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Llamas and Alpacas



     Llamas and Alpacas are herbivore animals native to Peru.  They are related to camels.  Llamas and Alpacas are different from sheep and cattle (ruminants) in that the camelids have three stomachs, not four.  Camelids also have hoof pads, not hooves.  The alpaca and guanaco are similar looking relatives to the llama, and they are also native to South America.  The guanaco has finer wool and ears that are in a sharper pointed shape.  Alpacas and especially guanacos are usually found in the wild of Peru.  Alpacas can have different wool types.  The huacaya is short and crimped while the suri is longer and silky-like; alpaca wool contains no lanolin and thus is lighter, warmer and has hypoallergenic compared to sheep wool.  The disease called Foot and Mouth prevents the importation of ruminants from most South America countries.  The care of all of the camelid species in this family is similar.

     The llama is a social animal and prefers to be in groups.  Because of their curious nature it is best to double latch the gates; as their prehensile, split lips are very adapt to examining items, etc.  Various noises are used for communication, such as clicking, humming, gurgling and even a bray can be heard.  The hiccup or bray can be used as an alarm or if threatened.  The clicking and snorting can mean aggression, while humming may indicate the llama wants food.  Llamas are generally docile animals, but if threatened they can spit, bite, and even butt with their chest.  When the ears are being laid back and the tail raised, this can indicate the llama is being threatened.  The ears, lower legs and the groin area are sensitive areas for a llama.

     The average adult llama weighs approximately 250?300 pounds, and should eat 2?3% of their weight daily in hay (1/4 to 1/6th of an average bale of hay). Alpacas weigh approximately 150?200 pounds.  Camelids should be fed like a ruminant.  As noted earlier the ruminant has 4 stomachs, while camelids have 3 stomachs.  Other “hind gut” herbivores, such as horses and rabbits, have only one stomach.  In nature camelids eat mostly eats grasses and shrubs.  Very little grain is required in their diet.  Adults do well on grass hay as a majority of their diet, while alfalfa can be to the crias after they are old enough to eat forage.  We prefer to see a clean grass hay being fed, with no dust, mold or weeds.  If the hay is of equal value and quality, the alfalfa can be a superior feed for growing llamas.  A 10?12% protein diet is all that is required, with alfalfa having “more protein” and most grasses “being adequate”???a mixture of grass and alfalfa hay can be ideal.  Non breeding animals and adults should preferably be fed the grass hay, especially if they are overweight.  Being overweight is not desirable, and is very unhealthy, especially for females being used for breeding.  It should be noted that alfalfa hay should be avoided if you are feeding adult male llamas; we have a separate handout on urolithiasis problems if you feed alfalfa to your llamas.  We normally do not recommend grain for the average camelid, but if you desire to give grain, feed only 1# per day maximum.  We have a vitamin-mineral supplement in an alfalfa-based pellet if you want to feed a supplement.  A shelter from the wind, rain and sun should be provided, along with fresh clean water daily. Anticipate 35 square feet per animal, for shelter, and 1 gallon per 100# body weight daily for water consumption.   We recommend mineralized salt, usually to be available in a loose or granular form, although mineralized salt blocks are adequate and more convenient to purchase.  We prefer the hard mineral salt blocks and we do not recommend the soft “range blocks” for camelids.  When purchasing bagged feeds, ensure it has less than 15 ppm copper.  It is natural for llamas and alpacas to desire to roll in the dirt, and a dusting area can be provided.  We recommend at least 1/2 acre per animal if possible, if you want them to be mostly on pasture and to be healthier. 

     Llamas can be used as a pack animal, with up to 25% of their weight being carried.  Normally, a 60# pack is the maximum that the llama will carry.  Like a camel they may refuse to move if overloaded.  Some llamas can be shaved for their wool, which can take up to 2 years to regrow.  1?6# of wool can be obtained; and if shaven the llama’s coat will also include the tough guard hairs (why some people only save the brushings which have fewer guard hairs).  Alpacas have softer wool and fewer guard hairs than the llama.   The wool of these animals does not contain lanolin, in comparison to sheep.

     As with most livestock the llama needs to be periodically dewormed, 2?4x a year, have annual vaccinations for the clostridial diseases (C & D perfringens, septicum) and tetanus; clostridium haemolyticum is periodically given as part of a 4-8 way vaccine.  West Nile vaccine is optional, yet recommended especially if you shave your alpaca in the summer.  In addition to the clostridial diseases and tetanus, we also advise lepto, anthrax (if only anthrax history on premises) and equine herpes 1 (Rhino) if on a show circuit.  A status test for Bovine Virus Diarrhea-Persistently Infected individuals (BVD-PI) is indicated for all camelids, especially those being shown; it is a BVD-PI blood test.  The vaccines for equine rhinopneumonitis and West Nile should be a killed vaccine.  Vaccines for lepto, streptococcus, Corynebacterium, anthrax, pink eye, contagious ecthyma (orf) and rabies are also utilized in some areas.  A periodic fecal is recommended for as part of a strategic deworming program.  A blood parasite that can cause anemia, called Eperythrozoonosis, does not have a vaccine available for its prevention.  The teeth need to be periodically checked and floated.  The toenails may also need occasional trimming, usually once a year.  Interstate travel requires the llama to be tested for brucellosis, tuberculosis, and a health certificate/inspection by a veterinarian.  The livestock Brand Inspector should also be notified for a brand inspection when a cow or horse purchase is made, although at this time llamas and alpacas are not required to be inspected.  A bill of sale is required for the transfer of all livestock in Colorado.  We do recommend microchips for llamas, as most state health certificates require either a microchip or an official metal ear tag; in 2012+ all goats, sheep and cattle were required to use the visible official tags for interstate transport.

     Llamas are usually bred in the spring, with the gestation (pregnancy) lasting 330?335 days.  Males are sexually mature at 2?3 years of age, while females should not usually be bred till 1 1/2? 2 years of age, or 200# body weight (2/3 body weight).  The breeding copulation takes 20?45 minutes, with the female usually in a sternal position (squats).  Ovulation usually occurs after breeding.  Cats and rabbits are similar in that they are also induced ovulators.  With induced ovulating species we do not recommend breeding more than once a week, in order to reduce uterine infections.  Pregnancy blood tests can be taken 3?4 weeks after breeding.  During the last 3 months of gestation and the first 3 months of nursing, a llama can be fed grain at 1/2#?1# per head daily.  In breeding alpacas we recommend BVD testing for carrier animals (PI).

     Taking the temperature of a pregnant llama daily during the last week of gestation can help determine when birth will occur; the normal 99?102 degree temperature will drop 1 degree 24 hours before giving birth.  The baby may be born with the mother usually standing up.  When a llama is ready to deliver, she will be uncomfortable for 4?6 hours before “the water will break”.  The baby should appear within 45 minutes, and if not a veterinarian should be notified.  It may take longer than 1 hour for the baby to be born, but the birthing should progress fairly rapidly once the legs have appeared (approximately 15 minutes).  Because of the long necks and legs, a llama should be checked closely during the last week of gestation.  Normally the llama will be born during the day, so check the animals at least 2x a day.  The teats should enlarge 1?3 weeks before birthing, and the waxing of the nipples & milk should appear 2?3 days before delivering the newborn cria (baby).  The babies usually stand within 15 minutes, and should nurse within 2 hours.  Apply iodine to the navel of all newborn babies.   The first milk, or colostrum, is very important in keeping the baby healthy.  Milk out the mother to feed the baby if there has been no nursing within 4 hours.  Goat colostrum, or artificial colostrum available from the veterinarian can be substituted if the female does not have any colostrum.   Make sure that the placenta is passed from the mother within a day, usually only a couple of hours after giving birth.  After the first day, expect the baby llama to gain 1/2 ? 1 pound per day in body weight.  Any baby weighing less than 20# at birth requires special “premature monitoring”.  Leg deformities, if observed, can be hereditary.

     Avoid excessive handling the newborn during the first 4-6 months of their life.  Bottle feeding and close attention to the baby can cause the llama to think or imprint that “they’re human”.  This handling of the baby cria results in the berserk male syndrome, where the llama tries to establish dominancy over people; this is also called the male aggressive behavior syndrome (MABS).  For this reason we do not recommend adopting a llama under 5 months of age.  Llamas can be castrated between 1?6+ months of age, especially if he is not going to be used for breeding.  We prefer the 6 month age to castrate; a test for BVD-PI can easily be done at the same time.  The babies, also called crias, should be weaned after 5?6 months of age.  Beginning at 1 month of age, a 16% creep ration can be fed, with actual true ingestion to be expected after 2?3 months of age.  Vaccinations can be started at 2-4 months of age; the later age if the mother was vaccinated a couple months before birthing.  We advise halter training the newborn after 4?6 months of age, to insure easier future handling.  With good care, the average llama should live 15?20 years.  The canine, or fighting teeth, are usually first trimmed at 2?3 years of age in the male, and 4?6 years of age in the female.  We recommend periodically trimming and not surgical removal of these canine teeth, to reduce jawbone infections and other complications.


The Staff at the Nelson Road Veterinary Clinic