QUINTER When Dalene Reinecker's husband, Rex, went to a cattle auction in 1996 in Oakley, she never expected that a year later she'd be grooming and showing llamas.
"Rex went to a sale one day with the purpose of just looking at two llamas, and with those two we got in June, by that December, we had 10," she said.
Beginning with two male llamas, the Reineckers are now proprietors of the Wheatfield Llama herd, which averages 40 to 45 at a time.
Many of them have become national champions.
"Rex decided he liked those two little males, so we went to Colorado and started buying breeding stock, and it's just bloomed," Reinecker said.
After a self-taught crash course in raising llamas, Reinecker and her husband started showing llamas competitively in 1997.
"Showing became our primary thing. I really credit Rex for knowing what's a good llama, and I credit myself for the grooming," she said.
"One particular male called Wheatfield Fudge as a yearling won fourth the first year we showed him, and he also won fourth the second year. Last year, he won grand champion of all the males nationally at Lincoln, Neb., and he won the competition at a futurity in Kentucky," Reinecker said.
This past January, another male was added to the herd when White Heat's Trilogy was purchased at a stock show in Fort Worth, Texas. Last year, White Heat's Trilogy placed first in the juvenile class at the Celebrity World Futurity in Oklahoma and won reserve champion last year in Nebraska.
The couple recently traveled to Illinois, Oklahoma and Missouri in a three-week period for llama shows, and Reinecker admitted that the hobby had turned into a lot of work -- "just a little bit more than I want to do," she said.
For one thing, the animals' grooming is critical.
"The fiber is really becoming part of the competition, and some shows are about 60 percent animal and 40 percent fiber," Reinecker said.
So she washes, blow-dries and brushes the llamas before showing them.
"I want them to look the best they can look, and to me, that's a big thing," she said.
And it doesn't stop at breeding, showing and selling llamas. Reinecker has taught herself to use shorn llama fiber to spin into yarn.
"It really isn't wool, but it's called wool at the shows. Wool is from sheep and is solid, and the hair from a llama is hollow, but it has a great insulating quality," she said.
The "wool" is graded into three classes -- light, medium and heavy.
"Shearing is done in April and May, and I knew I had to shear them. In northwestern Kansas, that's a given," Reinecker said.
"I also knew the fiber's a nice product, and I told Rex I wasn't going to throw it away. It's beautiful fiber, and I like the naturals."
She primarily shears the midsection of the llamas in order to keep them cool. She then has the fibers processed -- washed, dried and put into rovings, which are parallel fibers assembled into 2-inch-wide strips wound into spool-like bundles that are then spun into yarn.
But the llamas are more than a hobby for the Reineckers. They also have a 1,200-head cattle feedlot, and they've learned that llamas can fill the role of watchdogs.