Llamas are wonderful
animals with a unique history. They have immeasurably enriched our lives. This
information will, I hope, expand your knowledge about llamas. If you are considering
purchasing a llama I encourage you to visit farms on the internet and in person.
Although llamas are relatively easy to care for, they are a long-lived large animal
and it requires commitment, planning and preparation before you bring them home.
Another thing to give thought to is how you will use your llamas - will you be
showing, packing, breeding, participating in 4-H, using their fiber? There are many
different types of llamas on the market today and it requires careful shopping to make an
informed purchase. Remember quality is better than quantity. A good buy isn't
necessarily the most important thing to base a purchase on when you are building a herd.
If you are a first time buyer make sure that the breeder you buy from is reputable
with a good feeding program, a vaccination and worming schedule, up to date records, and
is someone that you can feel comfortable about calling or emailing with questions.
Also make sure that there is a vet in your area that is familiar with llamas.
Donna Clark, July, 2001.
Llamas are members of the camel (camelid) family. In addition to the well-known,
one-humped Dromedary camel of the Middle East and the two-humped Bactrian camel of Asia,
there are four native members of the camel family in the Americas today: The llama, a
domesticated beast of burden regarded throughout the world as the premier symbol of South
American animals; the domesticated alpaca, selectively bred for its fine fiber; the free
ranging guanaco, probable progenitor of the llama and historically common herbivore of the
aridlands of South America; and the wild vicuna, fine-fleeced denizen of the central high
The term Lama (single L) is used to refer to all four South American members of the
camelid family, and the word Llama (double LL) is used to refer to the particular species.
Llamas and their relatives are no strangers to North America. The camel family originated
on the central plains of North America and spent their first 40 million years right here
in our own backyard! Then, some three million years ago, camels migrated to Asia and
Africa, while llama-like animals dispersed to South America. Just 10,000 - 12,000 years
ago, at the end of the last ice age, the camelids became extinct in North America.
Meanwhile, in the highlands of Peru some 4,000 - 5,000 years ago, llamas were being
domesticated, placing them among the oldest domestic animals in the world. In the late
1800s and early 1900s, private animal collectors and zoos reintroduced them to their
original North American homeland. Today there are an estimated 7 million llamas and
alpacas in South America. In the United States and Canada there's an estimated 135,000
llamas, 3,600 alpacas, and 60 known (registered) guanacos. Llamas have international
appeal, with countries such as New Zealand and Australia augmenting their fiber industry
with llama and alpaca wool. As in ancient times, the llama today is important to the
agricultural economy of the remote highlands of Argentina, Bolivia, Chili, and Peru. In
North America the llama and alpaca industry is recognized as a viable agricultural entity.
Whether viewed in the pasture or glimpsed in the wild, all llamas have a striking beauty
owing to their elegant wool and graceful posture. Color: Llama and alpaca wool
ranges from white to black, with shades of gray, brown, red and roan in between. Markings
can be in a variety of patterns - solid, paint and appaloosa. Mature llamas weigh an
average of 280 350 pounds but range from 250 500 pounds. Full body size is
reached by the fourth year and there are no obvious differences between the sexes in terms
of size. Llamas are long lived, with a normal life span of 15 25 years.
Like cattle, sheep and deer, llamas are multi-chambered stomached ruminants
that chew their cud. They have a hard upper gum (no upper teeth in front) grinding
upper and lower molars in back, and an ingenius upper lip for grasping forage in unison
with the lower incisors. Adult males develop large, short upper and lower canines
(fighting teeth) for fighting. You should ask your veterinarian to remove those to prevent
injury to males pastured together or to females being bred. The llamas unique,
specially adapted foot makes them remarkably surefooted on a variety of terrain, including
sandy soils and snow. It is two-toed with a broad, leathery pad on the bottom and curved
nails in front. The small, oblong, bare patches on the side of each rear leg are
metatarsal scent glands, suspected to be associated with the production of alarm
pheromones. An additional scent gland is located between the toes. Unless your llamas are
pastured on hard or rocky ground, you may have to trim their toenails once or twice a
year. It can be done with hoof trimmers or rose pruners.
Habits & Behavior: Llamas have a dignified, aristocratic manner about them. Because of
their curiosity, they have a delightful habit of coming close to sniff strangers. But
despite your natural temptation to hug and cuddle them, most of them prefer not to be
petted except on their necks and backs. Llamas are typically docile around children. They
rarely bite or kick unless provoked. They are highly social animals and need the
companionship of another llama or other grazing livestock.
Communication: Llamas communicate their moods with a series of tail, body, and ear
postures as well as vocalizations. Learning this llama language is one of the joys of
ownership. Humming is a common manner of communication between llamas, and indicates a
variety of moods from contentedness to concern. Another llama expression is the shrill,
rhythmic alarm call emitted at the sight of a strange animal (especially dogs) or a
Spitting: Yes, llamas spit. Spitting is usually related to food disputes and is seldom
directed at people unless a llama has been mishandled or has become imprinted on people
through bottle feeding as a baby. Bottle feeding can create behavioral problems.
Dung Piles: Llamas are remarkably clean, and even large herds are quite odorless.
Dung-piling behavior is an important means of territorial marking for these historically
open habitat animals, and a convenience when you clean their pens. By taking advantage of
this habit you can encourage your animals to establish dung piles in a new pen by putting
dung in a few places per acre with a shovel.
Breeding and Reproduction: Female llamas are good mothers and there is nothing as
delightful as the sight of their cria playing and romping. Though females may conceive as
early as six months, they should not be bred until they are 24-36 months old depending on
size and development. Males may be fertile at seven to nine months of age, but arent
fully dependable breeders until three years old when they are socially and sexually
mature. Llamas breed in a prone position (male on top), and copulation may take up to 45
minutes. The act of copulation induces ovulation (i.e. they ovulate 24 36 hours
after mating). Gestation averages 350 days and a single offspring is produced ~~ twining
is rare. The average weight of a normal newborn cria is 25 30 pounds, but can
range from 18 40 pounds. Because they are induced ovulators, llamas can give
birth throughout the year. Depending on your climate, you should plan breeding to avoid
births in the extreme heat of summer and cold of winter. Births normally occur in the
daytime. From the onset of normal presentation (of both feet and head) to birth, 10-45
minutes may elapse. Unlike most mammals, llama mothers do not lick their newborn nor eat
the afterbirth. Llama young, called "cria" begin walking within an hour and
should nurse in one to two hours. The placenta is usually passed within four hours.
Females are normally bred back two to four weeks after giving birth.
What are Llamas Used For: Breeding, packing, wool production, companion animals and sheep
guarding head the list of common llama uses. Because they are amenable and easy to train,
llamas are popular attractions in parades, shows, fairs and community events and are fun
to take on school, hospital or nursing home visits. When using llamas for packing, they
can carry 25% of their body weight. Housing & Fencing: Simple but necessary
preparations should be made before you bring your new family member home. Fencing can be
woven wire, cattle wire panels wooden rails or poles, chain link or electric (although
electric is not needed). Barbed wire is not recommended. Your fences should be at least
four feet high. A three-sided shelter to provide shade and protection from extreme heat,
cold, wind, and rain should also be provided. If you have severe chill factors in winter,
a completely enclosed shed is necessary. Heat stress should be a concern if you have hot
and especially humid summers. If your llamas are kept in a large pasture, a small 12
20 foot square catch pen will make it easier to catch. Feeding and watering troughs
should be clean, high enough to be free of possible fecal contamination, and spacious
enough to allow access by all llamas. Fresh water should always be available.
Transportation: Llamas are easy to transport and require no specialized equipment. A
covered, wind-proof pickup, van, horse or utility trailer with sufficient room for llamas
to lay down comfortably works well. Good ventilation is important in both summer and
winter. Straw or shredded paper makes excellent bedding in a wind-proof enclosure, and be
sure to provide hay for food and offer water at least every 6 hours depending on heat.
Llamas normally lie down once the vehicle starts moving. If transporting babies and
mothers on long hauls, stop periodically to allow nursing.
Care and Feeding: If you are familiar with the care of other domestic livestock, you will
find llamas comparatively easy to care for, with a minimum of veterinary assistance
required. Llamas are highly adaptable feeders, being both grazers (grasses and forbs) and
browsers (shrubs and trees). Because of a relatively low protein requirement due to their
efficient digestive systems, they can be kept on a variety of pastures or hay. They eat
about 2% - 4% of their body weight in dry matter every day. Without pasture, a 100 pound
bale of hay will last an adult llama around 10 days. If youre going to graze your
llamas, plan on about 3 5 llamas per acre on a moderate-producing pasture. Grain
supplement is not normally needed when good hay is available. A mineral supplement may be
needed if you are in a selenium deficient area, check with your vet.
Water Consumption: Llamas require less water than most domestic animals, but should have
an unlimited, fresh, clean supply at all times. They tend to drink more when working or
Diseases: Llamas are amazingly hardy animals and have very few problems with disease. To
ensure good health, you should establish a regular schedule for cleaning their dung piles,
and a preventative medicine program which may include protection from enterotoxemia,
tetanus, leptospirosis and internal and external parasites. Llamas should be dewormed at
least every spring and fall.
Some of this information was taken from International Llama Association Educational