The wonder of Llamas
by, 03-01-2008 at 03:19 PM (2693 Views)
Lamas like Pooky (single "l"), which include the llama (double "ll"), alpaca, guanaco and the endangered vicuna, are members of the camel (camelid) family. Originating in the Central Plains of North America about 40 million years ago, the lama predecessors migrated to South America around 2.5 million years ago. The end of the Ice Age (10,000-12,000 years ago) marked the extinction of the camelid in North America. Llamas were domesticated from the guanacos of the Andean highlands of Peru about 5,000-6,000 years ago and are among the world's oldest domestic animals. Primarily a beast of burden, they provided native herdsmen with meat, wool for clothing, hide for shelter, manure pellets for fuel and sacrificial offerings to their gods. Today there are an estimated 7 million llamas and alpacas in South America and over 100,000 llamas and 6,500-7,000 alpacas in the US and Canada.
Life span: About 20-25 years Average Height: 42-45" at the shoulder, 5.5 - 6' at the head
Average Weight: 300-450 pounds Average Gestation: 350 days (11.5 months)
Birth: A single baby ("cria") is normally delivered without assistance from a standing mother usually during daylight hours; twins are rare.
Babies: Average birth weight is 20-35 pounds. Babies are normally up and nursing within 90 minutes. They are weaned at about five to eight months. Crias should NOT be removed from their mothers before five months of age.
Reproduction: Females are first bred at 18-24 months of age or older. Llamas do not have a heat cycle but are induced ovulators (ovulation occurs 24-36 hours after breeding). Thus they can be bred at any time of the year. Llamas reach full maturity at about age four.
Color: Wool ranges from white to black, with shades of gray, beige, brown, red and roan in between. It may be solid, spotted or marked in an array of patterns.
Health and Basic Medical Needs: Because their ancestors evolved in the harsh environment of the Andean highlands, North American llama owners have found them to be generally easy to care for. The recommended primary care of yearly vaccinations, routine wormings, a balanced diet and regular toenail trimming help llamas remain hardy and healthy. Have the name of a large-animal veterinarian on hand for routine procedures and emergencies; many veterinarians have llama experience. SCLA keeps an updated referral list of veterinarians as well.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS:
What are they used for? Contemporary North American llamas are bred and raised for packing, wool production, cart pulling, animal facilitated therapy, companion animals, exhibition in shows, parades and fairs, and guardians of other livestock such as sheep to help ward off coyote predation. The llama is becoming increasingly popular as a project animal for 4-H, Scouts, FFA and other youth activities. For the outdoor enthusiast and athlete, there are numerous activities and competitive events that team up the llama and owner. Day hikes, picnic outings or just a leisurely walk in the evening are great ways to enjoy your llama's company.
Are they intelligent? Yes, which is why llamas can quickly learn to accept a halter, follow on a lead, load in and out of a vehicle or trailer or carry a pack.
Can you use their wool? Grease-free, and lightweight (the fiber shaft is hollow), llama wool is very warm. Llamas are usually shorn once a year in the spring to help keep them cool in the summer. Fineness of fiber varies greatly between llamas as does wool length. Although there is no commercial market for the fiber yet, hand spinners will purchase clean fleece, free of vegetation and guard hair.
What and how much do they eat? Llamas are a modified ruminant with a three-compartment stomach. Like cattle and sheep, they chew their cud. Because of a relatively low protein requirement and an efficient digestive system, they can be kept on a variety of suitable pastures or hay, with the supplementation of recommended vitamins, minerals and salt. They like variety and will browse on many trees, shrubs and weeds. Many llamas like treats such as thin slices of carrots or apples. A llama costs less to feed than other comparable-sized animals. On average, a llama will eat about 2% of its body weight in dry matter (hay) per day.
Are they good pack animals? Trained llamas make very good packers. Sure-footed and agile, most llamas can carry about 20% of their body weight or about 50-80 lbs. balanced in panniers placed on each side of a specially-designed pack saddle. The pack system must fit the llama properly for the llama to be an efficient packer. Their two-toed foot with its leathery pad gives the llama a low environmental impact equivalent to that of a considerate hiker's boot. Their ability to browse lessens their intrusion on the native vegetation. A well-trained and conditioned llama can carry a small child (up to about 40 pounds), but llamas are not ridden like horses.
What is their personality like? Because they are highly sociable herd animals, llamas need the companionship of other llamas. Independent yet curious, they are generally calm and gentle. They learn basic tasks quickly but their trust and obedience must be earned. Llamas normally avoid being touched but some enjoy being petted, generally on their neck or back. Llamas are very stoic and will endure pain giving only subtle signs that anything is amiss. Get to know what is "normal" for your llamas and follow up with your vet on any signs that indicate otherwise.
What sounds do they make? Llamas communicate by humming and also through a variety of ear, body and tail postures. On rare occasions they will alert their companions and human keepers with a distinctive alarm call to the presence of unfamiliar dogs or other creatures which they perceive as threats. During breeding, males make an orgling sound.
Do they spit? Llamas will spit at other llamas in order to establish the pecking order within the group, to ward off an unwanted suitor, or to say "stop it!". A llama who has been mishandled, feels abused or threatened may occasionally spit at humans.
What kind of fencing do they need? Almost any standard 5' fencing will contain llamas; avoid barbed-wire fences.
Are they registered? Yes, the International Lama Registry issues registration certificates and maintains a current database. Two identification processes gaining prevalence within the llama industry are blood typing and microchipping.
How much do they cost? Prices vary from region to region throughout the US and Canada. As a rule of thumb, you should expect pet quality males to be the lowest priced, sometimes as low as $500. Trained llamas can range upwards from $1,000. Young, stud quality males will be higher than pet males, with mature stud males generally higher yet. Females are more expensive than males with weanling females being somewhat less expensive than bred females. The bottom end of the female price range is about $2,000, depending on quality, bloodlines and other factors. Contact several local breeders for advice and pricing as it applies to your area.