Local Llama Brings Home County Fair Awards
Every day when 17-year-old Tori Tinney comes home from Zephyrhills High School, her beloved pet Maverick runs to greet her.
Maverick isn't a dog, cat or horse. Maverick is a llama.
Tinney said she spends the majority of her free time with Maverick and her deaf pet alpaca, Promise, caring for them and training them for livestock competitions.
"We work on obstacles for a couple hours a day," Tinney said. "My sister and I will open umbrellas and have them walk underneath or try and get them to go through hula hoops."
On April 2, the Levy County Fair became the first county fair in recent years to provide Tinney an opportunity to show off her talents close to home.
Until then, Tinney's only options to show off her hard work were to wait until the Florida State Fair's annual livestock competition in Tampa, or to travel to Georgia and North Carolina for various state and county fairs.
"It's been a year-long process of getting the llamas to the fair," said Brenda Heberling, livestock coordinator for the Levy County fair. "We worked state-wide to find breeders and judges to participate."
The Levy County Fair provided categories from obstacle course to showmanship and fiber competitions, where participants are judged by the quality of products made from the animals' sheared wool. Tinney's Maverick was one of 33 llamas that participated in Levy County's livestock competition.
Tracy Weaver, the superintendent for the Florida State Fair for llamas, says the resurgence of their popularity as a choice of livestock for competition is due to an improving economy.
"They're a great entity for kids who can't afford a steer but want more than a rabbit," Weaver said. "They're easy to care for and many kids even lease them from local farms."
For Tinney, the llamas' personalities come into play as well.
"I see them as more intelligent than a lot of other agricultural animals," Tinney said. "They're big on affections too."
Tinney and Maverick's hard work paid off, and the pair came home with three first place awards and one third place award. The first place prize for showmanship was a belt buckle.
"Three youth received belt buckles as prizes," Weaver said, who participated as a judge in the Levy County Fair competition. "You don't see many fairs that do that anymore. It makes it a really special experience for the kids to have something like that to take home with them."