"Now when the frantic rhythm troubles me and I need an oasis of tranquility I find contentment in the remembered thrill of seeing llamas on the hill."
-From a poem written by a passerby to the Hansen Llama Farm.
Tucked away up North Canyon Road on the city's eastern bench is an unlikely pastoral scene. A herd of gentle llamas feeds as though it were the Andes and not the Wasatch range towering behind them. Down the circular drive from the fenced pasture, a yellow caution sign reads, "llama crossing."
For years, the llamas corralled near the home of Gus and Jeannie Hansen have attracted cars full of weekend visitors and chagrined city officials who say the herd doesn't conform to zoning ordinances passed after the Hansen's started the herd.
But the neighbors don't seem to mind.
"The neighborhood loves them," Jeannie Hansen said.
The Hansen's llamas are among a growing number of the docile beasts being adopted by American owners for love and money. At least two other owners in Davis County have made the county somewhat of a Utah llama mecca.
"It is fun, but it is also a business. We do it because it is profitable," said Gus Hansen. "For some reason we don't need to do any advertising. We are constantly getting calls."
In fact, Mary Hoffman, Bountiful City executive secretary, has become well acquainted with the Hansen's business without ever meeting them. People call from all over the country wanting to know about the "people in Bountiful, Utah, that own the llamas." She keeps their number handy, she said.
Jeannie Hansen, who runs the llama business, said their herd has grown to about 35 since they got their first llamas 13 years ago. Part of the herd grazes on 30 acres of land near Oakley, Summit County, and the rest live on the five acres next to the Hansen's home. Expectant mother llamas spend their time in Bountiful so the Hansen's can be there when their young are born.
Jeannie Hansen said the llamas have become part of the family, taking on some unusual names. Included in the herd is "Jasmine," "Mignon" and "T-Bill" which got the name because it was born about the time of the most recent stock market crash. Another is "Susan B. Anthony," named for the unpopular $1 coin, and "Chee-Cha," named after an exotic Peruvian beer.
After 13 years, the Hansens are quick to point out the difference between llamas and their cousins: the vicuna, alpaca and guanaco, which are similar in appearances and usually have a meaner disposition - perhaps leading to the misconception that llamas spit at people.
But Gus Hansen says spitting llamas is an old wives tale. "That is not accurate. They are not disagreeable. They may get a little angry when another llama is taking their grain, but they have never spit at us," he said, noting the animals' cleanliness and docile manner.
Gus Hansen visualizes large numbers of llamas someday being raised in the United States. The animals have a higher metabolism rate than other farm animals and are good wool producers. And their meat, when properly cooked, tastes like roast beef.
He also sees a future for llamas as back-country pack animals. "They have zero impact on trails. At night they lay down and don't tear up where they bed down. They are tame and easy to train," Hansen said.
In the meantime, however, the llama business remains a lucrative trade for hobbyists. An average female sells for about $10,000. A male sells for about $1,000.
"At present we have a 50 percent expectation of profit," Gus Hansen said.
Over the years the Hansen's have become llama enthusiasts, sponsoring high-country backpack trips with the animals and participating in the International Llama Association. In June, the Hansen's will bring the organization's international convention to Salt Lake City. Utahns will be able see everything from a llama cart pull to the spinning of llama wool.
"We don't see the end in sight, Jeannie Hansen said. "Llamas are becoming more and more popular."