All About Llamas

What is a Llama?

    

The llama has a long graceful neck, erect ears, and large doe-like eyes. The upper lip is split, with lower teeth in front and grinding molars on the top and bottom jaws. They have a keen sense of hearing and sight. The llama is a two coated animal. Its’ fine, downy undercoat gives protection from cold and heat. The second coat is crimpless guard hair that allows moisture and debris to be shed. The length varies from 3 to 10 inches on an adult. There is no hair on the inside of the leg, belly, or tail. Colors range from white to black and include everything in between. They produce a high quality specialty fiber that comes in a variety of colors, contains no lanolin, and dyes well. A llama yields from three to four pounds of wool per year. It currently sells for approximately two dollars or more per ounce. The llama has a split toed foot that is divided by a cleft and consists of a hard nail on each toe and a large, soft pad on the heel. This allows them to be agile and sure-footed on the most rugged terrain. Adult llamas stand three to four feet at the shoulder, five and a half to six feet tall at the top of the head, and weigh 290 to 450 pounds. Llamas typically live 15 to 25 years, with some individuals surviving 30 years or more.


Parts of a Llama

  

Names of llama body parts: 1 ears – 2 poll – 3 withers – 4 back – 5 hip – 6 croup – 7 base of tail – 8 tail – 9 buttock – 10 hock – 11 metatarsal gland – 12 heel – 13 cannon bone – 14 gaskin – 15 stifle joint – 16 flank – 17 barrel – 18 elbow – 19 pastern – 20 fetlock – 21 Knee – 22 Chest – 23 point of shoulder – 24 shoulder – 25 throat – 26 cheek or jowl – 27 muzzle

Where do Llamas come from?

  

Llamas appear to have originated from the central plains of North America about 40 million years ago. They migrated to South America about three million years ago during the Great American Interchange. By the end of the last ice age (10,000–12,000 years ago), camelids were extinct in North America. Today, Llamas living in herds are native to the bleak and elevated parts of mountain ranges bordering the region of perpetual snow, amidst rocks and precipices, occurring in various localities throughout Peru, in the southern part of Ecuador, and as far south as the middle of Bolivia. Llamas were first imported to the U.S. in the late 1800s to be shown off as "oddities" in zoos.  As of 2007, there were over seven million llamas and alpacas in South America, and due to importation from South America in the late 20th century, there are now over 200,000 llamas and 140,000 alpacas in the United States and Canada. The name llama (in the past also spelled 'lama' or 'glama') was adopted by  European settlers from native Peruvians.  

Llama Habits and Disposition

  

Llamas, which are well-socialized and trained to halter and lead after weaning, are very friendly and pleasant to be around. They are extremely curious and most will approach people easily. However, llamas that are bottle-fed or over-socialized and over-handled as youth will become extremely difficult to handle when mature, when they will begin to treat humans as they treat each other, which is characterized by bouts of spitting, kicking and neck wrestling. 


Under normal circumstance, they will not bite, kick, or spit.. Llamas are very social herd animals and prefer a herd or companions., however, they  do sometimes spit at each other as a way of disciplining lower-ranked llamas in the herd. A llama's social rank in a herd is never static. They can always move up or down in the social ladder by picking small fights. This is usually done between males to see which will become dominant. Their fights are visually dramatic, with spitting, ramming each other with their chests, neck wrestling and kicking, mainly to knock the other off balance. The females are usually only seen spitting as a means of controlling other herd members. 

They have an aristocratic bearing, but have a cooperative and gentle disposition. Because of their curiosity, they have a delightful habit of coming close to sniff strangers. They are calm and stable companions. While the social structure might always be changing, they live as a family and they do take care of each other. If one notices a strange noise or feels threatened, a warning bray is sent out and all others become alert. 


The sound of the llama making groaning noises or going "mwa" is often a sign of fear or anger. If a llama is agitated, it will lay its ears back. One may determine how agitated the llama is by the materials in the spit. The more irritated the llama is, the further back into each of the three stomach compartments it will try to draw materials from for its spit. Llamas aren't the type to bellyache. Owners must check them carefully to see if they are hurt or sick, because llamas are so stoic they seldom complain. Mama llamas often hum to their babies. It helps them learn to recognize each other. Llamas also hum when they're anxious, tired or just curious. That's not the only unusual sound they make. When a male is interested in a female, he'll often make a gargling noise, called an orgle. Female llamas also make clicking noises. 


Llamas are clean and essentially odor free. They defecate in one or two areas and  

The Llama Diet

  

Options for feeding llamas are quite wide; a wide variety of commercial and farm-based feeds are available. The major determining factors include feed cost, availability, nutrient balance and energy density required. Young, actively growing llamas require a greater concentration of nutrients than mature animals because of their smaller digestive tract capacities. 


A llama’s diet is simple and inexpensive. They require good quality grass hay (where there is no pasture), fresh water and a salt mineral mixture. One bale of hay will last an adult llama 5 to 7 days. They are both grazers and browsers. They eat approximately 2% of their body weight per day. They have a complex stomach with several compartments: the rumen, omasum, and abomasum that allows them to consume lower quality, high cellulose foods. In addition, the llama (and other camelids) have an extremely long and complex large intestine (colon). The large intestine's role in digestion is to reabsorb water, vitamins and electrolytes from food waste that is passing through it. The length of the llama's colon allows it to survive on much less water than other animals.

Fencing and Space Requirements

  

Requirements for fencing and space are fairly simple. Although llamas are adept at jumping, they rarely do. Unlike other animals, they don’t crawl through fences. Standard 48 inch fence is adequate. All materials are acceptable, but barbed wire is not recommended. Llamas need at least a three-sided enclosure or shed to protect them from the elements. Llamas do not require a lot of space. One acre of pasture will support 3 to 5 llamas.

Diseases and Medical Care

  

Llamas tend to have a natural hardiness, require mimimum care, have few health problems, and are extremely clean. A simple preventative health care program and routine barn maintenance is all that is necessary. This includes regular vaccinations for tetanus and rabies plus worming several times a year. Toes should be trimmed yearly when needed. Upon reaching maturity, male’s canine teeth will erupt and should be clipped to prevent injury.

How do you Breed Llamas?

  

Females are fertile at about twelve months and usually bred for the first time between 20 and 24 months. They are induced ovulators and will breed at any time of the year. There are no outward signs of estrus cycle, but the male seems to know when the female will accept him. Females can be receptive ten days after giving birth and have regular intervals of receptivity. A female remains fertile up to 20 years, if in good health. Males are fertile between 18 and 24 months of age, but are not dependable until they are over two years old. Once fertile, a male can service several females a week.


Llamas mate with the female in a kush (lying down) position, which is fairly unusual in a large animal. They mate for an extended time (20–45 minutes), also unusual in a large animal. There are three techniques used for breeding. In harem mating, the male is left with females most of the year. For field mating, a female is turned out into a field with a male llama and left there for some period of time. This is the easiest method in terms of labor, but the least useful in terms of prediction of a likely birth date. An ultrasound test can be performed, and together with the exposure dates, a better idea of when the cria is expected can be determined. Hand mating is the most efficient method, but requires the most work on the part of the human involved. A male and female llama are put into the same pen and mating is monitored. They are then separated and remated every other day until one or the other refuses the mating. Usually, one can get in two matings using this method, though some stud males routinely refuse to mate a female more than once. The separation presumably helps to keep the sperm count high for each mating and also helps to keep the condition of the female llama's reproductive tract more sound. If the mating is not successful within two to three weeks, the female is mated again 

OK, Breeding is done, How do I know if we have a Pregnancy?

  

Llamas should be tested for pregnancy after mating at two to three, six and at least 12 weeks. 


  1. For "spit" testing,      bring the potentially pregnant dam to an intact male. If the stud attempts      to mate with her and she lies down for him within a fairly short period of      time, she is not pregnant. If she remains on her feet, spits, attacks him,      or otherwise prevents his being able to mate, it is assumed she is      probably pregnant. This test gets its name due to the dam spitting at the      male if she is pregnant.
  2. For progesterone testing, a      veterinarian can test a blood sample for progesterone. A high level can      indicate a pregnancy.
  3. With palpation, the veterinarian      or breeder manually feels inside the llama to detect a pregnancy. Some      risks to the llama exist, but it can be an accurate method for pregnancy      detection.
  4. Ultrasound is the most accurate      method for an experienced veterinarian, who can do an exterior examination      and detect a fetus as early as 45 days.

Spit testing with an intact male is generally free and is usually accurate. However, some hormonal conditions in females can make them reject a male when they are in fact not pregnant, and, more rarely, accept a male when they are pregnant. Progesterone tests can give a high reading in some females with a hormonal problem that are in fact not pregnant. Neither of the previous methods, nor palpation, can give a reasonably accurate idea of the age of the fetus, while an ultrasound procedure can. In addition, an ultrasound procedure can distinguish between pregnancy and misleading physical conditions, or between a live and dead fetus. The disadvantages of an ultrasound procedure are cost, some training in the use of ultrasound equipment is required, and not all veterinarians have the equipment needed to perform the examination. 

Gestation and Birth

  

Llamas generally have one baby birth after an average gestation period of 350 days. A cria (from Spanish for "baby") is the name for a baby llama, typically born with all the females of the herd gathering around, in an attempt to protect against the male llamas and potential predators. Llamas give birth standing with the presentation being front feet first and head next. Birth is usually quick and problem-free, over in less than 30 minutes. Most births take place between 8 am and noon, during the warmer daylight hours. This birthing pattern is speculated to be a continuation of the birthing patterns observed in the wild. Dams (female llamas) do not lick off their babies, as they have an attached tongue that does not reach outside of the mouth more than half an inch (1.3 cm). Rather, they will nuzzle and hum to their newborns. Crias are up and standing, walking and attempting to suckle within the first hour after birth.  Weight of a normal baby varies between eighteen and forty pounds. Crias are partially fed with llama milk that is lower in fat and salt and higher in phosphorus and calcium than cow or goat milk. A female llama will only produce about 60 ml (2.1 imp fl oz) of milk at a time when she gives milk, so the cria must suckle frequently to receive the nutrients it requires. Babies begin to eat roughage after several weeks and can be weaned at six months of age.

Shows and Competition

Youth and Adult Showmanship

  

A showmanship class is a demonstration of the handler’s ability to show an animal to its best advantage. Judging is based on the exhibitor’s basic skills in fitting, grooming, following directions and style of presenting the animal to a Judge for evaluation. The animal’s conformation is not to be considered. So it is all about the handler, not the llama.

Performance Classes

  

Youth Performance Classes are broken down by presenter’s age groups. Adult Performance Classes are determined by the experience of the llama. A handler may show a different llama in several divisions.

Produce of Dam - Get of Sire

  

Produce of Dam: Two offspring by the same dam, either sex, and may represent the same sire. The Judge is looking for the consistency of the off-spring.


  Get-of-Sire: Three offspring by the same sire, either sex, by at least two different dams. The judge is looking for consistency among the off-spring. Each of the off-spring in this class has competed in their respective halter classes

Performance Class Categories

 Obstacle - The purpose of this class is to demonstrate the animal’s obedience and willingness to complete activities with the handler. There are usually 8-10 obstacles on the course. The obstacles show the llama’s agility,sure-footedness, and confidence.  

 

Public Relations - designed to determine the llama’s ability to participate in community activities such as parades, visits to health centers, and promotional events. The llama and handler will go thru a door, greet people and be petted, load in a trailer, and may encounter unusual things. 


Pack - simulates the conditions encountered on the trail, such as fallen trees, streams, and going under branches. They may be asked to jump over bars, and weave thru small spaces. All of this while wearing a pack 

Halter Class or Conformation

  

llamas are judged on their structure, balance, and how close the llama is to the “ideal”. The Judge will assess the llama on the overall appearance, top line, correctness of front and rear legs. In this class, it is all about the llama, not the handler! Halter classes are broken down by wool type. Each of the wool types is then broken down by age and then by sex. So each wool type will have llamas in age division and then by female and then male.

Llama Age Divisions: Juvenile – 5 months through 12 months,  Yearling – 12 months through 24 months, Two Year Old – 24 months through 36 months,  Adult – 36 months and older

Wool types: Suri: - Lustrous, locked fiber that drapes over the llama’s body. Light Wool - Minimal body wool, short neck wool and smooth legs.    Medium Wool - Moderate to long body wool, minimal to moderate neck wool, smooth to moderate leg wool.  Heavy Wool - Abundant body and neck wool with minimal to abundant leg wool. (leg wool at least to knee and hock).

Did you know Llamas are also great pack and guard animals?

  

Native people of the Andes Mountains have saddled the mostly willing animals to move goods over the area's grueling terrain. Carrying loads of up to 75 pounds, llamas can typically travel as many as 20 miles a day. Sometimes hundreds of them make up pack trains, efficiently transporting items en masse. Occasionally, their patience is tested. A llama carrying too much of a load may just refuse to move or will lie down on the ground. The irritated animals may also hiss, spit or kick until their load is lightened. 

Llamas can do a great job protecting herds of small animals, chasing off predators like coyotes. Not only will they protect the smaller creatures, but they may also befriend them, "adopting" a flock of sheep or goats as their own personal herd. Plus they're smart enough to tell the difference between a friendly neighborhood dog and a threatening coyote. 

More about these captivating critters

  

Like Labradors and miniature horses, there's something soothing about llamas. They can be trained as professional comforters, working as therapy animals in hospital, schools and nursing homes.


Researchers are working to create a universal flu vaccine that would be effective against every strain of the flu, and llamas are playing a big part of the research. Scientists have created a nasal spray derived from several llama antibodies that target many strains of the flu at once. So far it's only in rodent trials, but this one has potential, researchers say. That would mean that you would not need a new flu shot every year and coverage would be more significant.