Life with Llamas

by Apr 25, 2024Animals, North Brunswick

After years of winning hundreds of ribbons in cart driving, performance, halter and showmanship, Vicki Sundberg and her five llamas are settling into a quieter life on their 7-acre farm in Bolivia.

Vicki Sundberg is a natural storyteller, particularly when it comes to stories about llamas. As the owner of SundMist Pastures Llamas in Bolivia, she has spent the past 20 years sharing her passion for these quirky, loveable creatures with all who cross her path.

She might tell you of the time her most trusted llama nearly saved her life during a parade by putting himself between her and a runaway horse, or about the day her youngest llama got mistaken for Bob Marley at a hippie festival. Whichever story she tells, within minutes of meeting Sundberg, you cannot help but be riveted by her tales and charmed by her animals.

Sundberg’s interest in llamas stemmed from a chance encounter during her time in the military. An electrical engineer with the Air Force, she was stationed in Washington, D.C., in 2001 when she and her husband, David, happened across a sheepdog herding competition and fiber festival outside of the city. It was there that Sundberg came face-to-face with her first llama, and it was love at first sight.

Sund Mist Pastures

“That llama just stole my heart, and right then I decided I was going to have llamas in my world,” Sundberg says.

Unable to own one right away while still on active duty, Sundberg was left dreaming about llamas and learning all she could about these distinctive animals. Eager to be near them, she began volunteering at a nearby Virginia llama farm to get to know them better. She also started researching as much as she could about these domesticated pack animals and their South American origins. After reading about the sport of llama carting, she knew right away she wanted to try it as soon as she owned her llama.

Upon retiring from the military in 2002, Sundberg and her husband moved to Southport and prepared themselves for their new endeavor.

“I set three criteria for myself for owning llamas,” Sundberg says. “First, I needed to learn as much as possible about them before I ever bought one, which is why I did the volunteer work. Next, I needed to have a mentor, someone who already owned llamas and lived close enough to call and ask what to do if I had a problem. And third, I needed a veterinarian who either knew about llamas or was willing to learn.”

Luckily, Sundberg quickly met all her criteria when, through a connection made by her stepdaughter, she found a family in Wilmington who both owned a llama farm and had an established veterinarian with llama experience. From them, Sundberg purchased Sunny, her first llama and the current alpha of her herd. It was not long before she bought another, and her dream started becoming a reality.

Vickie Sundberg SundMist Pastures

“I began this amazing journey after retiring, and this became my new passion,” Sundberg says. “I started attending every conference possible because if I was going to own these absolutely incredible animals so foreign to this environment in North Carolina, I had to be as smart as I could. Otherwise, I’m letting them down.”

Realizing her 2 acres in Southport were not ideal for expanding her herd, Sundberg purchased a 7-acre farm off George II Highway in Bolivia in 2005. She quickly got to work building pastures and adding llamas to her family.

Her pack currently includes five members, each with a distinct personality and position in the herd hierarchy. The oldest and her original llama, 22-year-old Sunny, is the boss, followed by her most food-driven and reliable companion, 22-year-old Mooch, then the strikingly beautiful 21-year-old Noelle, followed by Sunny’s 19-year-old son, Pip, and finally the herd baby and troublemaker, 13-year-old Trev.

After years of competing in state fairs and festivals across the country, Sundberg and her llamas have collected hundreds of ribbons in cart driving, performance, halter and showmanship.

For her, however, the goal was never about the awards, but more about proving to herself that the work she put in and the bond she and her llamas had formed was always top-notch.

SundMist Pastures Awards

“Competing helped me verify my training was what was expected because I could measure my performance and my llamas’ performance against a standard,” Sundberg says.

Years of attending shows and fairs also gave Sundberg’s llamas much-needed exposure to large crowds and unpredictable situations, which comes in handy now at their community events and appearances. From nursing homes to schools to parades and festivals, Sundberg loves sharing her creatures with others.

“These animals are so unique and bring such joy to the faces of everyone they meet,” she says. “Llamas have this special ability to understand what people need, and if you look in their eyes, you can see the depth of their soul.”

At age 73, Sundberg knows it is time for both herself and her llamas to slow down. The average llama’s lifespan is between 15 and 20 years of age, so she prefers sticking to local events since constant travel is hard these days. Always wanting to stay busy, however, Sundberg also harvests her llamas’ fiber and crafts a variety of felted, woven and knitted products she sells for fun, along with llama manure, which she says is the perfect fertilizer.

Sund Mist Pastures Llama

Sundberg has also teamed up with In the Pines RV & Cabin Village down the road from her farm, and together they offer storytelling walks in which people can stroll with her llamas through more than 2 miles of pine forest. These hikes are mutually beneficial for all as they help guests become acquainted with the area’s newest RV park and these wonderful animals and also allow Sundberg to continue sharing her llamas and their amazing stories.

“This is my new adventure for 2024, and I’m having the time of my life,” Sundberg says. “I’m in the shape I’m in because of these animals. I don’t want to sit around because I can’t afford to leave this earth before my animals leave. I need to be able to be here for them and care for them until it is their time to go.”

Want some Llama love?
Storytelling Walk with the SundMist Pastures Llamas
In the Pines RV Park & Camp Village
1600 George II Highway, Bolivia
(910) 253-5612
smpllamas.com

Photography by Brenda Torrey