General Llama Information and Care
Llamas have minimal housing needs. Depending on the area in which you live, they generally require shelter from rain, snow and heat. 3-sided pole barns are adequate. Barbed wire fence should be avoided as they damage the llama wool and the llama’s wool can get tangled in the barbed wire. We have had the best luck with 4 foot tall no-climb horse wire with a string of 1 x 4's mounted at the top of the fence. If you will have females near your studs, you may want to go to a 6 foot tall fence to avoid the males jumping over it and breeding your females, or leaning on top of it and breaking it down. You are fencing predators out, as well as fencing your llamas in, so that may have a bearing on the fencing you choose.
Feed for llamas includes forage, hay, minerals, and electrolytes during the hot summer months, and depending on the needs of your herd, specially formulated grain formula or other llama safe grain mixture. We feed alfalfa or alfalfa/orchard grass mix in Colorado free choice but other areas use different types of hay. We dress each feed bucket with a special mineral supplement formulated specifically for llamas. We add crimped oats for lactating females, growing crias, and breeding males. We also add crimped oats to the dam's feed 3 months prior to parturition. The feed and hay should be low protein (approximately 12%) due to the llamas’ special digestive system. High protein foods can cause problems such as heat stress and ulcers. We also dust their feed with equine electrolytes during the summer months to help them deal with the heat. Some people add this to the water buckets instead, but the water has to be replaced daily. Llamas should not eat grain made for horses, goats or sheep due to high levels of some elements such as copper.
Llamas require yearly shots as dictated by your area and your veterinarian. These usually include CD&T. Our vet gives crias their first shots at 3 months of age.
Parasite control differs between owners. Some owners worm every 3 months, rotating between Panacur and Ivomec (or other cattle or equine wormers). Some owners worm only when fecal tests indicate that it is required. Owners that live in areas with white tail deer often treat with Ivomec or Dextomax monthly during the summer months since white tail deer are carriers of meningeal worm. Meningeal worms are extremely dangerous as they enter the spinal cord and quickly cause paralysis and death. Valbazon is used for tape worms by our vet but it is not safe for pregnant females. Always consult a llama vet in your area for a proper worming program for your own llamas.
If you live in an area with summer heat, special precautions must be taken to avoid heat stress since llamas are not naturally adapted to exposure to extreme heat and humidity. Heat stress symptoms include inability to stand, uneven gate, drooping of the lower lip, trembling, weakness, difficulty breathing, or not eating. (Of course those same symptoms could be indicative of other illnesses too.) We minimize handling or training of our llamas during July and August to avoid exacerbating the stress. The sum of temperature and humidity over 150 is considered dangerous for llamas and special precautions should be taken to help avoid heat stress.
When we lived in southeast Texas, we tool several precautions including shearing every spring and running several large drum fans and misters 24 hours per day during May, June, July, August, and September. We had wading pools and lots of shade. Now, in Colorado, even though the climate is much milder with much less humidity, we still shear all the llamas in late spring and set up misters and wading pools to ensure everyone is comfortable. The llamas love to stand under the misters and in the wading pools set under the Ponderosa pine trees. In Texas, we dusted their food with an equine electrolyte, such as Electrodex every day from May through October. Here in Colorado, it is only required late July and August.
A down llama probably indicates a serious condition. Llamas like to sleep in the sun with their tummies toward the sun, but I check them fairly often and make them get up so I know they're ok. If a llama won't get up to come eat, they may be ill. A vet should be called immediately if there is any doubt in your mind. Llamas have a great deal of pain tolerance and are extremely stoic. However, most of them are also chow hounds, so lack of desire to eat could indicate an illness.
Crias are born after a 11.5 month (350 days) average gestation period. They are born precocious and will normally be up and nursing within two hours. It is critical that they obtain mother's milk within the first 12 hours for the antibodies in the colostrum. If the mother does not have milk, the baby must be tubed or bottled with goat's colostrum. (Consult a vet.) They will generally start eating grain at about 2 -3 months old and should not be weaned until about 6-8 months old. Average weight at birth is 20-35 pounds. They should gain about 1/2 to 1 pound per day. If not, supplementation with kid milk replacer may be required. Crias that have been bottle-fed and not properly handled when young (especially males) can become aggressive when they are older, a condition called aberrant behavior syndrome, so care must be taken to not excessively handle or hug them. Do not purchase a bottle fed cria, or one too young to be weaned, unless you are experienced enough to handle the problems that can arise.
We shear our llamas every April due to heat stress concerns. I think the llamas are particularly pretty shorn, as it shows off their good conformation. There are professional shearers, or you can purchase your own shears and do it yourself. I use battery operated A5 dog shears. They are lighter weight than sheep shears and it is not possible to nick the llamas with the small blades.
Toenails should be trimmed before they start to curl over. The frequency varies depending on your terrain and the particular llama but is usually required at least annually.
Llamas are "prey animals" and must be protected from large predators. Domestic and wild dogs are the biggest predator problem. Precautions should be taken to minimize strange or wild dogs breaking into the areas where llamas live. There have been many documented cases of dogs maiming or killing a llama. Other dangerous creatures in our area include rattlesnakes. Llamas are extremely curious and will try to sniff the snake. We have known of cases where one snake has bitten 4 llamas. The snake venom destroys the llama's nasal tissue and the bacteria present from the snake bite is a serious concern. Llamas will die from a snake bite if adequate medical treatment is not administered immediately.
The second most asked question is "What do you do with a llama?". Our first answer is "You love them".
Llamas are shown for conformation, public relations, obstacles, packing and showmanship. Because they are so gentle, they are the perfect animals for children of any age to show. Their fiber is popular to spin; then weave, crochet, or knit. The fiber is generally soft and strong. The finer the fiber, the more desired it is by spinners.
Some adult geldings and females with the right disposition are used to guard livestock such as sheep, alpacas and goats against coyotes and small predators. DO NOT PUT AN INTACT MALE WITH FEMALE GOATS, ALPACAS, OR SHEEP. Guard llamas bond with their charges and defend their territory. They cannot kill a pack of coyotes or wild dogs but are more of a deterrent because it appears the coyotes have an aversion to llamas. Since we have had the llamas, the coyotes have quit taking the ducks off our pond. Buyers of our guard llamas have been very pleased with the llamas’ ability to protect the herd and the babies.
Llamas make good pack animals because they have soft pads on the bottom of their feet that don't damage the environment. Once trained and conditioned, they can pack about 25% of their weight (up to about 75 pounds) during cooler weather (sum of temperature and humidity less that 120).
Llamas are used for therapy, especially for pediatric and geriatric patients due to their gentle and calm nature. Many llamas love to visit nursing homes and the residents love them.
Llamas are also used as driving animals pulling carts. There are several types of carts and harnesses designed specifically for llamas.
Llamas have been trained and used as golf caddies; something for the avid golfer that loves animals.
There are so many things to learn about llamas that we couldn't possibly cover them all here, but we'll be happy to show and tell you more if you visit, call or write us. Come meet these wonderful creatures that have captured our hearts. If you love animals, there's no doubt they'll capture your heart too.