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Basics of Llama Care

December 1 2023

Llama Day is just around the corner: it’s coming up on December 9th! Llamas are getting pretty popular here in the States, especially in cooler climates. The New York Times even featured these fluffy darlings in a recent article. A local Westminster, MD vet offers some basic information about these sweet, charming animals in this article.

Basics of Llamas

Llamas are a type of camelid; as such, they share a closer relation to camels and alpacas than they do to horses. They originated in North America approximately 40 million years ago, and migrated to South America about three million years ago. This was a good move for them, as North American camelids went extinct during the Ice Age. Llamas were first domesticated about 5000 years ago, likely in Peru. (Fun fact: most llamas currently residing in the United States can trace their lineage back to one of two herds. One was near the Catskills, and the other was once part of a huge menagerie at Hearst Castle in San Simeon, California. 

Llamas: What Are They Used For?

Llamas have long been prized for their hardiness, versatility, and easy care needs. They were originally raised both for meat and wool, but were also valued as pack animals. Even today, they are often used as pack animals in South America. However, the llama’s talents don’t end there. They are also wonderful and natural guard animals. Because they are so cute, friendly, and easy to train, they’ve also branched out into other areas, and can be found working as therapy animals, mascots, and even golf caddies. 

Llama Ownership: What Are The Benefits?

Llamas are cute, sweet, friendly, and easy to train. They make great pets, and can also earn their keep as guard dogs. (Or, technically, guard llamas.) Their wool is quite valuable, which is another plus. Llamas are also quite clean and gentle. Plus, they don’t need a whole lot of space, and require only minimal daily care. What’s not to love?

How Difficult Is It To Care For Llamas?

Llamas shine in this area as well. As long as they are fed well and have a clean, comfortable habitat, proper diets, and fresh water, they are one of the easiest farm animals to keep. Of course, you will need to provide regular grooming and keep up with veterinary care. While llamas are generally pretty resilient, they are vulnerable to various illnesses and diseases. Parasites are a particular concern: llamas can be infected by both internal and external varieties, including lungworms, meningeal worms, tapeworms, ticks, and lice. Stay on top of preventative care, and schedule regular wellness checks. Between visits, you’ll need to watch for any signs of sickness or injury. Ask your Westminster, MD veterinarian for specific advice, including signs of illness to watch for, common hazards, and general care tips. 

Llamas: What Should I Feed Them?

Ideally, llamas should have access to areas with decent, grazeable pasture. However, they can also be fed hay. As a general rule of thumb, llamas typically consume around 11 pounds of grass or hay per day, which is equivalent to roughly 2-4% of their body weight. 

While some may assume that llamas need grain, this actually isn’t the case. For the most part, llama diets should be grass-based. However, your vet may recommend supplementing it with grain, corn, or beet pulp if a llama is pregnant or nursing, if they are severely underweight, or in the winter months. You’ll also need to provide your fluffy pals with salt and mineral supplements, which should contain selenium, calcium, and phosphorus. For specific nutritional advice, consult with your Westminster, MD vet.

What Foods Are Dangerous To Llamas?

Like all animals, llamas have a specific list of safe and unsafe foods. Unsafe foods include animal products, such as meat or dairy, avocados, cherries, chocolate, garlic, onion, nightshade veggies (like tomatoes, potatoes, and eggplant), peas, and lima beans. Plants that contain nitrates – like kale, lettuce, and beet greens – can lead to cyanide poisoning. Mustard family plants like broccoli, brussels sprouts and turnips should also be avoided. Many plants are also unsafe. If you want to check for toxic plants, Open Sanctuary has an excellent resource here. You can filter it by ‘llama’ and get a detailed list. Ask your Westminster, MD vet for personalized advice.

How Do I Groom A Llama?

That fluffy fur does need some maintenance. However, the healthier your llamas are, the easier this will be. A well-balanced diet plays a crucial role in maintaining soft and smooth fur. Plus, happy llamas are more likely to tolerate grooming. Some even like it. In fact, it’s not uncommon for llamas to love getting blow-dried. 

Some of your llamas’ grooming needs will depend on their environment and the type of coat they have. Llamas with Suri fiber tend to need a bit of extra attention here. You’ll also need to keep up with nail trims and dental care. 

When Do You Shear Llamas?

Although many llamas get shorn annually, the schedule really depends on their coat and climate. In colder areas, some llamas may only be shorn every two years. That said, shearing should take place in the spring. That helps the llama stay cooler in the summer, while ensuring that they’ll have a winter coat before the weather gets colder.

Llamas Are Friendlier Than Alpacas, Aren’t They?

Llamas are generally more affectionate than alpacas. However, both species are typically quite gentle and enjoyable to be around, as long as they have been properly socialized. In fact, they often enjoy receiving treats or neck rubs. 

It is important to note that coddling them too much as babies can have negative effects. Llamas that were overly pampered in their youth may become overly confident and exhibit behavioral problems. This is because they may view humans as fellow llamas, in which case it becomes socially acceptable to kick, spit, or strike out at them. Llamas rarely show aggression towards people, but they may do so with their own kind, in order to establish hierarchy.

What Is The Minimum Acreage For A Llama?

A llama doesn’t require as much land as a cow or horse, which is another reason they’re popular on smaller farms. In general, you’ll need a minimum of at least one acre per llama. If you’re just starting out and you intend to breed or expand your herd, you may want to factor in some extra space for growth. 

Is It Okay To Keep A Llama In My Backyard?

Ultimately, that depends on your backyard! Llamas need space to roam and graze. Keep in mind that they are very social animals, and should always have buddies. You’ll need to house same-sex or fixed animals together, to avoid llama drama. You will also need a suitable shelter for them. A barn is ideal, but a three-sided shelter will work for warmer climates. You’ll also need sturdy fencing. Be sure to check local ordinances first!

Llamas are highly valued for their fluffy coats, which are in great demand and can bring in significant profits. However, financial gain shouldn’t be the main reason behind adopting these lovable balls of fluff. These guys are fun, cute, and affectionate, and generally a great addition to any small farm or homestead. Just do plenty of research before adopting them. Happy LLama Day! Contact us, your Westminster, MD animal clinic, if you have any questions about llama care!