South Central Llama Association
New Buyers Information from the SCLA
Welcome to the Wonderful World of Llamas!
Llamas are South American camelids that were originally domesticated more than 4,000 years ago. This gentle animal has been in the US since the late 1940s, beginning with the William Randolph Hearst herd in California. By 1970, people began forming their own llama herds all over the country totaling about 5,000 llamas. By 1996, this number grew to well over 100,000 llamas in this country, attesting to their acceptance and popularity.
One of the most important lessons a new llama owner learns is that owning a lama requires building a relationship with your animal. When presented with new or threatening situations, animals generally respond in one of two ways -- "fight" or "flight". While a dog will bark (fight) when it is scared, a lama would prefer to run away from the situation altogether (flight). For this reason, you will want to build a bond of trust between the two of you. consistency is key - your llama has a long memory, and will remember and avoid bad experiences. Training a llama is done with patience and consistent repetition. This is not a form of "breaking" the llama, but a gentle reinforcement.
To get started, you will need a good-fitting and flexible llama halter. It should fit high on the bridge of the nose close to the eyes and high on the back of the head. A sloppy halter that slides down the nose can injure the soft cartilage in that area. The nose band should have about two fingers' width under the jaw to allow for chewing food. These halters can be ordered from any one of the llama supply companies. You will also need a six to eight foot soft and flexible lead rope. Remember, never wrap the lead rope around your hand! For your own safety, fold it inside your palm. Keep in mind that halters need to be removed when llamas are in their pastures for their safety around fences and trees.
Llamas travel will in trailers, which should be well ventilated in the warm weather and at least partially enclosed during the cool months. Make sure you have rubber mats on the floor for safe footing during loading, off-loading and travel.
Feed for llamas is based on a good quality hay. They are very food efficient, needing only 10-12% protein in their diet. Alfalfa is not recommended, unless the weather is very cold due to its high protein and energy level. While we are inclined to think that high-protein and high-energy food should be good for llamas, it is important to know that it has been associated with heat stress in warm weather. When grain supplements are used, 10% protein is sufficient (pregnant and nursing females and growing youngsters may have up to 14% protein in their diet). These grains are fed at a rate of 1 - 1.5 lbs. per day, depending on the age and activity of the llamas. Overweight llamas can have both birthing and heat stress problems. Excess grain has also been blamed for ulcers in llamas.
You will hear a lot about heat stress in llamas, but with early preparations, you can avoid this. Remember humidity is just as bad as temperature. First - SHEAR, SHEAR, SHEAR! This is a true act of kindness for your llama. Imagine yourself wrapped in a wool coat this summer - that’s what your llama is facing. Either hand or electric shears work well. Remove the wool in the middle of the body, arm pit to hip bone. Next work toward the rear legs, top and sides, down to the skin. Do this during the spring before the heat sets in, you can always touch up mid-summer on heavy wool. Even with the show animals, shearing is necessary - many a Grand Champion has won in sheared form. Plenty of shade, fresh water and fans should round out your spring preparation. During the peak of the heat, electrolytes can be added to some of the water buckets, but fresh water should always be available. Change the water daily and keep both in the shade so they are cooler and more inviting.
Hosing down your llama's legs and belly is cooling, but not the body wool as that will trap body heat in the wet wool. Shaded, wet sand pits may also be helpful for natural cooling. High volume fans will be a focal point of your lamas' afternoon, some owners also use evaporative coolers in loafing sheds without adding much expense to their electrical bills. Don't be tempted to spend a lot of money on air conditioning for your llamas. Air conditioning has not only the draw-back of the enormous expense, but it is very hard on the llamas to move in and out of it during the heat without being stressed or prone to respiratory problems. It can be helpful in a heat stress emergency and should be reserved for that. If you think your llama is showing any signs of heat stress such as lack of appetite, lethargy, staggering, locked leg walk, or glazed eyes, call your vet or another SCLA member to help and advise immediately. It is important to nip the problem in the bud.
Llama maintenance is relatively basic. A regular inoculation and de-worming program can be set up by your vet according to requirements of your area. SCLA can give you a list of vets whom other members use in your area. Toe nail trimming will keep llama feet healthy. A light brushing and removal of matted wool in the spring allows better ventilation of body heat during the summer months. Adult males develop teeth known as fighting fangs, and these are often removed after three years of age when the lamas live with other males to prevent injuries when they get playing the sparring with each other. Remember lamas will be required to have health certificates, TB and Brucellosis tests before they can enter stock shows in many states. Check with the animal health office in your state or the one in a state you plan to travel through or to for their regulations.
Babies are such fun after waiting the 340-360 day gestation period. In the SCLA area, we recommend you plan your breeding program to avoid summer births between mid-May and late September. Generally studs are removed from pastures with females to avoid a summer re-breed if a female slips a spring breeding. Fall or winter babies should be weaned before the heat sets in to avoid over-stressing the moms. Mothers should have the inoculations and deworming about three months prior to birthing and babies generally get their first shots three to four months after birth. Be sure to check this out with your vet. As another resource, SCLA's library has excellent information on both breeding and birthing. The library is available for members to use free of charge. The books and videos explain field testing females for pregnancy, blood tests, birthing and how to care for a new baby.
While exciting, a new baby brings with it a lot of important tasks. You will need to do things like checking to make sure baby is up and nursing within 30-90 minutes and dipping the baby's navel in a Betadine wash. Most babies are born during the daylight hours with the majority between 9 AM and 4 PM. Little assistance, if any, is needed during a normal labor and delivery (as demonstrated by the number of owners who return from work in the evening to find the mom and a new baby roaming the pasture with the rest of the herd!). Keep the vets phone number handy when a due date gets close, along with a few birthing supplies just in case your mama lama does need help. If the mom has been in labor all day long and still has not delivered by early evening, a call to your vet may be in order. If the baby is a but sluggish getting up, a gentle rub-down with a clean terry towel may be all the stimulation it needs to get up and start nursing, but do give nature a chance to take charge.
Baby llamas need to be raised by their mothers and within a herd in order to learn all about being a llama! The herd structure is critical to a young llama's proper social development - they need the company of other llamas during the first 5+ months of life. Llamas will always be happiest when they have the company of at least one other llama. Please NEVER purchase a lone, bottle-fed llama of either sex. Any llama sold away from its mother before the age of 5 months is in great danger of becoming imprinted on humans, especially if it has no other animals for companionship. This can lead to the llama becoming aggressive toward humans as it matures. The situation is most dangerous in male llamas but is a concern for females as well. Leave the baby in the care of it's mother until it is weaned! The average weaning age for llamas is 5-8 months. In rare instances, a mother llama may not have milk for the baby; in this case it takes an experienced llama owner to handle the bottle-feeding, while keeping mom and baby with their herd, to prevent accidental imprinting.
South Central Llama Association members and their vets have historically been ready and willing to help new llama owners - just give them a call. Membership in the SCLA is a great way to stay informed about llamas and events that include them. Contact the Association at:
SCLA PO Box 163654 Austin, TX 78716 (512-328-8715) firstname.lastname@example.org
We hope this information will help you get a good start with your new member of the much-loved lama family.
SCLA is a 501(c)(5) Non-Profit Organization
Web Designer: Sharon Bramblett
Updated: Tue 13-Dec-2011 14:51 ©2009 South Central Llama Association