Argentine Llamas – What’s in a Name?

by Gayle M. Woodsum

With the popularity of Argentine llamas on the rise across the country, the search is on for marketable terminology.  Breeders of all kinds find themselves eager to please potential buyers who, confronted by large bone and lots of fiber, are quick to ask “Is that llama an Argentine?”

Is it a Pureblood?

To describe llamas born on the Chilean/Argentina border with phenotype very similar to the true Argentine look (broad, triangular nose; heavy leg bone; massive feet; rounded rib cage; intense color; calm dispositions) importers Paul and Sally Taylor coined the phrase Rebano Escondido in hopes of finding a market for Chilean llamas with the Argentine look.

Llama owners who have purchased or want to promote breeding and sales stock with Argentine blood in their animals’ lineage are often quick to answer queries with a “Yes, this is an Argentine llama,” when the animal’s lineage in fact includes bloodlines from other countries of origin.

Breed Recognition

While there is a vast diversity of opinion on having llama registry and show organizations move in the direction of breed standards, the fact remains that breeders and enthusiasts are inching their way in precisely that direction.  The ILR already plays host to independent registries for suri llamas (the Suri Llama Association) and miniature llamas (the Miniature Llama Association).  A few years ago suri lovers persuaded ALSA to add a separate suri division to its halter classes. The ALSA board approved offering independent miniature llama halter classes for points and ALSA awards.  It is an accepted norm that sale prices and demand are higher for llamas that can trace both sides of their genealogy back to one country of origin (the full Bolivian, the full Peruvian, the full Chilean).

The Argentine llama is on the starting block for having its own fan club and specialized breeders.  This gradually expanding popularity, particularly in the show ring and in breeding programs, began with the half Argentine.  Full Argentine imports bred to less exotic phenotypes are producing substantive llamas with grace and height; spectacular fiber coverage with drapey lock structure.  With increased awareness of what Argentine bloodlines have to offer any herd, hard core fans are being drawn more and more to the extreme look that comes with pure Argentine blood.

In Search of Honesty and Ethics

For the benefit of solid breeding programs and full disclosure in marketing, we must all begin to promote the reality of what we have to offer.   Here at Double J Llamas, we have bloodlines and we have looks.  One of our Chilean imports, born on the Argentina border, looks for all the world like a classic Argentine.  Her offspring are carrying on that trait, with added suri lock structure coming from our 7/8 Chilean senior herd sire, Sand Dollar.  Those crias will be promoted as primarily Chilean, which they are, but they will sell to people who like the Argentine look and are not as concerned about the bloodlines.  

On the other hand, we have a full Argentine female with few Argentine physical traits, who we breed to our extremely heavy boned classic full Argentine, Isidro, in order to not only promote the pure bloodlines, but to encourage the classic phenotype into the dam’s resulting offspring.

As for the half Argentines filling out our herd, we are getting a look that has the largest possible appeal and diversity, including super suris with heavy bone and mellow personalities; and tall stretchy show stoppers with wool coverage to their toes.  And then there are the highly select full Argentines born here that make our hearts stop, who are little by little winning over judges a step or two behind an admiring public.

This kind of marketing and breeding challenge has been faced by others in the past.  The Quarter Horse and Arabian horse markets are good examples.  Both offer registries for full and half breeds, including show ring classes for both full and half breeds, combined and separate from each other.  By limiting registration options to a minimum of 50% of a certain breed or blood line, traits remain more constant and marketing value stays consistently strong.  There may be a Quarter Horse or Arabian look that sells well, but there is no strong marketing terminology for just a look.

What You See is What You Get

It’s time to offer clarity and education to people who are finding out what many of us have known for years; there’s nothing quite like strong Argentine blood to make a llama truly special and unique.  Now is the time for breeders and show people to also establish ourselves as being honest and ethical promoters of what we love.  An Argentine look does not an Argentine make.  Half Argentines must be presented as such without misleading generalizations.  Only llamas whose entire traceable lineage goes back to Argentina as the country of origin should be promoted as Full Argentines.  There is a place for every look and every background.  Ultimately, the individual animal and its history as a breeder, fiber producer, show ring competitor, or companion, will sell itself if we as their guardians are true to the gifts these animals have to offer.

Gayle Woodsum is a writer and community organizer in North Park, Colorado, where she stewards a highly diverse herd of 70 llamas and 1 alpaca, including retiree geriatrics, rescues, and a beloved group of full and half Argentines. She is a llama packing and show ring enthusiast (both halter and performance), served as a Level III ALSA llama judge for more than 10 years, and is the executive producer of the Higher Ground Fair in Laramie, Wyoming, superintending a llama and alpaca show as one of its central, most popular events.