About Llamas

Are there different kinds of llamas?
No, but there are different kinds of camelids. The “lama” family consists of four branches: Alpacas, Guanacos, Llamas and Vicunas. Alpacas and llamas have been domesticated for approximately 4,000 years, whereas guanacos and vicunas are mostly found in herds in the wild.

Our little farm was part of 2 llama articles in the New York Times.  Second article is about Miniature Llamas.   It came out July 4, 2013 and we would love to share it with you.

What is a miniature llama?
A llama under 3 years of age may be registered only if its mother is a registered, mature, mini llama or the mother is registered foundation stock and the father is a registered mini llama. Llamas three years of age or older that measure no more than 38 inches at the withers may be registered as miniature llamas.

What does foundation stock mean?
Only female llamas that are used in a breeding program for producing miniature llamas but exceed the 38 inch height standard for miniatures by no more than two inches or forty inches maximum height may be registered as foundation stock. This standard was set by the Association in recognition that height is a genetic trait and breeding down is a realistic approach to developing miniature llamas.

How do you measure a llama to see if they qualify as a miniature?
One of the most accurate ways to measure a llama is to have your llama stand squarely on a level surface next to a wall.  Take a carpenter’s level and lay it over the llamas back at the withers (on the shoulders just where the neck joins).  Let one end of the level touch the wall and get the bubble in the middle.  Then make a mark on the wall under the end of the level. Now you can move the llama out of the way and measure up the wall to the mark. This is a fairly simple way to accurately measure your llamas.

Where do llamas come from?
Current theories reveal that camelids originated in North America and moved north across the Bering land bridge evolving into camels. A photograph of a fossilized llama believed to be 9 millions year old was found in Florida. Camelids that migrated to the south became the “lama” family. Most llamas now are native to western South America mostly Bolivia, Chile and Peru.

What do llamas eat?
They graze on grasses and with their long necks; anything on the other side of a fence is fair game. As long as they have some decent hay and fresh water llamas are usually content. You will often see contented llamas lying around chewing their cud. A bale of hay will feed an adult llama for a week or so. We do feed our llama’s lama chow, a special formula of food just for llamas. A grown llama will eat 1 to 2 cups per day.

What kind of shelter do they need?
Llamas don’t like to be enclosed in a barn, but we usually keep newborns and their moms inside for several nights if the weather is very wet or very cold. The adults are smart enough to run for an open barn or shelter in the event of a hail or thunderstorm. Llamas need a cool place to rest during the heat of the day. In the summer time we provide fans in the barn to help keep them cool.

Usually a three-sided shelter is sufficient. As well as protection from rain and snow, they need shade in the summer. Although occasionally you will see them lying outdoors with their bellies facing the sun. Most of them seem to prefer to stay out of the rain or snow. They sleep lying down with their feet tucked under their body.

What kind of sounds do they make?
The most common sound is a humming noise. A female will hum to her Cria (baby), which seems to reassure the baby that mom is nearby. The Cria’s have a softer hum. If an animal is not sure about its surroundings, it may issue an uncertain hum or even a “worried” hum.

Males will make a very strange sound while they are breeding which is called an orgle. They will sometimes make this sound if there is an open female on the other side of the fence.

If a llama perceives a danger, such as a strange dog or a coyote, they will make an alarm call which warns the rest of the herd. Although, not all llamas make the alarm sound. Usually one or two will make the alarm for the entire herd.

A male llama will occasionally make a snort sound at another male which seems to mean something like “You are lucky I can’t get over this fence”.

Females will sometimes make a clucking sound at a male over the fence. It seems to mean “Back off! Don’t even think about it!”

How big do they get?
Adult llamas usually grow to between 300 and 450 pounds and stand five to six feet tall at the head. The newborns are often between 21 and 29 pounds and would be about 30 inches tall. Provided that the mother has plenty of milk, a baby would normally gain about a pound a day for the first couple of weeks. They reach their full growth between three and four years of age.

Do they bite?
Llamas don’t bite for defense. They have a hard plate on the top of their mouth and front teeth on the bottom are designed for cutting grass. Males, around the age of three, will grow fighting teeth at the back of their mouth. These teeth should be cut off, as they can cause serious damage to other males during a fight.

Do they spit?
They have been known to spit but rarely at humans. They will split between themselves when there is a dispute over food or territory. Llamas who may have been previously abused or a llama that is a new mom may spit at unfamiliar visitors. If you want to avoid a sharp spit in the face, good common sense is all that is required.

What about their hair?
Llamas have wool. It comes in three types: light, medium and heavy. The wool can be spun and woven or made into felt.

What colors do they come in?
Llamas come in many colors, from white to silver to black and also from golden blonde to chestnut to very dark brown. You cannot breed for color any more accurately than you can breed for gender.

How old do they get?
Although it is uncommon llamas have been known to exceed the age of 30 years or more. The common life expectancy of a healthy llama is 25 to 30 years.

Do they make good pets?
Llamas can make very loving pets. The key to having a happy llama is having more than one. If you are considering a llama for a pet keep in mind they are a herding animal and will thrive with a companion.