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home : business : business May 1, 2016

7/23/2013 11:59:00 AM
Sisters woman is a 'llama wrangler'
Lori Ketchum loves caring for the llamas at Best Western Ponderosa Lodge. photo provided
+ click to enlarge
Lori Ketchum loves caring for the llamas at Best Western Ponderosa Lodge. photo provided

By Bonnie Malone

"Fifteen years ago, if someone had said I was going to be a 'llama wrangler,' I'd have thought it was insane," says Lori Ketchum, as she feeds grain to the 10 llamas who live at the Best Western Ponderosa Lodge on the west end of Sisters.

She dedicates much of her life to the care of 20 llamas that don't belong to her. It is an assignment of the heart.

Ketchum is the principal broker of Cold Springs Commercial Properties, including administrative assistance at the Best Western Ponderosa Lodge, owned by the Reed family. For seven years, she was the personal assistant to Bill Reed, Jr. at Coldwell Banker Reed Brothers Realty.

When Reed and his wife, Jan, died tragically in an airplane accident in 2005, Ketchum voluntarily assumed management of the Reed llamas that grazed along Highway 20, where they catch the eyes of passersby and entertain guests at the Best Western. At the Reed Ranch, another herd of females required the same devotion, which she readily supplied.

"I'm an animal lover," Ketchum explains, as she praises Ditto, one of her charges. "They need somebody; they need human interaction. I knew that I wanted to do this for Jan and Bill, and for me.

"It is so much a part of my life that we hardly ever take vacation time," Ketchum says. "I never had a farm or ranch, so this has rewarded me in so many ways."

Ketchum's husband, Ron, does the daily feeding at both locations, but Lori is the hands-on caregiver, who has lovingly invested her free time to get to know each llama and assure a listener that they understand everything she says.

"Some people say they are as smart as dogs," she says.

Ketchum began collecting the wool from biannual shearing of the gentle grazing beasts and learned how to spin, a goal Jan Reed had set for herself and Ketchum. The result is 21 55-gallon bags of wool that Ketchum combs, washes, cleans, dries, dyes and then spins on her own spinning wheel.

The spun wool is then sold as skeins of "Jan's Llama Wool" in the Best Western Lodge. The proceeds fund the Reed Scholarship, awarded each year to a Sisters High School graduate. Ketchum radiates joy in this project that she created, for both what she has learned and also for being able to honor the Reeds, her friends and employers.

She fondly describes the interpersonal relationships of the llamas, with stories about who gets along, who is most likely to give kisses, who is antagonistic.

"Meteor and Ditto don't like each other," she reports, "and they try to create gangs."

She says they even play King of the Mountain on a hump of dirt built for them. Mulder, the lone Alpaca in the herd, may be the smallest, but he is the toughest.

"It's important to know their personalities," Ketchum explains, "because if one of them is not acting normally, I know there is something physically wrong."

One of the llamas munching on the verdant pasture was a gift from a long-haul truck driver who enjoyed seeing the llamas on his trips through Sisters. When life circumstances changed, he offered his llama to the Best Western. Now, he drives by in his 18-wheeler and honks a greeting.

Ketchum has one llama that she drives. Devir is left with a big, fluffy mane after shearing by Allan Godsiff, because "people like to see that long, beautiful hair when I drive him." Devir turns left or right by vocal command of "left" or "right."

Yet the herd could be as dumb as a box of rocks and Ketchum would still feel the same emotional attachment.

From June 20 to July 20, Ketchum averages at least an hour-and-a-half a day with the process of turning wool into skeins of yarn. A mix of shampoo and conditioner soaks the wool for 24 hours, then a short rinse is followed by another 24-hour soaking rinse. The wool is dried on screens in the sunlight. Ketchum has six screens that were built by her husband, but determinedly says she doesn't have enough of them. One fleecing from one llama takes four screens.

"Buster is drying right now," she says.

Ketchum has great fun picking dyes and inventing colors. She displays "Boo," a Halloween eerie chartreuse green, and "Old Glory," a red, white and blue combination. She has a "Bahama Llama" and Beaver or Duck blends. For the grown children of Jan and Bill Reed, she created "Ashley Get Your Gun" gray; "Brit," a soft turquoise blue that matches Brittany's eyes; and "Flyin' Ryan," for pilot Ryan Reed.

A few of the llamas are aging, but still producing good wool. Danny is 19 years old and Fernando is 18. Sometimes the wool is too damaged to clean, which sends Ketchum to the loft of the Reed Ranch barn, where she is still able to recover wools that were bagged more than eight years ago. These are the times that remind her of how she came to learn about llamas and their wool, after asking so long ago if she could come watch, and see what the exotic animal had to teach her.

Since 2006, Jan's Llama Wool has covered the annual Reed scholarship. This year, Ketchum has sold $865 of yarn, halfway to her projected income. Jan's Llama Wool is on display in the lobby of the Best Western, where it can be purchased. The public is welcome to stop by to buy skeins, which are identified with the name of the producing llama. The purchaser might then wander to the pasture and try to find that llama.

If Lori Ketchum is there, you will be graced with a story of that llama and the herd.

Reader Comments

Posted: Monday, July 29, 2013
Article comment by: Jim Ketchum

Two football seasons ago I won a bet on the outcome of the Oregon vs LSU season opener with Lori's husband (my brother) Ron. The stakes were a hand-knit, llama wool scarf in LSU purple and gold vs a John Riggins Redskins jersey (we're long time Redskins fans!) Lori came through with not one but TWO llama wool scarves, and not just in purple and gold, but with the letters LSU knitted into one and, believe it or not, the 'Eye of The Tiger', LSU's midfield emblem, embroidered into the other! She is really unbelievable!

Posted: Wednesday, July 24, 2013
Article comment by: Ashley Reed

It still amazes me how Lori makes the time to create her llama wool yarn of brilliant colors! She has honored my late parents in so many ways and I can never thank her enough for all that she does and continues to do for us and the llamas! Lori is truly the llama mama.

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