(And Frequently Asked Questions)
Llamas are members of the camel (camelid) family. They were domesticated from guanacos in the Andean highlands of Peru 4,000-5,000 years ago. Primarily a pack animal, they also provide native herdsmen with wool for clothing, and manure pellets for fertilizer & fuel. Today there are approximately 7 million llamas and alpacas in South America, and 40,000 in the United States.
Life Span: About 15-25 years
Height: 40-45″ at the shoulder, 5.5 to 6′ at the head
Weight: 280-500 Pounds
Average Gestation: 350 days
Birth: A single baby (cria) is normally delivered without assistance from a standing mother during morning hours. In the High Plains of the Andes, every night of the year, the temperature drops below freezing. Births in the morning hours allow the newborn to dry before nightfall.
Babies: Birth weight is 25-35 pounds. Babies are normally nursing within 90 minutes. They are weaned after 6 months.
Reproduction: Females may be first bred around 2 years of age. Llamas do not have a heat cycle, but are induced ovulators. Thus they can be bred at any time of the year.
Color: Wool ranges from white to black, with shades of grey, beige, brown, red, and all in between. It may be solid, spotted, or marked in a variety of patterns.
Health: Because llamas and their ancestors are suited to the harsh environment of their Andean homeland, North American owners will find them remarkably hardy, healthy, easy to care for, and relatively disease free.
Advantages of llamas as pack animals
The following is a simple listing of some of the many characteristics that make llamas a good choice for enriching your backcountry experience:
- Safe to handle
- Easy to train
- Convenient to transport
- Low maintenance
- Nice pace for hikers
- Llamas having pads, more like a dogs, and not hooves, are easy on fragile areas
- Easy on fences and backcountry meadows
- Grazing style tends to limit over-grazing backcountry meadows
Basic llama care
The references listed below can offer you ideas for llama care. Llamas are quite easy to care for when compared to other large animals. No one should get llamas however thinking that any large animal is “care-free.” All large animals deserve take good care and treatment.
Very simply, llama care basics are:
- Good grass hay and/or pasture. Grains are generally used as training treats only or as a little extra in winter.
- Regular shots, as needed. (It varies according to your veterinarian and location.)
- Toenails trimmed (Remember, they don’t have “hooves.”) Trimming of wool sufficient for Summer cooling & adequate warmth in winter.
- Basic shelter to provide protection from elements, they may or not choose to use it.
- Kept with other large, compatible animals, preferably llamas.
How much do they carry and How far can they walk in a day?
This is dependent upon many things, such as size, terrain, and condition. Some animals have superior coordination and structure and seem to take in the terrain and heavier loads better than others. All llamas are not equal. Have you noticed that with people, too? Some are “pasture potatoes,” others have heavy wool, many lack conditioning, some just have poor physical or emotional makeup for packing. Such animals may be fine for a few miles in easier terrain. A few well-conditioned llamas have packed decent-sized loads for consecutive many-mile days. You will find everything between the two extremes.
Most people put about 60-80 pounds on their llamas and walk 5-9 miles a day. Some llama packers like to cover greater distances. It varies with each person and each animal. Some commercial packers have loaded 100 pounds on their well-conditioned animals. These are animals that have proven their endurance and have demonstrated their ability and willingness to work. Here at Utah Valley llamas we judge the performances of each llama & match it with the requirement of the hikers. Since our pack llamas are out all season we do restrict the weight to 60# & no more than 25 miles a week.
Handlers needs to consider the physical and emotional makeup of the animal, conditioning, weather, and terrain in figuring how far and how much a llama can pack. A key to success is to start slowly with the process. In the conditioning exercise the human and llama learn what to expect from each other and develop a working relationship.
We recommend that a llama be over three years of age before serious pack weights are loaded. Before that keep the training weights much lighter.
What about those llama rumors?
Do llama spit at people?
That's like asking "do dogs bite?" Llamas may spit, or mostly threaten to spit, amongst themselves occasionally. But a well socialized llama will not spit at humans. (Although you may get caught in the cross fire)
Llamas cost an arm and a leg to buy.
They sure used to be very costly. The price of good llamas has become much more reasonable in the past few years. Some llamas which have special training and super conformation may cost more, but they are worth more. Look around and talk to several sellers. You will soon learn what a suitable price is in your area for the type of animal you want. You will find that there are some very good llamas available for very reasonable prices. Remember that the old adage that the buyer usually gets what he pays for. Not an absolute rule, but a reminder that the cheapest buy may not be as satisfying as finding and getting a better animal.
Do they carry exotic diseases that are a danger to livestock and wildlife?
This is an unfounded rumor. Research had indicates that they are as safe, if not safer, than other stock – and even man himself. Some have attempted to use this for their own purposes. Colorado State University and Oregon State Universitiy have strong veterinary schools. Both have strongly denied this rumor. Llamas are safe to have around other wildlife and stock. They pose no unusual threat.
Is every llama is a packer?
Just because a llama has four legs doesn’t mean he/she will carry loads in rugged wilderness conditions like a well-structured pack llama (ccara, guanaco) will. Not every llama is a packer. It takes more than shearing a woolly llama to make him a good packer. A woolly llama may do fine, but then again, you may be taking chances.
Those who breed for wool are usually not those who breed for packer qualities. A good pack llama usuaally has reasonable height, straight legs, straight but not too long guard hair, and a willing attitude (which can be measured with use.)
Luckily, most llamas can be adequate packers for short and non-taxing terrain. For the more strenuous tasks, take you time to find an animal from people who know packing. You will be happy for taking the time to find that special animal.