Overbrook — Llama lovers are springing up across the state.
Though he was at first skeptical of an unfamiliar face pointing a camera at him, it didn't take long for Midnight the llama to turn on the charm.
The pride of his owners, Larry and Mary Sue Schwartz, and the dark brown Casanova of creatures pricked up his ears, fluttered his long eyelashes and lowered his bottom lip in an apparent flirtatious grin directed at his owner's blond guests.
A few seconds later, he puckered his llama lips to lay a kiss on Mary Sue to thank her for the special treat she had just fed him.
It's scenes like these that make it easy to see why the woolly animals have become so popular across Kansas and the nation.
Thirty-two Kansas llama owners and breeders like the Schwartzes advertise with the Golden Plains Llama Assn. (GPLA), but the Kansas-based group is a regional organization with more than 130 members in Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska and Oklahoma, said Linda Montgomery, a Topeka llama breeder and GPLA representative.
Montgomery said the animals are becoming increasingly popular, especially in this area, because they are intelligent, gentle-natured and make great pets. Now a full-fledged llama-lover, Montgomery has 20 llamas, all which have names and unique personalities.
"They're addictive," Montgomery said. "You get one and before you know it, you have a whole herd."
Schwartz agreed. Just like a human, all 11 of her llamas have names, favorite snacks and different levels of love they like to give. The Schwartzes care for their menagerie -- a dog, three cats, two horses and 11 llamas -- when they both get home from their full-time jobs. The llamas are a part-time business that brings a lot of pleasure.
"Each one has a different personality," said Mary Sue Schwartz. "Llamas are kind of like cats -- they have to come to you. They're not really cuddling animals like a dog. They want to do it on their terms."
And just like any human, her llamas also have their emotional ups and downs.
"The girls aren't nearly as nice a companion when they're pregnant," Schwartz said. "I don't know if it's their hormones or what. When you really know their personality, you don't even have to do a test to know they're pregnant."
There are 80,000 llamas in the United States. People not only raise them as livestock and use them as livestock guardians, but also value the fine wool the animals produce. Owners say the animals' pellet-sized poop also makes the most dandy fertilizer.
"Many people use them as sheep guarders," Montgomery said. "The llamas are naturally curious, and if a coyote or something comes in the field, the llama will protect and defend the sheep. They aren't shy. They will go up to the animal as opposed to running away."
Llamas originated in the Peru highlands 5,000 years ago. The animals are full-grown at 3 to 4 years old, weigh between 280 and 450 pounds and live between 15 and 20 years.
With growing popularity, llama prices have come down considerably, Montgomery said. Pet-quality males start out about $500, while young females start out about $2,500, she said.
If you're llonging for a llittle llama llove, you can have your pick of more than 40 llamas from seven states at the First Annual Golden Plains Breeders and Owners Llama Auction in Topeka this week. The auction is part of the Topeka Farm Show and will start at 9 a.m. Tuesday at the Kansas Expocentre Livestock Building in Topeka.
Montgomery said the GPLA hopes to make the auction an annual event, giving people a chance to buy llamas from reputable owners in central locations.
"The key words are reputable auctions," Montgomery said. "We try to discourage people from buying llamas at exotic sales where little or nothing is known about the animals or the seller and the buyer is taking a definite risk.
"We want our llamas to go to good homes, but we also want the buyer to know as much as possible about their new llama."
Those who attend the auction also will have their shot at a smooch from Midnight. With some regrets, Mary Sue plans to bring the friendly young male llama to the sale.
"I just hate to think about selling him," Mary Sue said.