All About Raising Llamas

Llamas are cute, quirky and surprisingly low-maintenance animals. Here's some information to get you started raising llamas.


| June/July 2001



Llama

Llamas make great pack animals and can be effective at herding sheep.


Photo courtesy ISTOCKPHOTO/JOHN SPRAY

The "lama" family consists of llamas and alpacas, which are domesticated, and guanacos and vicunas, which are found in herds in the wilds of South America. Prehistoric fossils suggest they originated in North America, then migrated to their native lands of Bolivia, Chile and Peru, where they've been domesticated for about 4,000 years. They are modified ruminants called crias (Spanish for baby alpaca) and grow to an average of 300 to 400 pounds.

Here in the United States, llamas have enjoyed quite a surge in popularity for several reasons. The woolly beasts can be shorn every two years for their fiber, which varies in color from white to brown to black, and they make sturdy pack animals and guards. Cute as they are, many llamas serve no other purpose than to give their owners the pleasure of looking at them. (Incidentally, though most llama owners wouldn't consider it, roasted llama is quite tasty, as many South American herdsmen can attest.)

Contrary to what many llama owners believe, the fiber from llama shearing is not highly desirable because of its mixture of coarse guard hairs and fine underfiber. When painstaking efforts are made to separate and card shorn fiber, it can sell for at least $2 per ounce, depending on the color. Alpacas are far superior to llamas in the quality of their fiber, but they do not have the versatility of the llama to provide packing and guarding abilities.

Adult llamas can carry, or pack, up to one-third of their weight over rough terrain at high altitudes. Some enterprising wilderness enthusiasts have initiated successful outdoor adventure companies that feature pack trips with llamas. Llamas are also proving to be effective guards for herds of sheep, decreasing losses to predatory coyotes.

Nutrition

Llamas are happiest grazing in green pastures, but in colder climates they will accept confinement and quality grass hay. They are highly adaptive and will store excess nutrition for lean times. The core of their diet is grass hay, which should be 8 to 10 percent protein. Weanlings and pregnant or lactating mothers should receive protein supplementation, consisting of alfalfa hay or pellets. A salt/mineral supplement should be available, and in areas that are deficient in selenium, additional selenium (90ppm) and vitamin E (8000 units/lb) should be offered.





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