General Information

Llamas are one of the oldest domesticated animals known to man. They are members of the camel (camelid) family, which includes Bactrian (two humped) and Dromedary (one humped) camels. The genus Lama includes the four South American species: vicuna, guanaco, alpaca, and llama.

Traditionally llamas are used as pack animals; they are very easy on the trails and the environment that they walk on because of their padded feet. (The foot of the llama is two toed, with soft pads ensuring sure footedness and agility.) They are easily trained and can even be trained to be ridden by small children.

Besides pack animals, in their native land, llamas are used for meat, milk, wool and leather. Llamas, particularly altered males, are gaining in popularity as guard animals for sheep and goat flocks or other herds of animals. The pelleted droppings make excellent fertilizer and can even be used as potting soil.

In addition they are used for breeding, as pets or companion animals, driving carts, and for fiber. Llama shows have gained in popularity over the years and are available at many county and state fairs, as well as special llama events. The coats of both wool types may be sheared to provide fiber for spinning or the coats can be brushed regularly to obtain the wool.

The average life span of a llama is 15 to 20 years, however some individuals have attained over 25 years. The gestation period is an average of 340 to 350 days (a little less than a year). Young are known as cria and average 15 to 30 pounds at birth.

Llamas produce a variety of sounds, mostly forms of humming with which they communicate to each other. In addition they have a variety of ear, tail and body postures. The ear positions are very similar to that of the horse. The llamas position in the herd and at the feed bunk is often communicated by spitting at each other, they seldom will share this behavior with humans unless they are mishandled or threatened.

Llamas are quite clean. They will establish a community “poop pile” which will be used by the entire herd. The breeder can stimulate a new pile by seeding locations in a new field.

Female llamas do not have a heat cycle, they are copulation induced ovulators, with ovulation being induced some 24 to 36 hours after mating. Blood tests may be performed to verify pregnancy or reintroducing the male to test for the females refusal. Gestation averages 350 days Females will rebreed 9 to 14 days after giving birth. The young, known as cria, can be weaned from 4 to 6 months of age. Although some female llamas mature at as young as 6 months of age, it is not recommended that they be bred until they reach 200 pounds, usually after 18 months of age. As there is no heat cycle, breeding can occur at anytime, so a careful system should be developed for exposure between the males and females to determine the time of year that the young will be born.

Llamas are social animals and should not be kept alone. When possible, all cria should be mother raised. Hand rearing, bottle raising, is not recommended except for extreme circumstances. Males that are bottle raised will imprint on humans and become aggressive when mature treating humans with the same aggressive nature they would exhibit to a rival male llama. These hand raised animals should always be castrated.

  • Feed – Llamas are ruminants, chewing their cud, like cattle. They are herbivores that browse and graze. They can be supplemented with small amounts of grain, apples and carrots, but their basic diet is grazing or a good quality hay. An adult llama will eat approximately 2 to 4% of their body weight per day in dry matter. An average bale of hay will feed a llama from 1 week to 10 days without pasture. The owner should check with the local extension or veterinarian to check for toxic plants and selenium levels in their area.
  • Minerals and salts – At all times, llamas should have iodized salt and free choice of minerals.
  • Shelter – Llamas are very easy to house and keep. They are very hardy and temperature tolerant, but a shelter should be provided against severe winter wind chills and summer heat. They do not jump so normal field fences are sufficient.
  • Vaccinations – Necessary vaccinations vary from location to location, so your veterinarian or local llama association chapter should be consulted when a new herd is established.
  • Water – Fresh, clean water should be available at all times.
  • Worming – Llamas should be dewormed at least every six months.
  • Alpaca – a small domestic camelid developed with fine abundant wood
  • Cria – the young of llamas
  • Guanaco – a wild, brown species indigenous to the arid grasslands (it is generally believed that
    these are the wild ancestors of the llama)
  • Llama – a larger domesticated animal used as a beast of burden for some 5000 years
  • Vicuna – a small wild, long, haired species that is presently listed as endangered