Hot llamas go inside house to escape Texas heat

August 16, 2011 8:12:12 AM PDT
There's no denying that Central Texas' record heat and drought conditions are affecting people in unexpected ways.

Claud and Sharon Bramblett of Manor are no exceptions.

Neither are their 10 llamas.

The Brambletts share 20 acres with three dogs, two cows, several peacocks and 10 llamas. Around 1 p.m. every day this summer, six or seven white, brown, gray and spotted llamas, each weighing 200 to 400 pounds, file into the Brambletts' home, where they'll stay for the afternoon hours to cool off. The others have short-fibered hair and don't get quite as hot.

"There's no grass, no local hay to buy, no forage," said Claud Bramblett, a 71-year-old retired professor of anthropology at the University of Texas. "It's too hot for them. The stock tanks have dried up. They're having a hard time."

The Brambletts bought their land in Manor in 1973 and began building their house, which is 32 feet by 32 feet, in 1983. Their first llamas, Apu and Glacier, came into their lives in 1997, and they have wanted every llama they've seen since, Sharon Bramblett said. When inside, the llamas occupy the southeast quarter of the home, or 256 square feet.

The llamas, each with his or her own name and story, seem calm and content inside the house, new fixtures amid the couch, artwork, piano bench, and kitchen table and chairs. Some of the llamas are kushed, or seated with their legs under them, underbellies against the cool cement floor. Others are standing.

They are curious creatures; often their ears shift forward, signaling interest in what's going on around them. They hum and yawn and chew their cud. Despite the common misconception that they are spitting machines, the llamas spit only as a last resort, when they feel threatened or in distress. General McArthur , a light gray mini llama with a reddish-brown face, stands in front of a fan, gazing out the window.

"They would always come in one or two at a time," said 70-year-old Sharon Bramblett, who worked as a research assistant and webmaster at UT before retiring in 2003. "But this is just an exceptional summer. Many more are coming in, and they're staying for hours."

Llamas originally come from a region in the Andes Mountains in South America and live at an elevation between 11,000 and 14,000 feet. The temperatures can reach 90 degrees during the day but drop down to the 30s at night, allowing the llamas to cool off, Sharon Bramblett said. The Brambletts' llamas haven't been getting a chance to cool down at night, because this summer the nights have been nearly as hot as the days.

To accommodate the extra boarders, the Brambletts have pushed their furniture closer to the walls, creating more floor space. Sharon Bramblett's spinning wheel is set up downstairs, with bags of llama fiber nearby. They have moved Claud Bramblett's computer downstairs so he can work there in the afternoon. Someone needs to be available to open the door if one of the llamas needs to go outside for a bathroom break.

"They are naturally potty-trained," Sharon Bramblett said.

After dinner, the house becomes a llama-free zone, she said. The couple regain their space until the next afternoon.

Though it's been a big adjustment, the Brambletts don't mind the extra company. The llamas have become part of the family in the same way dogs and cats do.

"Sharon wanted camels, which I thought were too big and aggressive," Claud Bramblett said. "They belong to the same family. It was a good compromise."

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