Farm friends in good company

Rebecca TurnerThe West Australian
Steve Toghill.
Camera IconSteve Toghill. Credit: The West Australian

Trekking with llamas may sound like an odd adventure to some, but the company of these gentle and intelligent animals has lifted the spirits of Steve Toghill, his family and students attending the Rural Skills Program at Hillside Farm in Martin.

As manager at Hillside Farm, part of Kelmscott Senior High School, Mr Toghill has been using his llamas to assist in the development of students attending the farm.

His interest in llamas started more than 26 years ago, but it was not until Mr Toghill bought a four-hectare property in Chittering that he was able to purchase his first llama.

"I met Gidgegannup llama breeder Georgina Byrne at a field day 26 years ago and said then, that one day I would like to own a llama," Mr Toghill said.

"I met her again at the 2004 Gidgegannup Small Farm Field Day and by then we had bought our property in Chittering so I told her I was ready to buy one."

Mr Toghill, with wife Karen and daughter Abbey, 10, affectionately known as "Frog", have been hooked on these animals ever since, and they have a particular interest in taking their llamas trekking.

"We have a bachelor herd of six entire males," Mr Toghill said.

"Our interest is in trekking. One day we may operate a stud but for now our interest is in developing an awareness and interest in people enjoying llamas and using them for trekking."

Mr Toghill has taken his llamas trekking in Chittering, Whiteman Park, around the Swan River, Toodyay and even to Dome in Joondalup.

He makes his own pack saddles, and makes them for others if there is an interest.

Mr Toghill originally attended the Gidgegannup Small Farm Field Day to be involved with the sheep dog demonstrations. It was while there one year that the idea to promote llamas sprang to life.

"Our aim is not to sell llamas but to educate the public on the difference between llamas and alpacas, and what you can do with llamas," he said.

Mr Toghill and his daughter will be showcasing their llamas at this year's Gidgegannup Small Farm Field Day.

"Llamas are people orientated," he said. "They enjoy bush walking, have excellent temperaments and conformation for trekking and have a great packing ability.

"This is an animal that is soft on the ground and on your paddocks, you can take them walking and they can carry your things."

Mr Toghill said his career in agriculture and teaching developed over time and was originally sparked while in school himself, when his headmaster promised to get him into an agricultural college.

Mr Toghill studied at Narrogin Agricultural School in 1986 and 1987, after which he worked at Landsdale Farm School with special-needs students for 10 years.

In 2004, he took up a position advertised by the Education Department at Hillside Farm.

It was in his role of farm manager that Mr Toghill recognised the ability of llamas to be an intermediate step for students not familiar with handling livestock.

This connection between llamas and people is now being used to train students at Kelmscott Senior High School, in addition to 14 other Perth high schools involved in the Rural Skills Program at Hillside Farm.

"We use llamas at the school for preparing students in low-stress stock handling," Mr Toghill said.

"They are a good introduction into stock handling, as there is little danger for students who have no experience handling stock."

Mr Toghill said llamas were ideal for teaching students from Year 7 and higher, and were also used in programs for those with dementia, Down syndrome and other disabilities, as well as in education support groups.

"We use llamas to teach students how to work stock in the yards, as well as grooming, quick release knots and how to act around livestock," Mr Toghill said.

"Some students don't have any prior experience with livestock - you can't put these students straight onto a led steer, as that would be too dangerous."

The Kelmscott Senior High School agriculture program prepares students for showing led cattle at the Perth Royal Show each year, and also provides important general on-farm experience.

Students at Hillside Farm not only prepare prime cattle each year for the Perth Royal Show, but also raise sheep for wool and meat.

Olives are grown on the farm, and students learn how to press the fruit for oil.

Set over 60 hectares, the farm has access to areas of bushland, which Mr Toghill uses to take student trekking with his llamas.

Through his involvement with the Llama Association of WA, Mr Toghill said the aim was to promote llamas as "an animal you can do something with".

He said since his involvement with the Gidgegannup Small Farm Field Day, many more people had become interested in trekking with their llamas.

He encouraged people to attend the field days on May 24. "The Gidgegannup Small Farm Field Day concentrates on information relevant to small landholders - it knows its target market," he said.

In addition to his llama display, Mr Toghill will be conducting sheep dog demonstrations at the event.

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