116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
When Earl the llama's furry face popped up on the screen of a Zoom meeting Wednesday, the reactions were immediate. Laughter, squeals of delight and exclamations of 'Oh my God!'' rang out over the video connection.
Earl and the five other llamas at Prairie Patch Farm in rural Cedar Rapids have been making a lot of appearances on local computer screens lately, after farm owner Kahle Boutte started offering the 'llama bombs' to anyone who needed a way to liven up anything from a company meeting to a happy hour with friends to a virtual elementary school class session.
'We're just trying to spread love and positivity for everybody and doing what we can to bring some smiles right now,' Boutte said.
She got the idea after reading about another farm sanctuary in California offering virtual llama visits. Since then, she's seen the trend pickup across the country.
'It's something a lot of people in the llama community are doing,' Boutte said. 'So many of us depend on the foot traffic of agritourism. It has been such a hard hit for farms that really do depend on people visiting and tourism.'
Other animals have also gotten in on the action. Galena company Hoof It Goat Treks is offering Zoom calls with goats, starting at $40 for a 15 minute visit.
Prairie Patch offers the llama Zoom appearances for free, with people able to make a donation to support the farm in exchange. The 50 acres near Shueyville are set aside as a private wildlife sanctuary. Last fall, Boutte started offering guided hikes on the lands with llamas. She's planning to bring them back in May, with no more than five people at a time to allow social distancing.
'The llama hikes pay a lot of the expenses for maintaining the land,' she said. 'In my personal opinion, people need to get outdoors now more than ever for their mental health.'
She is also offering llama-grams for Mother's Day and for graduations. People who order one will get a visit from a llama dressed up for the occasion — she bought different colors of graduation stolls so people can request their school colors.
When she schedules a llama visit on a Zoom call, a llama face doesn't just pop up on the screen. Boutte also gives llama fun facts and talks about their history and habits, as well as virtually introducing the rest of the herd. She often dresses them in unicorn horns and colorful harnesses. Calls last 15 to 30 minutes.
The llama visits have been popular, with bookings filling up quickly. Most are from people in Eastern Iowa, but they've also gotten inquiries from out of state. People can book a visit by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Boutte said llamas are trendy right now, but she's not surprised by their popularity.
'I hear people saying, 'I have loved llamas all my life. A lot of products out right now are llama based, they're very popular, and people see them on social media,' she said. 'They see what charming and fun and whimsical animals they are. They really capture people's hearts because they're so endearing and sweet.'