggs to give to better mothers — often chickens — they don’t have to do much outside of regular livestock maintenance.

“We spend a lot more time and money on the things like cattle, dogs, and cats than we do the quote-unquote ‘exotics,’” Carol said.

The couple often are hosts for exchange students from Goessel High School. Their animals provide a learning experience. The couple have named animals and pets after exchange students to keep track of how old the animal is. A chocolate Laborador is named Choklad, for example — Swedish for “chocolate”.

A wall of a room of their home is covered with framed photos of students, many of them handling animals in the yard.

“You’ll see some of them were quite active with the animals,” Carol said. “That’s been part of the deal to find students that this would be a fun and unique place to visit.

“We’re going to host a German girl this year who wrote about loving horses. We have a horse that doesn’t get ridden, so that was an automatic connection.”

Last modified April 14, 2021

 

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