Cagney 2 cropped bestLlamas are members of the Camelid family that includes the well-known Dromedary and Bactrian camels of the Middle East and Asia respectively. In the Americas there are members of the family, namely the llama, alpaca, guanaco, and the vicuna. The llama, the largest of the new world camels, was being domesticated in the highlands of Peru 4000 to 5000 years ago, placing it among the oldest domestic animals in the world. The camel family originated in the central plains area of North America and spent its first 40 million years there. Three million years ago the camels migrated to Asia and Africa and the llama-type animals dispersed to South America. At the end of the last ice age, llamas and camels became extinct in North America. In the early 1900's private collectors and zoos reintroduced the llama to North America. Llamas and alpacas are now fairly common on small farms in North America.

Llama specifics...

  • Diet... consists of hay, grass, a grain ration in winter that includes oats, beet pulp, and vitamins.
  • Gestation period averages 350 days
  • Baby llamas are called crias and weigh between 20 and 35 pounds at birth
  • Mature llamas weigh between 250 and 500 pounds
  • Llama life span is 15 to 20 plus years
  • Llama coloration can be white, brown, black, or spotted with any of combinations of these colors.
  • Llama and alpacas are partial ruminants with three compartments to their stomachs. They are very efficient with their food and manure produces is small bean shaped dry pellets.

Llama uses...

  • Historically used as pack animals
  • Calm, surefooted and hardy
  • Can carry 120 pounds for up to 15 miles per day
  • Used in state and national parks for pack trips
  • Structure of the llamas back prohibits riding it like a horse
  • Easy to train
  • Can be taught to pull a two wheeled cart
  • Wool if very fine, light, and strong, making the fiber desirable for spinning int yarn for knitting, crocheting, and weaving. The fiber can also be made into felt.

 

 

  • Building for simple shelter... a 3 sided shelter will work… even if it is only 9 feet by 12 feet it would be adequate for two llamas or alpacas. We would not recommend putting it in very close proximity to animals that exhibit dislike for one another.
  • Solid, safe fences... check the buildings and fences for nails sticking out or wires protruding that could catch an eye or nose.
  • Rodent proof containers for grain ration... such as new, clean garbage cans.
  • Free choice salt mixture in a box, bowl, or feeder in a dry location. Use a Sheep Mineral with little to no copper ingredients. We use Land o’ Lakes Premium Sheep Mineral. Place the free choice mixture in a location about 3 feet above floor level so that barn cats will not think it is a litter box choice.
  • White salt block ... for fun! Camelids enjoy “gumming” a white salt block. They will be getting their main intake of salt from their grain mix and the free choice mineral which includes salt. Because camelids cannot lick anything with their tongues, they still put their mouths on the salt and get some fun from “gumming” it. Our salt blocks have lasted up to 3 years. The salt blocks end up with a sculptural appearance of peaks and valleys. (Camelid tongues are interesting! Camelids cannot stick their tongues out and cannot lick anything. A camelid mom cannot lick a newborn to clean it up. It is just impossible for that tongue to do this task. )
  • Clean water year round… clean water tanks with bleach or nolvasan.
  • Halters and leads must be those designed specifically for camelids. Do not use pony or horse tack.
  • Scale for weighing llamas. (up to 600 # capacity) A scale for weighing each llama is invaluable in keeping the herd healthy. Weight loss or gain is an indication for you to watch feed intake. Weigh llamas every time you do de-worming or shearing.
  • Restraining chute for dispensing meds, toenail trimming, and grooming is a “must have” piece of equipment.
    The chute will keep you, your vet, and the camelids safe. It is a comfort knowing that you have provided a safe area for routine work with your animals. Locate the chute so that the animal inside the chute can see other llamas. Llamas are very herd- oriented and being able to see other llamas is very important. If the llama in the chute thinks that he/she is alone, it is very distressing! You want to keep the camelids as calm as possible, so planning ahead for the location of the chute is a prime consideration.
  • A blower, brushes, wool conditioner for grooming, scissors for cutting out nasty burrs. A blower is essential to cleaning an animal for shearing. We shear once per year. Wool conditioner is optional. We do not use a conditioner, however, there are brands available for you to try.
  • A set of rules you have compiled for visitors to your lama family... plan ahead how you expect people to behave around your livestock. You set the tone for visits to your farm. You know and can trust the behavior of your camelids, BUT CAN YOU TRUST YOUR VISITORS TO BEHAVE IN A CIVILIZED MANNER when meeting your livestock? Make a short checklist of how you expect people to behave around your animals. You will find it interesting. You must lead your visitors and challenge them to move slowly and be quiet to meet the camelids on a personal level.

“I am the good shepherd. I know my sheep and my sheep know me.” There is complete truth in these words. As you learn about camelids and their care, you will fully know that your camelids and you have an understanding. They know your every move, and if you are observant, you will know their every move.

You have to be the teacher for behavior around animals. (You don’t have to have these “rules” in printed form for visitors but you should have at least a mental list for yourself so that when visitors arrive you are ready with “behavioral expectations” for the visitors. You can explain the behavior of the camelids at the same introductory time you are outlining human behavior. Explain it from the camelid’s point of view… how the animal actually sees the humans.) Just as we humans have protocols in meeting each other as do the animals we live with every day… dogs included!

Do Llamas spit? This is the most common question the llama owner faces from visitors. The answer is YES, the llama has the capability to spit. All camelids have this ability. The camelid will spit only when provoked. If any spitting is to occur in the llama barn it will be at feeding time when one llama may invade the personal space of another. Before resorting to spitting (always the last resort!) there is posturing with necks and heads extended upwards. IF all else fails there may be some spitting. For a llama to spit at a human the animal must be pushed into this behavior by feeling confined or in danger. At Fancy Creek Llamas we always answer the spitting question by pointing out that dogs have the capability of biting. But a dogs do not just go around biting people. They must be provoked into this behavior. Therefore llamas do not have a built in, natural spit- for- no- reason behavior. 

Llamas have a natural curiosity and want to see and sniff everything. The llama is a herd animal and needs companionship of other llamas, sheep, or alpacas. A minimum of two llamas should be seen in a pasture… the sight of one llama alone is sad, indeed. Even when llamas are designated guards for sheep, there should be two llamas. They will protect the sheep just fine with a companion llama. The keen eyesight of the llama keeps them ever-vigilant of their surroundings. Llamas communicate with vocalizations, which sound like humming, with ear and tail positions, and by their posture, as mentioned in the paragraph about spitting.
Llamas and alpacas are not at all suitable animals for petting zoos. Camelids are very sensitive to their personal space, frankly, they do not want to be petted. We tell visitors that if they want an animal they can pet they should certainly purchase a dog or, better yet, two dogs.
Llamas are clean, quiet, and peaceful animals. The are very quick to learn and are delightful companions on a trail-walk, or showing their versatility in the show-ring.

Llamas are livestock. At Fancy Creek Llamas we respect the nature of our llamas and do not attempt to make them into pets. We do not have a single llama on our farm that “wants” to be petted and that is fine with us. The llama that is too friendly or that wants to be petted could be a danger for bumping its 300 plus pound body into a human just because it wanted to be petted. Please see our recommendations about gelding young male llamas.

We work with the camelid instincts and natural behaviors by recognizing that their vision (eyesight) is the primary protection in conjunction with the ability to run. We never close all the doors/gates in the llama barns because the nature of the llama is to always have an escape route since they are prey animals and must rely on the ability to run and run fast. When we do close gates to do herd health, the llamas still have the ability to see outdoors... they can see their outdoor environment and that is a comfort to them.

We advise that llama owners never place camelids in box stalls such as those enclosures for horses. The box stall goes completely against the nature of the camelid. A llama that has just given birth should absolutely NOT be put into a confined space with the new baby. A box stall or confined space it completely unsuitable for the mother and certainly the baby. A baby llama in a dark, confined space will have trouble finding the udder of the mom. It may wander around the walls, thus it is called a “wall baby” at this point. Get mom and baby outdoors in an open pen where they can both see other llamas and get about the business of nursing!

The new llama owners would find it helpful to just sit on a bale of hay and watch their camelids for a while. Observing llamas with llamas is quite revealing. They are protective of their own personal space and there may be a pecking order in the group, with one female showing dominance over males and other females. She is the leader of the herd. She may sound the alarm call if she perceives danger from a dog or other animals she does not recognize as routine. The alarm call is similar to a whinny of a horse. Sometimes there is a female who is second in command and she will handle the alarm calls!

Llamas can teach humans a lot about behavior and body language, if the humans are observing and curious enough to take in what the llama offers.

Think about a long-term commitment when raising animals of any kind. Don’t just buy llamas as a whim.

Consider food and water supplies.
Water for animals in the winter is of supreme importance. There is virtually no water in snow or ice… llamas will NOT eat snow or ice as their water supply. Clean water is necessary in winter. The animals are eating a diet of dry hay and probably some dry grain… they need water with that kind of diet.

Be well prepared for your vet calls.
Buy or build a chute/stanchion for the safety of you animals AND the humans working with them. If possible have the chute within the area where the animals are moving about…they will get used to being around the chute and will not have a fear of the structure.

Buy a scale… it is important to have accurate weights on the animals.
Halter train the animals.
Desensitize the animals as much as possible.

Who will help with chores when you are gone on vacation, etc.

Think like a llama… keep safety a top priority.
Woven wire fencing with 4 inch squares can be very dangerous. A llama or alpaca can hang itself if they stick their head through it and cannot get back out.

Build a catch pen that is convenient to the paddock/pasture area. Or buy light weight panels so that you have a moveable catch pen.

Don’t chase your llamas. It is not sensible to try to out run a llama. If you think like a llama you can work out strategies on moving them around with out any running and chasing. When approaching the llamas that have “escaped” do it in a quiet, hands at your sides, no eye contact manner. Again, think like a llama and have their return to the pasture route figured out ahead of time… set up panels to “funnel” them back into the paddock.

Use well-fitting halters. Do not leave halters on after you have worked with or walked with your llamas. Halters can be very dangerous and a hanging potential.

What enjoyment do you expect from your llamas/alpacas?
Companionship on a walk or trek?
Packing? Fiber to work with?
Showing competition and camaraderie with other camelid owners?

Keep learning all the time. We have had llamas in our lives for over 30 years and we continue to learn about and from them.

At Fancy Creek Llamas we have learned a great deal from our llama companions. We do not yell and threaten the animals, and we never, ever strike a llama with a hand or other instrument. Quiet is what llamas want and that is what they get at our farm. There needs to be trust between you and your llamas. Trust has to be earned. Being consistent in your manner in the barn and treatment of your llamas is supremely important.

The halter must be a halter designed and sized for a llama. Alpaca halters are just a smaller version of the llama halter. Do NOT use a horse or pony halter. Shop online for a llama halter. We purchase from Useful Lama items, generally. Take the time to purchase the right equipment for your llamas. Do not use a horse lead rope for a llama or alpaca. Use a dog leash or a llama lead rope. The shear weight of a horse or pony lead would totally discourage a llama from cooperation to move or walk with your guidance.

We like to say that we give the llamas the OPPORTUNITY to be caught and haltered for routine medications and weighing. We learned early on that we cannot run as fast as a llama, so we try to use their instincts to catch them for these routine health needs.

We quietly go around the barn and close the gates. Then maneuver the llama selected for haltering into the smallest area possible in the barn, all without raising our voices or making quick movements. When we have the llama in a smaller space, we then show the animal the halter we are going to put on them. If the llama runs or walks away, it just wants to “get away” from the human so don’t take it personally. They are just doing what comes naturally.

Llamas have long necks, and for us, challenged by height limitations, this can be a stretch! The llama can sometimes point its nose up so that its head is 7 feet in the air. We sometimes distract the llama by placing a bath towel on its back. Or just being persistent with the halter may be the answer. You could “ear” the llama, but that would be a last resort. The llama may suddenly lower its nose and jam it into the halter. No amount of talking or scolding the llama will help. Just quietly go about your business of putting the halter on the animal. Snap the lead on the halter and you and the llama are ready to walk to the head chute or somewhere for the medication to be administered.

Another challenge to haltering a llamas is that llamas know how to use their bodies! The body with its long neck can be used to block a human from reaching the head where the halter needs to go. Sometimes it is like a dance with the llama and the human as partners. Only perseverance and thinking like a llama will bring the dance to a close and the haltering then takes place.

Once the halter is on the llama, do NOT leave the halter on the animal for more than a couple of hours or just for the time you are medicating or training the llama. Never leave a halter on a young llama just for convenience. We personally know of a neglectful rancher who left a halter on a young llama and the growing and changing head tissue had grown over the halter fabric. It was very painful for the young male llama to have the halter removed! No need for that kind of situation and inhumane treatment. Don’t leave a halter on an animal… don’t be lazy… take the time to catch the llama when you have a need to do it. Llamas can get into trouble in a barn or in the pasture if the animal happens to get caught on a fence or a nail. The llama could hang itself. Hanging would be rare, but not impossible.

Llamas, unlike horses, will not struggle to get free from being caught or tangled. Horses will struggle until they can seriously hurt themselves. Llamas just seem to patiently wait for a human to come help free them. Amazing, but true.

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