!Llamas are a South American camelid that has been widely used as a pack and meat animal by South American cultures for thousands of years. Since the early 1990's llamas have become widely used in America and Canada as guard animals since they are good at fighting off predators, work well with other animals, and give birth easily.
Llamas have two soft toes per foot, long necks and legs. Their ears are rather long and slightly curved inward, characteristically known as "banana" shaped. Their tails are short, and their fiber is long, woolly. and soft. Llamas grow to be between 5.5 ft. and 6ft tall and weigh between 280 lb. to 450 lb. At birth, a baby llama (called a cria) weighs between 20 lb. and 30 lb. Llamas are very social animals and like to live with other llamas as a herd. Overall, the fiber produced by a llama is very soft and is naturally lanolin free. Llamas are intelligent and can learn simple tasks after a few repetitions. When using a pack, llamas can
carry 25% - 30% of their body weight for several miles.
Llamas come in many colors such as white, grey, reddish-brown, brown, dark brown, and black. They have a fine undercoat which can be used for crafts and garments and they have a coarser outer guard hair that is used for rugs, wall-hangings and lead ropes.
Llamas which are well socialized and trained to halter and lead after weaning are very friendly and pleasant to be around. They
are extremely curious and most will approach people easily. When correctly reared spitting at a human is a rare thing. Llamas are very social herd animals, and do sometimes spit at each other as a way of disciplining lower-ranked llamas in the herd. A llama's social rank in a herd is never static. They can always move up or down in the social ladder by picking small fights. This is usually done between males to see who will become alpha. Their fights are visually dramatic with spitting, ramming each other with their
chests, neck wrestling and kicking, mainly to knock the other off balance. The females are usually only seen spitting as a means of controlling other herd members.
While the social structure might always be changing, they live as a family and they do take care of each other. If one notices a strange noise or feels threatened, a warning bray is sent out and all others come to alert. They will often hum to each other.
The sound of the llama making groaning noises or going "mwa" is often a sign of fear or anger. If a llama is agitated,
it will lay its ears back. You can tell how agitated a llama is by the materials in the spit. The more irritated the llama is, the further back into each of the three stomach compartments they will try to draw materials from for its spit.
A cria (pronounced cree-ah, meaning "baby") is the name for a baby llama (also alpaca, vicuña, or guanaco). The gestation period of a llama is 11½ months (350 days). Llamas births are performed standing up and are usually quick and problem free. Most births take place between 8 a.m. and 3 pm, during the warmer daylight hours. This may increase cria survival by reducing
fatalities due to hypothermia during cold Andean nights.
Dams (female llamas) do not lick off their babies, as they have an attached tongue which does not reach outside of the mouth more than half an inch. Instead, they will nuzzle and hum to their newborns. Crias are up and standing, walking and
attempting to nurse within the first hour after birth. Crias are partially fed with llama milk which is lower in fat and salt and higher in phosphorus and calcium than cow or goat milk. A female llama will only produce about 60 ml of milk at a time when she gives milk. For this reason, the cria must suckle frequently to receive the nutrients it requires.
Using llamas as livestock guards in North America began in the early 1980s and some sheep producers have used llamas successfully for that entire time. The use of guard llamas has greatly increased since a magazine article in 1990, when national attention was drawn to the potential use of llamas for guarding sheep. The ideal guard animal should protect sheep against predation while requiring minimal training, care, and maintenance. It should stay with and not disrupt the flock, and live long enough to be cost effective.
Studies have proven that llamas are successfully being used as guard animals for herds of sheep, goats, alpacas and other
livestock throughout North America. Protection of the herd and easy maintenance are the two most common advantages. When Llamas are introduced to a herd and are pastured with them; they do not require separate shelters. Ideally, a llama should be introduced to the sheep while they are in a corral or small pasture rather than on open range or large pasture. The llama should remain in a small area until the sheep and llama seem well-adjusted and attached to each other. This encourages bonding between the sheep and llama. A llama introduced in this manner will be more effective as a guard animal.
Multiple guard llamas is not as effective as one llama. Multiple male llamas tend to bond with one another, rather than with the livestock, and may ignore the flock. A gelded male of two years of age bonds closely with its new charges and is instinctively very effective in preventing predation. Some llamas appear to bond more quickly to sheep or goats if they are introduced just prior to lambing. Many sheep and goat producers indicate a special bond quickly develops between lambs and their guard llama and that the llama is particularly protective of the lambs.
The value of the livestock saved each year more than exceeds the purchase cost and annual maintenance of a llama. Although not every llama is suited to the job, most llamas are a viable, non-lethal alternative for gaurding, requiring no training and little care.
Llamas in History
Llamas originated from the central plains of North America about 40 million years ago. They migrated to South America about 3 million years ago. By the end of the last ice age (10,000 - 12,000 years ago) camelids were extinct in North America. As of 2007,
there were over 7 million llamas and alpacas in South America and, due to importation from South America in the late 20th century, there are now over 158,000 llamas and 100,000 alpacas in the US and Canada.
In the Inca empire llamas were the only beasts of burden, and many of the peoples dominated by the Inca had
long traditions of llama herding. For the Inca nobility the llama were of symbolical significance and llama figures were often buried with the dead. In South America llamas are still used as pack animals, as well as for the
production of fiber and meat.
Llamas can be a valuable addition to any farm especially if you need an easy-to-work-with guard animals to
work with your alpacas or sheep.