Bred animal myself,
Marion, Wisconsin, United States
Posted May 22, 2011
We bought our first llama in 1995--Double Delite still lives with us--anticipating the fact that we'd be retiring from teaching and wanted something to do which would keep us active and involved. We fell in love with them the first time we met a herd and continue to feel that way today. Over the years we've raised more than 3 dozen crias, done some showing, walked in parades, visited nursing homes and welcomed groups to our farm. As retired teachers we especially value the intelligence of llamas along with the fact that they don't forget what they've learned. As a rule they are very gentle and, while some are born with temperaments that practically beg you to pet them, some are more standoffish and aloof. If handled correctly from birth it is very rare for a llama to be agressive toward humans. Berserk llama syndrome generally results only from over handling of babies (typically males) by humans who are uninformed and don't realize the harm they can cause. Unethical breeders may also sell very young bottle babies because they're "cute". This is a terrible thing to do to a baby llama as they thrive when left with their mothers for the first 5-7 months of life and learn proper behavior by living in a herd where the adults are certain to chastise them (think spit them green here) when they get out of line. Llamas require a place to get out of the sun in summer and out of the wind in winter. While the common thinking used to be that a three sided shelter was sufficient here in central Wisconsin it's more practical to think in terms of a barn that can actually be closed off when the weather is especially cold with high winds. In summer they graze on pasture grass--this should be kept mowed as the best nutrition is found near ground level and not in waving grass that is belly high. In winter they require second cutting grass hay (horse hay) and in normal winter weather a bale a week will feed an adult llama. In exceptionally cold weather more may be required as eating hay is how they generate body heat. While llamas can be kept on cement floors this is hard on their knees and joints. Sand floors are kinder although in winter you will want to straw the floor as this holds in body heat when they kush (the term used when they sit). Since llamas adopt a community dung pile we find it helps the barn stay nicer if we bucket out soiled sand spring and fall and replace it with fresh, clean sand. They also benefit from having free choice mineral salts available to them (loose, not block) and enjoy being fed a supplement which is typically a grain/pellet mixture. Mineral salt should be specifically meant for llamas and, if possible, specific to the area in which you live as different soil contains different deficiencies in nutrients. Fresh, clean water should be available at all times and water needs to be heated during the cold months. Llamas are generally very healthy but do require vaccines to protect them from meningeal worm if you live in an area where white tailed deer are prevalent. They also need to be wormed on a regular basis and should be sheared yearly in spring as heat stress can kill them. They also have toenails that grow like human fingernails and require trimming. How often they need trimming is an individual matter--some grow very quickly and need to be done several times a year. Other animals seldom if ever need trimming and if they walk on soil containing lots of rock they may never need trimming. When and how to train them to accept a halter and walk on lead is a matter of preference and which trainers techniques you choose to use. Two widely regarded training techniques are taught by Marty McGee and John Mallon although there are other trainers out there with their own followings. While llamas can spit--and do--they generally spit at one another as a way of establishing dominance in the herd. Prices have come down steeply in the past 15 years making it possible for almost anyone to own and live with llamas. They are gentle, quiet animals and a joy to live with. They hum to let you know they are happy or stressed and babies will hum to let mom know it's time to nurse just as mom will hum to let baby know that. They can also produce a loud screaming sound as an alarm which makes them effective guards for sheep and goat flocks. Llama shows are generally going on from early spring until late fall for those who enjoy showing and they can show in performance and pack as well as conformation and fleece classes. Llama fleece is silky and warm and, given proper care, will last a lifetime. Llamas are herd animals and it is never advisable to own only one llama unless it will be living with a flock of sheep or goats. Llamas will be happiest when living with at least one other llama. Should you decide to breed please take the time to learn about llamas first so you have some idea what you're hoping to produce (not, as one prospective buyer told me--a baby). You should have some idea concerning what body type, fiber type, etc. you're endeavoring to produce. If you simply want a couple of pets it's wise to start with a pair of gelded llamas (gelding renders males unable to reproduce) and geldings can companionably live with intact males or females should you later decide you want to acquire females for breeding. Intact males over the age of 8 months should NOT be allowed to remain with the female herd as they will attempt to breed any female in the herd and this can result in situations you don't want. Gestation is 11 1/2 months and can be longer. Llamas are induced ovulators so breeding for spring babies means that the weather will generally be conducive to having the baby able to be outdoors which is preferable if at all possible. Llamas generally birth easily and within the first hour the baby will be up and nursing if all is well and the baby is term. Llamas do not lick their babies dry so in nice weather the baby will dry itself by rubbing in the grass and then sitting in the sunshine. If a baby is born in rainy or cool weather it's a good idea to towel it dry and rub it all over to stimulate the little body so it will warm up. Care and training of newborns is an entire topic of it's own.