Publications > General Livestock > Llamas

Llamas

Rick Blanke
Small Farms Planner

Introduction

Llamas are members of the camel family which are from South America. For several reasons, they are becoming more popular to raise in Western Washington and King County.

Llamas don't require a lot of room to raise. Their hooves are very easy on the ground. Their feed and shelter requirements are moderate. They are sociable around people, have mild temperaments which make them suitable for children, and can be trained for numerous purposes. Finally, llamas produce a high quality wool.

Size and Life Expectancy

Adult llamas typically weigh between 300 and 500 pounds and stand 5 to 6 feet tall. It takes them 3 to 4 years to reach these sizes. Llamas usually live between 18 and 20 years.

The baby, or "Cria", weighs from 20 to 40 pounds and stand 2-1/2 feet tall. Single Crias, born during the daytime, are the norm. Mothers usually don't require help
with the birth. The Cria is typically nursing within an hour and up and running within several hours of birth. Crias are usually weaned at six months.

Breeding

Llamas do not go into heat; they are induced ovulators, making it possible to control their breeding cycle and birthing times.

The gestation period is approximately 350 days. Females can be re-bred within 2 weeks after giving birth.

Females are initially bred between 14 and 18 months of age. They can typically bear Crias for 12 to 16 years.

Social Requirements

Llamas are herd animals. They have to be kept with other llamas to be well adjusted and happy. A llama can be used as a guardian for sheep or goats. Only a single llama should be put in with the other animals so that the llama bonds with them.

Food and Water Requirements

Llamas are grazers and should be provided with a good quality pasture or grass hay. You may have to supplement their food with a mineral supplement or selenium supplement if your veterinarian thinks they are needed. Llamas, however, also enjoy browsing and will eat your shrubs and trees, so protect those plants in your pastures which you want to keep.

It is important not to overfeed llamas. Extra weight increases heat stress, pregnancy, and birthing problems.

A bale of hay will feed the typical llama for 7 to 10 days while 1 acre of good grass will support 4 llamas. When kept on pasture, rotate your llamas to keep your grass in good condition. They require a constant supply of clean water during all seasons.

Manure Production

Llamas are ruminants with 3 stomach compartments. They chew their cuds like cattle do. This digestion method reduces their requirement for protein and also results in a "cold", weed-free manure which is about the size of coffee beans. This manure contains about 2% Nitrogen and can be used directly on the garden or pasture without composting as it doesn't burn plants. Llamas are clean animals and prefer to use the same spot in the pasture or stall every day to deposit their manure. Their manure has little if any odor.

Shelter

Llamas prefer being outdoors in almost any type of weather. They do, however, need protection from the hot sun and heavy rains and snows. A simple 3-sided shelter with the open end positioned away from the prevailing winds, will adequately protect llamas. This is also the best place to give them their hay and water. Llamas do not like to be shut up in stalls, preferring to be able to come and go as they please.

Fencing

A 5 foot tall perimeter fence is recommended but llamas will generally respect a 4 foot fence if they are with their "herd". Even a weanling, however, will be able to easily jump a 4 foot fence to rejoin its mother.

Dog-proof your perimeter fence to exclude roaming domestic dogs. Even though llamas are able to run off most predators, there have been cases of dog packs injuring or killing llamas.

Barbed wire and llamas do not mix. No-climb is acceptable, as are other typical types of fence such as board and smooth wire. Because of the thickness of their coats, llamas may be difficult to contain with some electric fencing systems. Careful planning will be needed to overcome this problem.

Vaccinations and Other Health Care

Llamas require annual vaccinations. Deworming is generally recommended at least twice per year. Consult a veterinarian experienced with llamas to set up these programs for your animals.

Check hooves monthly and trim if necessary. Check the pads while you are working with the hooves. Your animals should be trained to hold still and allow you to
make these checks.

Llama Wool

Llama wool is softer, finer, and lighter in weight than sheep wool but is less elastic. Llamas produce more spun yarn than sheep wool pound for pound. Colors range from white to brown to black and many shades in between.

Llamas can be shorn but it takes two years for their coats to grow back out. Most people gather wool by combing and can get two to three pounds per year per animal.

Miscellaneous

Llamas are very trainable. They should be trained to be easily caught, haltered, led, handled, checked for their health, and loaded into vehicles (a trailer may not be needed). Llamas can be trained to carry packs on hiking trips, let small children ride, and to pull carts and buggies.

For more information on llamas, contact Judy Jamison, Llama Owners of Washington State, 800-399-98501

July 1997