Sky Rocket, PLTA MPL
ILR # 103925
male b. 6-26-1992 d. 5-14-2010
Feni Gold Nugget x Baby
click on the photo to see more pictures of Sky Rocket on flickr®
Sky Rocket stood 45.5" at the withers and weighed around 325 lbs. when in condition; he was more often hovering around 350 lbs. Other "experts" previously measured him as being between 46.5" and 47" ... no wonder tall llamas get all the press ... "the press" makes them tall in the first place!
Rocky had already been used quite a bit for breeding in the Montana area with 32 cria born (17 registered) born as of his arrival at Lost Creek Llamas in 2001.
We’d greatly admired Sky Rocket's physical attributes for some time and planned to breed select Ranger Dusty daughters to him after they’d matured. When a divorce meant that Rocky HAD to be sold, we purchased him immediately.
We did take on more than we had bargained for.
As part of a commercial pack string, Rocky knew certain trails and their obstacles. Only those trails. Not, for instance, our wide bridge to drive across our creek. Hmpf. But not unsurmountable; just annoying considering we paid for a trained, experienced packer and got a remedial training job we didn't need.
Independent of his previous “job,” Rocky was also permitted to lead humans around, demanding food or sex whenever the notion took him, and initially we frequently found our arms being yanked HARD whenever Rocky spotted something he wanted. It’s a strong testament to Rocky's otherwise sensible disposition that he never hurt anyone. However, that also meant we really had our work cut out for us when we realized we needed to be the “bad cops” and require that Rocky learn and always practice safe and responsible behavior. Rocky was VERY strong, and convincing him that someone else makes the rules when he’s on halter and lead was no simple matter. Nothing we couldn't handle ... but it was dangerous, even for us.
As a stud, Rocky had some very superior genes; as an individual, we finally had to admit that he was arrogant beyond belief, and proved to be the biggest management problem ever to reside on our farm — and we've had some pretty bad llamas here through our rehab work.
We had to board Rocky elsewhere for the first two years we owned him (he thought Dusty should die, and started on this “project” by snapping off several completely sound, brand-new peeler core fenceposts at the base). Rocky was fine with geldings-only situations ... he was fine next to females if he was the ONLY male (gelded or not) ... but like most llama farms, we have both sexes, and Rocky found this normal situation to be completely unacceptable.
In August 2004, shortly after we brought him home to his newly-built super-strong-six-foot-fence-with-railroad-tie-posts pasture, Rocky was standing on his hind legs, screaming indignantly and spitting at some juveniles (only juveniles, sheesh!) in the next pasture and in the process of smashing into the fence and gate, he managed to break his right foreleg in one of the super-strong gates. About a year and over $5000 later, he was back in his pasture (with the offending gate hazard and all others like it corrected) and somewhat humbled.
But only somewhat. We quickly realized that extraordinary effort would be necessary to keep Rocky safe from the results of his own anger, and so for the next five years, we had to alternately stall and shuffle an assortment of male and gelded llamas between pastures as Rocky continued to attack all other males and geldings through whatever barrier was present, at great cost to many doors, gates, fences, and our wallet (as if the vet bills weren't enough of an insult).
Rocky's attitude finally caught up with him in May 2010. We had turned him out to graze without his halter, as we had done countless times before, in what we still consider our safest, strongest pen, positioned far from other llamas AND specifically designed and manufactured to prevent animals from being able to get a leg between the panels. In his quest to threaten and maybe kill some males and geldings in a distant pasture, Rocky managed to force apart two pinned panels, wedge an upper leg between them, and then kill himself in his ensuing panic.
Within 24 hours, an incredible tension had lifted from the farm and the two greatest lessons Rocky taught us hit home FAST, and indelibly so —you can't save people (or llamas) from themselves ... and it's wrong to burden the many (ourselves and everyone else on the farm) for not just the needs, but also the wants and demands of the few ... or the one. Especially the "everyone else on the farm" who never signed up for the trouble they took to help us in our futile quest to help Rocky.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
None of Sky Rocket's offspring approach their sire's level of arrogance toward other llamas, but every one we know of tends toward a strong personality at maturity, and thus potentially problematic if mishandled or indulged. As a working pack stud, Sky Rocket's genetic contribution improved physically on every female, and that is the mark of a "prepotent" stud in any species. Unfortunately, we now realize that Rocky's contribution to Classic llamas as a breed type was in fact detrimental. Rocky's own coat, although combable, was at the very, very outer limits that define Classic, and every one of his offspring had a coat that was a downgrade compared to his or her dam's coat. A significant number of his offspring are also borderline and even require shearing, which is the outright definition of NOT Classic! (If you search the internet, you'll find only shorn or trimmed/clipped Sky Rocket offspring on other farms.)
We have retained only classic-coated Sky Rocket offspring for our own breeding, but with the knowledge that any Sky Rocket offspring might produce mutt throwbacks for generations to come, and thus they will be paired cautiously and bred sparingly. Also, all direct Sky Rocket offspring that we retained will be retired from our breeding herd after producing a replacement, upgrade offspring for us.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Despite his previously broken leg, Sky Rocket was named Grand Champion Classic Male in the FIRST EVER Classic Llama halter division (held at Oregon Flock and Fiber Festival), September 2008. “Rocky” was 16 years old at the time and defeated both a multiple grand-champion winning ALSA halter champion and his own son, Lost Creek Credo (who has since been awarded numerous Grand Champions at halter).
Sky Rocket had some previous PLTA trial completions (two advanced, two master level), but wasn’t able to earn certification before we bought him because he hated picking up his feet — and totally refused to allow his back legs to be touched, let alone permit rear “foot inspections” as is randomly required for PLTA MPL certification. And then, of course, came the boarding years followed by the fractured leg and the long period physical rehabilitation (during much of which, picking up any foot other than the fractured one without the support of a chute and belly strap to lean on was physically asking too much). Although prior to the fracture Rocky was packing with as much weight, double the miles per day, and often double the maximum elevation gain that master level certification requires, the aftereffects of his healed fracture made extended or steep downhill stretches uncomfortable, and so we relegated him to what we consider “moderate” packing. To put that classification in perspective, those restrictions did NOT preclude pack trials at the master’s level. He finally agreed to pick up all of his feet for both of us, and in September 2009, he became the oldest llama to earn PLTA Master Pack Llama certification at age 17 years … and the only llama to do so after fracturing a leg.
Rocky was certainly a very intense package. Despite the significant contributions he added to our breeding herd through some very impressive and even enjoyable descendants, if we had it to do all over again, we'd pass.
Sky Rocket was named and nicknamed (“Rocky”) by his previous owner. Both name and nickname proved painfully appropriate.