Llama Care Basics

This guide is a brief reference which is designed to help the new owner through the first procedures and questions that beset everyone new to llamas. It includes a list of current vendors of llama supplies, and some of what I have found to be the most valuable reference books. This introduction is not a substitute for these truly useful books, and the best guides of all are an experienced and knowledgeable veterinarian, and a strong network of llama owners who you can turn to with questions and requests for help.

 

Physical Characteristics

Weight:

Adult-240-500 pounds

Birth-18-40 pounds

Rate of weight gain in crias (babies) to 1 month- to 1 pound per day after day 3

Heart Rate:

Resting Respiratory Rate:

60-90/minute 36-48 breaths/minute

Temperature (rectal): Maturity:

Adult-99-102 36-48 months

Crias-102

Gestation: Nursing Frequency:

335-360 days days 1-10: 2-3 times/hour

days 10-30: 2 times/hour

Teeth:

Fighting teeth in males erupt between ages 2 and 3 years

Lower incisors are replaced between 1 and 2 years

Feed:

Pasture: 1 acre of good grass can support 3-4 llamas during the growing season

Hay: One adult llama will consume about one 45 pound bale of 6-10% protein hay every 5-7 days. Higher protein levels will probably result in overweight animals. Pregnant or nursing mothers, and growing youngsters, will need supplemental protein and calories, which are most easily provided in the form of Grain..

Grain: this is widely debated; the long-term condition of the animal will need to be evaluated when grain decisions are made. Blue Seal, Agway, Purina (Mazuri), Nutrena and ACCO all make feed labeled for llamas. Both pellets and mixed grain feeds sweetened with molasses ("sweet feed") are available; again, some owners and veterinarians believe one type or the other causes "choke" in llamas. Choke is a condition in which the llama eats so quickly that some grain becomes lodged in the esophagus, and the llama coughs strenuously to bring it back up. Choke can become a serious problem, and switching to a different type of feed is recommended if choke occurs regularly.

Minerals: many different mineral supplements are available (see suppliers), and a mineral supplement is essential for llamas living outside of S. America. Some (of the more expesnisve) grains incorporate a llama-formulated mineral supplement.

Vitamins: at different stages in their lives, and at different seasons, llamas may need vitamin supplements to thrive. Consult with your veterinarian and other local llama owners. Crias born in the fall in the northeast should receive a Vit. A and D supplement twice during the winter to prevent rickets.

Frequently Asked Questions:

Do I have to have a restraining chute?

You can certainly live without a chute, but they are helpful in some situations, and your vet will probably appreciate it.

What about a scale?

A scale is a very useful item because a llama's weight is difficult to judge by sight and it might give you a jump on an unseen medical problem. Scales can easily be transported from farm to farm, so co-ownership may make one more affordable.

My new llamas are humming all the time, what's wrong?

They are in a new situation and are unsure. They will probably stop when they get comfortable.

My new llamas are clucking or orgling; what does it mean?

Llamas will cluck to tease other llamas.

Orgling is a noise male llamas make when they are trying to breed.

Should I leave the halters on?

Halters should only be left on for short periods of time at the most, and preferably only when the llamas are under supervision. Practice haltering and unhaltering so that you and your llama are comfortable with the procedure. Llamas leave Philo Llamaswillingly accepting the halter and lead line, and with proper fitting halters. Halters that are left on a llama can get caught on things and a poor fitting halter can slip down the llamas nose and suffocate him in a matter of minutes. Halters that have been left on a growing llama have been know to grow into the llamas face, causing permanent damage.

One of my llamas jaw is dropped and he is drooling; is he OK?

A llama whose jaw is dropped has more than likely had a spitting confrontation with another llama. This will pass and he'll start to eat again within about 15-30 minutes. Some llamas recover more quickly than others, and usually both the spitter and the spittee suffer. This behavior can also be a sign of heat stress, so check the weather and hose down the llama if necessary.

Do I have to shear my llamas? If so, can I do it or who should I get to do it?

In most N. American climates, it is necessary to shear most llamas in the spring to avoid heat stress and keep your llama comfortable. Learning to shear is easy, but there are professional llama shearers available.

I have a llama who is losing his/her neck wool; what does it mean?

Some llamas shed ("blow") their neck wool permanently, and some llamas shed it every once in a while. It is not known what factors influence this characteristic, but it is not a sign of a health problem.

What is adequate shelter?

You need at least a 3-sided structure to shield your llama from wind and to provide shade in the summer. It should stay dry inside year round. Access to open ground for most of the year is necessary for proper exercise and mental health of your llama.

What is a catch pen?

A catch pen is a small fenced in area, 9' by 9' is good, into which you corral your llama for a training session or haltering. Fence construction that allows you to "funnel" the llama into the catch pen is useful.

What kind of fencing do I need for my llamas?

Fencing serves two purposes: first to keep the llamas in, second to keep unwanted visitors (such as dogs and deer) out. Most llamas will happily stay inside a non-electrified, 2-wire grazing fence, as long as conditions are pleasant (available shelter and food), and they are generally quite respectful of electric fence. However, a well-motivated llama (key motivators are fear, potential mates, food, and biting insects) will go over, under, or through almost any fence. Consult with a professional fence supplier for help designing the right fences for your situation. We use a combination of: 5-wire (3 pulsed, 2 ground) high-tensile fence; 2-wire (both hot) grazing fence; 4-foot and 5-foot high welded wire fence, with and without a hot "scare" wire on top; and a variety of commercial and home-made gates. Avoiding electric fence in areas which you will use frequently, or which are easily available and attractive to small children, is highly advisable. Kiwi latches (see suppliers) for gate closures are very popular.

Can I leave one llama by itself?

Llamas are herd animals, and need the company of at least one other llama. Leaving one animal at home alone while taking the others for a walk is a strong motivator for a llama to go through a fence, or to injure itself trying to rejoin its buddies. You can take one llama away, to a show or for a walk, leaving behind more than one llama, but expect to see some rough-housing upon your return as the animals re-establish the herd hierarchy. A llama that has been taken away by itself will often drop to a lower spot in the hierarchy for quite some time.

Am I feeding my llamas correctly?

Ask 10 llama owners what they feed and you'll get 10 different answers. Good quality, burr- and thistle free hay is the most important component of your feed program. Grain and vitamin supplements should be chosen to suit your and your llamas needs, which may vary seasonally and year to year, as well as from llama to llama. You may wish to experiment for a number of years before choosing the best program for your llamas.

Is there routine veterinary care my llamas need?

There are annual vaccinations your llamas need as well as deworming. Check with your veterinarian and other local llama owners. You (or your veterinarian, but this will be expensive) should trim your llamas toenails at regular intervals. Depending upon the animal and the terrain, this can be as frequently as once per month, or as infrequently as once every 6 months. Poor toenail maintenance can cause lameness.

What is meningeal worm?

This is an internal parasite (Parelaphostrongylus tenuis) that afflicts white-tail deer and moose, and which may be transferred to llamas through the common snail, which incorporates the first-stage larvae (L1) during feeding on deer fecal material. Three to four weeks later, as the snail travels through your pasture, it leaves its own fecal material, now containing the 2nd and/or third stage larvae, behind in the grass. When the llamas graze this grass, they ingest the larvae and the L3 larvae establishes itself in the llama. They migrate from the digestive tract to the spinal column, and continue migration throughout the spinal cord. Meningeal worm infection can be fatal if not caught early, and may result in permanent neural damage even if the llama's life is saved by veterinary intervention. Prevention through aggressive deworming, using a product know to be effective against meningeal worm (Ivermectin; Dectomax), is the only prevention in areas where deer pass close to llama pastures. Clinical signs of infection include: hypermetria, ataxia, stiffness, muscular weakness, posterior paresis, paralysis, head tilt, arching neck, circling blindness, gradual weight loss, and eventually death. This is a subject of intensive research, and our increasing knowledge is leading to newer and more effective prevention and treatment programs every year. Stay in touch with the llama community, and ensure that your veterinarian is current with the most recent research.

Daily Care

What does your llama need every day? A kind word, a pat on the neck or rump, fresh water, hay or grass, and clean, dry shelter. Nothing more. But to really provide good care for your beloved animals, they also need a keen eye, and time spent quietly observing their behavior. Get to know their hierarchy, their habits, their interactions. Your observations of their normal behavior, around food, each other, and your daily routines, will be your best indicator of any health problems.

Males, regardless of whether they are gelded or not, will rough-house and play hard. They will chase each other around the pasture (especially at dusk), biting at each other's necks, legs and butts. They will neck-wrestle, pin each other, practice their breeding techniques on each other, and scream, cluck, and orgle during this play. It is a good idea to keep their fighting teeth trimmed to prevent torn ears and unscheduled castrations.

Expect a serious form of this rough-housing if introducing a new male to a group of males, and watch carefully for serious injuries. If the fighting does not settle down within a few days (and up to 2-3 weeks), you may have to keep the new male in a separate enclosure. This level of aggressiveness should not occur with a gelding.

The barn floor will need some form of bedding material, at least in the winter. Llamas tend to "bed themselves down" by scattering hay around the floor. Since this is expensive and wasteful, providing them with coarse straw or sand is helpful. Avoid wood shavings, as this tends to destroy their fiber quality and often contributes to skin ailments. Bucket heaters in the winter time will quickly pay for themselves in aggravation avoided, since breaking ice twice a day when it is -20' outside is no fun. Hay feeders that keep most of the hay off the ground are helpful. Figure on no less than one hay feeder for every two llamas, with at least 8' between feeders to ensure that even the lowest animal on the totem pole gets to eat.

Philo's llamas have been raised with a "litter box", which is an area of the barn which is sectioned off with a wood frame, about 6' by 10' and approximately 6-8 inches high, where they deposit their collective manure offerings. This area should have excellent drainage, and some bedding material to help absorb the urine. If this area is cleaned regularly (before it gets unpleasantly deep and smelly), the llamas will use it faithfully, and your back and the garden will benefit as a result.

Time spent working with your llamas will result in animals that are happy to see you, easy to work with, and a pleasure for others to interact with. "Training" time can be nothing more than a few minutes spent talking to and touching each llama every day, or can include an hour (for an adult) of intensive training aimed at teaching your llama a new technique (accepting a pack saddle, following voice commands, maneuvering an obstacle course, etc). Visits with strangers can be very beneficial, teaching your llamas that all people are pleasant to know.

Long walks are enjoyed by both llamas and people, especially when they include new experiences for both! Prepare your llamas for bug season by accustoming them to touch around the head and legs, so that you can wipe on or spray on insect repellant so they, too, can enjoy that walk in the woods. Insect repellants that work on people are just as effective on llamas, and may be less toxic (to you, the applicator, as well as to the llamas), than products formulated for animal use. You choose what you want to use, but do use something, or you may have a completely crazed animal on the end of that lead rope during the height of black fly season.

Recommended Reading

Magazines:

The GALA Newsletter

Llama Life II

Llama Banner

Books:

Caring for Llamas: A Health and Management Guide. 2nd ed. 1966. Clare Hoffman, DVM and Ingrid Asmus. Rocky Mountain Llama and Alpaca Association, $24.

Medicine and Surgery of South American Camelids: Llama, Alpaca, Vicuna, Guanaco. 2nd ed. 1998. Murray E. Fowler, DVM. Iowa State Univ. Press, $95.

First Aid for Llamas and Alpacas. Murray E. Fowler, DVM and Audrey C. Fowler. Clay Press, Herald, CA. $20.

The Complete Alpaca. Eric Hoffman.

Llamas: An Introduction to Care, Training, and Handling. Sandi Burt. Alpine Publications.

Packing with Llamas. 3rd ed. 1994. Stanlynn Dougherty. Juniper Ridge Press. $20.

A Reference Guide To Poisonous Plants - Eastern Edition. GALA.

Links:

www.smartt.com/~brianp/ (Mt. Lehman Llama Ranch. Great page on poisonous plants)

www.lamaregistry.com (the ILR)

www.InternationalLlama.org (the new improved ILA)

http://members.aol.com/NHLALAMA/text/ (New Hampshire Llama Association)

http://galaonline.org/ (the new GALA web site)

http://www.llamapaedia.com/ (nice site with lots of info)

http://netvet.wustl.edu/smrum.htm

http://www.webcom.com/~degraham/ (LlamaWeb)

http://www.lioby.com/ (wonderful section on fencing, and a live llamacam)

www.mallonmethod.com (training)

http://members.aol.com/martylama/cuttingedge.html (another type of training)

Suppliers

Minerals:

Kimball Farm

Stillwater 1-303-823-5409

Useful Llama Items 1-800-635-5262

Dr. Norm Evans

Ask your veterinarian

Fencing:

Premier 1. 2031 300th Street, Washington, IA 52353. 1-800-282-6631. Great phone support. also see: www.premier1supplies.com

Wellscroft Farm 1-603-827-3464. Widely used local supplier.

Supplies:

Ridge Mist Llamas and Supplies 1-800-24LAMAS. Also see www.llama-alpacasupplies.com

Mt. Sopris Pack Equipment 1-800-SOPRISX

Useful Lama Items 1-800-635-LAMA

Llamas and More Catalog Store 1-888-228-2588

Ollie Llamas 1-888-846-5262. Also see www.olliellamas.com

More Supplies:

Neon Llama Gift and Supply 1-800-823-1968

Rocky Mountain Llamas 1-303-530-5575

Stevens Llamatique 1-800-4MY-LAMA

Alternate Livestock Supply 1-800-638-4689

KV Veterinary Supply 1-800-423-8211

Omaha Vaccine 1-800-367-4444

 

  Contact Philo llamas at info@philollamas.com or 802-425-2178