All About Llamas
What are Llamas, where do they come from?
Llamas, Guanacos, Alpacas and Vicunas (the lamoids) are a group of closely related members of the Camel Family, and are native to South America. Llamas are completely domesticated and are found primarily in the mountainous regions of Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, Chile, and Argentina. There are no "wild" Llamas - It is thought that they originated from Guanacos, and were bred by the Incas hundreds of years ago. Their popularity is growing in the U.S., and are valued as pack animals, herd guard animals, for their wool and fibers, and as companion and show animals. Due to their gentle nature, they are also used as therapy animals and for working with children. Their droppings make excellent garden fertilizer. In their native land, they also continue to be a source of food, hides, candle tallow, and fuel from their droppings.
Llama Fibers for Textiles and Garments
Perhaps the greatest and most popular asset Llamas have to offer is their wool. Their fibers have been used to make clothing and textiles for thousands of years, for good reason. Llama wool is much softer than that of sheep, and it's lanolin-free - making it the perfect choice for people allergic to sheep wool. The coat consists of two layers, just like most household cats and dogs - an outer, coarse layer of hair, with a layer of very fine insulating fur beneath. It's the insulating layer that is used for spinning and weaving, and is used to judge the quality of the wool. The fibers are very fine and are much prized by hand spinners, weavers, and knitters for workability. Even more prized by those lucky enough to own garments made from the soft, warm yarn! Yet Llama-wool garments are not rare or expensive, or difficult to make yourself. If you are a hand-weaver or knitter, roving and yarns are readily available. Colors come in a beautiful range of earth tones from natural white, through tans and browns, to deep brown and black. Please visit Angels Way Llama Fibers and Garments page to see our rovings, yarns, and finished garments for sale.
Llamas as Companions and Teachers
Intelligent, easy to train, and docile, Llamas are wonderful companions for people of all ages and abilities. Compared to other domesticated large animals, they are relatively easy and inexpensive to keep - making them an excellent choice for 4-H Club and youth group activities and education. Because they are very calm, steady, and don't startle easily, their use as therapy animals is increasing. Llamas are herd animals and are naturally sociable - they get along well with people and other animals.
Llamas as Pack Animals
Popular pack animals for hiking, backpacking, and trekking, Llamas can carry 80-100 lbs. Unlike horses, which are not allowed on many national and state trails and park lands, Llamas have soft-padded feet that are gentle on the trails and mountainsides. Regulations vary from location to location, but Llama trekkers are successfully demonstrating to state and national agencies that Llamas are appropriate pack animals where horses are not.
Llamas as Guard Animals
The need to guard and protect livestock from danger and predators is an age-old problem, particularly today when shooting and trapping are no longer allowed in many places. Male Llamas are being used very successfully as guards for sheep and goats. Guard Llamas are usually mature males, gelded at about the age of two. A lone gelded male will bond with his herd of charges and defend them against all comers. The value of livestock saved more than outweighs the low cost of owning and maintaining a Llama.
As the number of Llama owners grows in the U.S., competitive shows are popular events to be enjoyed by the whole family. Chances are, there are Llama shows taking place not far from you. The National Alpaca and Llama Show Association sponsors regional and national shows all over the U.S. and Canada. Many 4-H clubs are actively engaged in Llama breeding, showing, and competition. Llamas have become familiar faces at county fairs and parades. Young people especially enjoy and benefit from raising and showing Llamas, acquiring an honest sense of accomplishent, self-esteem, knowledge, and enthusiasm which they readily pass on to others. At a show, Llamas are judged in ways similar to dogs and horses. They may compete in terms of their appearance, stance, balance, conformance to breed, movement, as well as activities such as navigating an obstacle course.
Caring for Llamas
Llamas live for an average of 20 years. Adults weight 200-450 lbs. and are 3-4 feet in height at the shoulder (except for Miniature Llamas.) They have very efficient digestive systems similar to other ruminants (cows, sheep, goats) and can eat a wide variety vegetation. You will need 1 acre of pasture land for up to 4 Llamas where they can freely graze. In addition, you will need about 1 bale of good quality hay per Llama per week. Their diet is usually supplemented with a feed ration (about 1 lb. per week) to complete their nutritional needs. The average annual cost to fee an adult Llama is $110 per year.
(Just before shearing, Abigail is getting a "blow dry" to remove chaff and dust.)
Llamas are different from other pasture animals in an unusual way - they prefer to drop their pellets in a communal heap, much like cats who know to use a litterbox. This makes cleanup of the yard, and gathering of droppings for fertilizer, much easier with Llamas than with other livestock animals.
Llamas usually require annual vaccinations and periodic worming. Requirements will vary depending on your geographical location, and presence of diseases or parasites that may be passed on from other animals and wildlife in your area. Much of the routine care, plus shearing and trimming, can be easily done by the owner. Birthing rarely requires intervention. These days there are many veterinarians with specialized knowledge about Llamas, and most large-animal veterinarians will be able to assist you. Call around locally to find a suitable vet if you intend to raise Llamas.
For shelter, your Llamas will be quite happy outdoors most of the time and sheltered in 3 or 4 sided buildings for protection against wet weather and winter temperatures. During winter, give them some hay for bedding. They are high mountain animals and if anything, need to be protected from summer heat. Shade is desirable, fans are sometimes advisable, and during the summer let them lie on clean bare earth, which is cooler.
Llama Personalities and Lifecycles
In general, Llamas are very gentle yet inquisitive and intelligent. They are gregarious herd animals that will prefer some kind of companionship. It is ideal if you can have at least two Llamas, to keep each other company. Llamas do have their own individual personalities just like any other animal, but overall they are quiet, calm, curious, and friendly. They are also easy to train and comfortable around people of all ages and abilities. They are adaptable to many different activities and situations.
Llamas bear usually one offspring, called a cria. (The plural is also "cria".) Just like most other livestock we are familiar with, cria are born once a year after an 11-12 month gestation. Breeding is best done in spring for a birth the following spring, to avoid pregnancy during the hottest (and most stressful) time of the year. Breeding of both males and females should not be done before they are fully mature (at least 2 years old). This allows you to evaluate the breeding quality and fitness of your Llama.
Males are separated from the herd as soon as they are weaned (6-8 months) to prevent unintentional breeding or conflict between males. Guard Llamas are males that should be gelded at about 2 years of age. Males do develop "fighting teeth" that need to be cut back - the procedure is very similar to trimming horse's teeth and any experienced horse vet should be able to assist you with this.
Though well-behaved creatures, Llamas will occasionally (not often!) spit as a defense mechanism. Most likely, this occurs during feeding time or if a Llama feels particularly threatened. If you own cats or dogs, you've seen the same kind of behavior - Llamas "spit" instead of "spat". A Llama that has been badly treated or abused may be more inclined to spit. Llamas do not generally bite and are safe around children (though as with ANY animal, young children should be supervised). Their front teeth are short and blunt and designed for nibbling and tugging, not biting. A Llama may kick if really irritated, but their soft padded feet are not nearly as powerful as horse's hooves.
If you need more information:
Our Llama Links and Resources Page will direct you to other websites covering everything you need to know, from how to select a Llama for purchase, caring for Llamas, showing you Llama, and spinning and weaving with Llama fibers.
Angels Way Llamas 385 Angels Way, Mars Hill, NC 28754 828-777-4083 firstname.lastname@example.org