Katrina Capasso might not think of herself as a trendsetter, but she was way ahead of everyone else when it comes to owning llamas.
Thirty years ago, the Ballston Spa resident asked for one of the docile animals as a wedding present. Her husband, Gary, had no idea how to get one. This was 1989 when llamas weren’t really kept as pets in the United States. It took a lot of searching, but finally, Gary found Dakota, their very first llama.
“Then we got another llama to keep him company and it slowly grew,” Katrina said. The pack animals, which are native to South America, can weigh anywhere from 200 to upwards of 400 pounds. They can also have a diverse range of coat colors, from dappled tan and white to grey and black to a bright white.
“What really stirred the neighborhood up was when she used to go jogging in town with Dakota,” Gary said, “Here she is chugging to the post office with a llama.”
People would stop Katrina to ask what kind of animal it was. They’d guess goat, horse; every animal except llama.
“There was none around [at the time],” Gary said.
Indeed, in the 1980s, there were only a few llamas in the United States. However, in 2007, there were 122,680 in the country, according to the census of farms and ranches.
Though the population has fallen since then, with the U.S. Department of Agriculture reporting only 40,000 llamas as of 2017, the Capasso’s llama population is still going strong.
They have 57 of the regal animals on their property, some short with dalmatian-like coats and some tall with heavy white coats. Tucked away in Ballston Spa, they’ve run Dakota Ridge Farm, named after their first llama, for the last two decades.
At first, they didn’t consider themselves a business—both Katrina and Gary had day jobs and ran the farm simply because they loved the animals. They bred llamas, which they occasionally sold, but much of the time, they couldn’t part with them.
Then, a few years into starting the farm, a community member asked the Capassos to start a llama 4-H Club. “We [were] the first ones with llamas in this area,” Katrina said,
“We started boarding llamas because the 4-H kids had to have their own llamas. Some of them are married and still board here.”
Then, about eight years ago, the couple got involved with groups like Living Resources and local Arc chapters. Both organizations work with disabled community members.
The Capassos saw how much it did for those groups and how much fun they had and wanted to keep it going. Now, members of those groups visit and volunteer on the farm on a regular basis.
“They lead a llama around, they help me halter train the babies,” Katrina said.
In the last few years, the couple also started leading llama treks, which are exactly what they sound like—a hike with a llama at one’s side. During the spring and fall months, they take small groups to lead a llama through the trails just behind the farm.
The gentle nature of the llamas makes for a relaxing walk along the wooded trails. With horses, people have to worry about not getting under their foot and about them getting spooked, said Gary. That’s not the case with llamas.
“If these guys step on your foot, it’s like [they feel] rude,” Gary said.
The only thing that really distracts the llamas is the greenery along the way, which can make the walk last more than the hour-long duration it’s supposed to be. They’ll often try to stop for a snack, sometimes going off the trail to get to healthy-looking grass. However, they’re so docile that all it takes is a tug or two on the halter to get them back on though, Katrina said.
People can bring a lunch or a snack along on the trek, which they can put in a pack on the llama’s back, to be enjoyed at the picnic tables on the trail or on the farm.
Since the treks are unique, they’ve had several people over the years use them as a chance to propose to a loved one or to celebrate a special birthday or anniversary.
They’ve also had a handful of prom-posals happen on the treks.
Back on the farm, people can take tours as well, where they explore all three barns and pastures.
“We bring them right in the barn with everybody,” Katrina said, “People just love it. Some llamas like back rubs so they come right over for a back rub, some run away, they’re all different.”
Visitors can also brush llamas if they’d like, running a brush through the sometimes thick and curly coats.
The Capassos also take visitors to the maternity barn, where they can catch a glimpse of the two crias, or baby llamas, who were born just last week. They weigh about 30 pounds and they’re still learning to walk and run, though they’re getting plenty of practice chasing one another around the pasture.
The farm usually sees 10 births a year in the spring or fall. A few potential buyers have already shown interest in Brianni, the youngest cria, whose coat is a deep brown in some spots and charcoal in others. Some people buy them as pets, others as guards or companions for their sheep.
It can be difficult to sell the llamas, not because they’re not in demand, but because it’s easy to bond with them, especially for Katrina.
“I have to make believe when they’re first born that they’re not mine so I don’t get attached to them,” Katrina said.
Even from a young age, they seem to have their own character, whether they’re playful or shy like Brianni seems to be so far.
“Fifty-five llamas, fifty-five different personalities, some that change by the hour,” Gary said, “but [across the board] they’re just chilled out llamas.”
Though the llamas are the stars of the show, they’re only one part of the farm family, which includes four horses, a cat, two border collies and chickens.
“The border collies run around and they think they’re keeping the llamas in their pen. It’s hysterical,” Katrina said.
The Capassos keep life on the farm fun by taking in every moment and not sweating the small stuff.
“Life can change in a second. When we’re out here, we don’t take it for granted,” Gary said.
The llama treks run through June and pick back up again in September. Tours are $10 per person; treks are $25 per person; $15 for ages 15 and under (group rates are available). For more about the llama treks, farm tours and about Dakota Ridge Farm, visit dakotaridgefarm.com.