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Basic Llama Info by Chelle Rogers

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Llamas greet others with a soft sniffing and blowing in your face which I call whiffling. The best way to greet a llama (one that doesn't know you) is quietly with your hands down or behind your back and offering your face for inspection. Stand still and let the llama approach you. You'll probably be rewarded with your first whiffle. If you are anything like the rest of us you'll be hooked for life, but what a wonderful addiction!

Quick Llama Facts:

Llamas are curious, very intelligent, sensitive, aloof and independent. Many enjoy being scratched or rubbed and spending time with 'their' humans. They can become great companions, packers, pull a cart, be golf caddies, run in marathons (helping raise money for your favorite charity), enter shows and parades, entertain at nursing homes and schools and used as 4-H projects. Some doctors have recommended them to high stress patients who need to relax. (It's nearly impossible to sit quietly with a llama and not find yourself engaged in their special magic.) Others are using llamas in therapy and/or while working with handicapped adults and children. Llamas have a variety of types and colors of useful fiber.

Some people have found they make good sheep guards, but if you have anything other than lone coyotes as predators, your llamas may end up as preyed upon as your other stock. The worst offender may be your neighbor's dog, the one they think would never harm a soul. More llamas have been killed by domestic dogs than by any other predator. A neighboring dog - or two or more packing together - get curious and what may start as dog play quickly becomes a bloodbath. Once a dog has attacked stock it will continue to do so. Many of us use LGD's (livestock guardian dogs - not to be confused with guard dog breeds) to protect our llamas.

Llamas are currently being raised in every state in the U.S. and many other countries. It will not be difficult to find breeders near you to begin your own exploration of these wondrous camelids. In many areas you can find professional packers that offer regular day trips or overnight camping excursions so you can experience hiking with a llama. Other ranches breed fine wooled llamas for the spinning fanatic. There's something for everyone in the world of llamas.

Llamas are fairly easy to maintain. They need at least a three-sided structure providing shelter from wind, rain, snow and hot sun. Other needs include fresh water, safe fencing and pasture, or at least adequate room to exercise and grass hay. In some states (such as parts of California) they are fed alfalfa, but a lower protein hay is recommended when possible. Check with breeders in your area for the best choices. Some breeders also feed grain in the winter or to growing or lactating llamas. Llamas also need a salt/mineral/vitamin supplement. Pellets expand and can cause them to choke and die. Llamas don't tend to lick so salt blocks are not a good choice either (and are not formulated for the needs of llamas). A free-choice supplement formulated specifically for llamas is the best choice. Be sure to find out what the levels of selenium and other minerals are in your area before ordering. It is important to consider the complete diet you will feed when deciding how much or which minerals your llamas need.

Llamas need regular worming, a yearly vaccination (more vaccinations may be required in your area or for traveling) and most need their toenails trimmed occasionally. It is best to have the four canine teeth on males blunted once they emerge so they don't harm each other while wrestling and playing. (The canines on females rarely become a problem.) None of the livestock medications (such as wormers and vaccines) have been approved specifically for llamas, so it is important to choose and talk to a vet knowledgable about llamas before you bring yours home. Other breeders in your area will be a valuable resource and there are many regional and national llama organizations that you may join for further info and fun.

I've trained both llamas and horses and I've found llamas much easier to work with and quicker to learn. All llamas should be trained at least in the basics.

The Basics:

As with all training, short lessons work best. There are some good videos and books on all aspects of caring for llamas. Llamas are not as well known as sheep or horses and much information that circulated about their care ten years ago has become obsolete. There are several 'methods of training' that are promoted. I like to explore all methods, use what works and toss out the rest. Common sense, patience and appropriate boundaries that are respectful of myself and my llamas are my guidelines.

There are many higher levels of training and the more time you spend with your llamas, the more attractive those options become. From PR work , packing, carting to off-lead training and obstacle courses, there's a lot of fun to be had. I don't get the opportunity to travel much, but several of my llamas enjoy coming in the house for special attention. Many will jump into a van for a quick spin around the island or a walk on one of the trails. One of my studs loves to visit town and has attended many functions. He will calmly kush (a natural way llamas lay on their sternum with all four legs tucked under them) and put up with hours of being hugged and petted by children and adults. My llamas get a lot of handling and most of them enjoy visitors coming to the farm because they get more hugs, scratches and attention.

As with any type of livestock, conformation and genetics are important. A deal that is too good to be true usually is. Young males that are not breeding quality can be priced as low as $300.00 to $500.00 and a package deal on two will often be a lower price. (Llamas are herd animals and for maximum mental/emotional health should be kept with at least one other llama.) Breeding stock prices vary immensely and it is important to do your homework and work with breeders who have a good reputation and offer guarantees. Know what your goals and needs are and shop around, don't buy on impulse. A higher price may or may not mean a better quality llama. Expect to pay more for animals with more training. Handle the animals you want to buy and be sure to check health records and ask plenty of questions. Most llama owners are deeply attached to their animals and will be very happy to answer your questions. Work with a breeder who is willing to give you ongoing ! supp ort and info on the llamas they sell. Be sure any and all llamas you buy for showing (including geldings) or breeding in the U.S. are registered with the International Lama Registry.

Llamas create communal dung piles and it's simple to clean up the deer-like, pelleted manure. Local gardeners often clean my pastures in exchange for the great fertilizer. Several enterprising people around the country have dried, ground and sold the manure in small bags as specialty food for house plants.

Llama fiber can range from short to long, coarse (good for bags, rugs, felting and ropes) to extremely fine (wonderful for soft sweaters and close-to-the-body garments). You can get fiber tested and it will help you choose stock if you are breeding specifically for fine fibered llamas. However, solid conformation should never be sacrificed for fiber quality, find llamas with both if fine fiber is your goal. If you prefer packing, a llama with more protective, coarse guard hair and an undercoat that easily brushes out is easier to maintain (fiber-wise).

If you've never owned large stock, do not think owning llamas will be like having a pet dog because it won't. All large stock involves a certain amount of knowledge and know-how. Go to llama shows, watch videos and read books (seek out your local llama organization, many have lending libraries), visit as many breeders as possible and ask questions as you take notes. Don't be surprised if 12 breeders in your area have 12 different opinions on any one subject, we're a varied lot and what works well on one farm set-up may not work well on another.

Llamas can die from heat stress. (Over weight llamas are very prone to heat stress.) If you are in a hot area, you will need to explore the methods other breeders in your area are using to safeguard the health of their llamas. Some will have fans and misters and shade is essential. My area is not hot enough to warrant fans or misters, but on our hotter days I cool the barn by spraying the walls and wetting the sand floor with a hose. Many of my llamas come up eagerly to enjoy having their legs gently sprayed. I feel shearing is a must for heavy and medium wooled llamas. You will notice an immediate rise in your llama's activity level after shearing. If you aren't a spinner you can sell the fiber or explore trading with a spinner in exchange for a finished garment. I love to barter and my granddaughter has some lovely apparel made from my llama fiber thanks to that method of doing business.

Llama gestation is an average of 335 to 360 days. I use 350 as a rule of thumb. Baby llamas are called crias. Crias can be weaned at five to eight months. (I prefer to use 7 months as an average for weaning here.) DO NOT buy younger crias without their dam, unless they will be staying at the breeders until they are over the stress of weaning. (Please contact me if you know of auctions or breeders selling crias to leave the ranch without dams under the age of 6 months. This is a cruel, unscrupulous method of selling and needs to be stopped.) Avoid buying bottle fed males as they can develop aberrant behavior. Bottle fed females can also be pushy and if you are brand new to llamas it is in your (and the llama's) best interest not to deal with these types of problems.

The number one question I hear from those who have never met a llama... do llamas spit? Yes, spit happens. Your family dog can bite and will under the right circumstances. Your family cat can bite and scratch and will under the right circumstances. Llamas will spit under the right circumstances. Usually llamas spit to tell another llama to get out of their space or food. A bred female will spit at males who are trying to approach her, some dams will spit at others getting too close to her cria. Rarely will llamas spit on purpose at their owners. If they do it is usually in fear or pain and often means the handler is at fault. Spitting at humans is the exception, not the rule. No one has died from being spit on. There are two types of 'spit', one is a light spray with no real odor, the other is green globs brought up from the stomach and nasty smelling, but harmless. Learn how to handle your llamas correctly, don't walk into the middle of the herd with food they need to contend for and buy llamas with a good disposition, then spit won't be a big deal. (Frankly, I don't see it as a big deal in comparison to some of the methods other large animals employ as protection.)

If you have raised any type of animal, you know how important bloodlines are. Certain lines are more marketable, others carry genetic problems, some lines are overused and some mesh well with certain other lines. (Disposition appears to be a highly heritable trait.) If a certain bloodline seems very good, that does not guarantee every llama from that line will be good. Judge each llama on its own merits as well as bloodlines. Some prefer to purchase llamas only from known bloodlines that have proven themselves. Other prefer imports, many of which have no known parentage. There are pros and cons to both choices. Once again, do your homework and make responsible choices. Know what your goals are and learn as much as possible prior to purchasing. Don't be fooled by hype, learn the right questions to ask and what to look for.

I don't encourage anyone to get into breeding any type of animal as a get-rich-quick scheme. That does not mean llamas are not a good investment, simply that raising any type of stock is a large responsibility and not to be considered lightly. Owning a few llamas is not the same level of risk or responsibility as raising and breeding many, just as growing your own garden is not the same as operating a nursery. If you've never owned livestock, I recommend learning all you can and starting out with a pair of llama geldings already trained in the basics.

It may seem I've issued a lot of warnings, but I think it's very important for all llamas to get suitable, loving, long-term homes. They are so easy to fall in love with that many people buy without getting basic info first. Be an informed buyer and your llamas will have a good life. If you are well suited to llamas your 'herd' will grow because llamas are wonderfully addictive!

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