The animals not the weapons!
Llamas are one of four main species of New World camelids. The other three species are the alpaca, guanaco and vicuna. These species are thought to have originated from a common ancestor that came across the Bering Strait land bridge. Camelids are thought to be related to Bactrian and Dromedary camels of Asia. The high dependence of Incan Indians of South America on llamas and alpacas for food and fiber is analogous to the Plains Indians of North America and their relationship to the bison. Incas carried their relationship with llamas a step further through domestication and controlled breeding for beasts of burden. With the collapse of Incan culture, llamas were nearly pushed into extinction and only survived in the harsh upper regions of their natural territory. The last 25 years have seen a resurgence of interest in llamas, especially in the United States.
Llamas are first and foremost pets and companions. They are ideally suited to this task because of their predictable low-key temperament, intelligence and ease of maintenance. Wilderness packing is probably the second greatest demand for llamas. Llamas make ideal pack animals for the western mountainous regions of the United States because of their inherent thriftiness in this climate, their low-cost maintenance and their durability as pack animals. Adult llamas can carry, or pack, up to one-third of their weight over rough terrain at high altitudes.
Wool may represent another use for llamas, although, with a large number of natural and synthetic substitutes for wool, it seems unlikely that llama herds will be maintained for wool production. In some foreign countries, where the resident llama population is quite high, there is interest in using llamas as a food source.
A gelded male llama makes an excellent guard animal for your goats and other grazing animals. They are very defensive of their herds against any invading attacker. Guard llamas can be an alternative to guard dogs or donkeys for use as predator control with sheep and other livestock—such as geese, ducks, deer, and cattle. Most guard llamas are geldings. Female llamas are usually kept for breeding purposes, though the females also are good at guarding.
Adult llamas’ average weight can range from about 250 to 450 pounds. Their height at the shoulder is from 40 to 47 inches and at the head from 5 1/2 to over 6 feet tall. Llamas lifespans can range from 15 to over 25 years. Llamas’ come in a large number of colors-various shades of brown, black, white, gray, red, and beige. They range from one solid color, to various patterns and spots.
Llama production practices are similar to those for sheep. Llamas are adaptive feeders, eating grasses, s, shrubs, and trees. They can be kept on a variety of pastures and hay. About 3 to 5 llamas or 5 to 10 alpacas can be grazed per acre, depending on quality of the pasture. A bale of hay will generally feed an adult llama for a week. Because of the animals’ high feed conversion, hays with high protein, like alfalfa, are not recommended because the animals can easily become overweight. Rotational grazing of llamas can help utilize the pasture to a greater extent. Water needs to be accessible at all times. Using pastures to meet most of the nutritional needs of the animals will enhance profitability. Pasture is usually less costly than purchasing supplemental grains and hay.
A three-sided shed or other shelter should be provided for inclement weather. Llamas do not adapt well to dark sheds, but prefer shelters with large doors or windows. For a group of five adult llamas accustomed to each other, an open shed should be at least 12 feet by 16 feet, while six mother llamas and crias can fit into a 16 by 16 foot shed.
Llamas and alpacas communicate with each other by ear, body and tail positions, shrill alarm calls, or a humming or low-pitch sound. Spitting among themselves is used to divert annoying suitors, protect themselves from a threat, or to help establish dominance over other animals. Occasionally they may spit at humans by accident, or if they feel threatened by the person.
Llamas have a habit of sharing communal dunging areas called dung or potty piles. This trait makes manure cleanup easier and helps reduce the spread of internal parasites.
Because llamas are from the dry, thin air in the high plains and mountains of South America, heat stress is a concern during a hot, humid day. They should be sheared in the spring and a small wading pool or sprinkler may be needed to help keep them cool. They need shelter from direct sunlight, and air movement is also necessary. During the heat of summer when the heat index is 120 or more and an animal is breathing with an open mouth, is drooling, walks with a stiffness due to muscle soreness, or is unwilling to get up, assume it is in heat stress and cool it down immediately. Hosing the llama all over, immersing the animal in a pond or trough, or placing ice packs under the belly, armpits, and thighs can cool them down sufficiently until the veterinarian arrives.
Female llamas produce one offspring (called a cria—pronounced creeah) per year after a gestation of around 350 days. Alpacas also produce one cria after a gestation of about 335 days. Twins for llamas are rare. Birthing is usually quick and trouble-free, and occurs during daylight hours with the mother standing during delivery. If the female is in labor for hours, she keeps lying down and getting back up or she stays lying down on her side; contact a veterinarian for help. Crias are usually up nursing and running with the herd within an hour or so. Newborn cria llamas range in weight from about 20 to 35 pounds and newborn cria alpacas average about 15 to 20 pounds. Occasionally, new mothers do not have sufficient milk for their newborn crias. Having some frozen baggies of goat or cow colostrum (first milk) available, along with a nipple that works – flutter valve and bottle to fit the nipple can save a cria’s life.
The female, being an induced ovulator and able to be bred year-round, will be ready to be bred again in a week or two. Females are devoted and protective mothers and will suckle the cria until weaning at about four to six months. Age at first breeding for females should be at least 18 months old. Llamas, guanacos, alpacas and vicunas can interbreed and should be pastured separately.
Males over the age of eight months should be separated from females to prevent unwanted pregnancies. Males should not be used for breeding until after they are two years old. After the age of two, male llamas grow very sharp fighting teeth (fangs) on both the upper and lower back of their jaws. Consult a veterinarian about removing these fighting teeth to prevent injury to other males or females. The fighting teeth may grow back and need to be removed again at a later time. Males in the same pasture will fight to establish who is boss, even if one is gelded. Many veterinarians recommend that males not intended for breeding purposes be gelded. This can be done as early as six months, but usually at about two years of age. If gelded too early, many llamas may have abnormal skeletal development.
Sometimes cria males that are bottle fed or given too much attention at an early age, bond to people and not with other llamas. When they have bonded to humans and grow to maturity, they perceive the humans (usually male) to be in competition for females in their herd. Their behavior problems toward humans can range widely in severity. The extreme case is called Berserk Male Syndrome (BMS) or Aberrant Behavior Syndrome. Males exhibiting BMS will treat people as if they are male llamas. This can include chest butting, knocking people down, and biting them.