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Calcium / Phosphorus Ratio

One thing to be sensitive to with llamas aside from good general nutrition is the calcium/phosphorus ratio.  The ideal ratio in most mammals is theoretically 1/1, however, reality is different.  This is because typically any phosphorus in excess of calcium will pull calcium from the bones.  This not only causes a decrease in bone density, but the robbing and restoration cycles in the bone causes the bone to form irregular growths and deformations.  Conversely, if calcium is in excess of phosphorus, there are no serious ill effects until the ratio gets way out of balance, e.g., greater than ~5:1.  With a large imbalance in that direction kidney stones become much more likely.  The excess calcium will also inhibit absorption of other minerals, e.g., zinc, copper, etc., which creates other deficiencies.

So it is important to make sure they are getting enough calcium to assure the ratio never drops below 1.2:1.  A good target is 1.5:1.  The ratios in feedstock can vary quite a bit depending on soil conditions, variety of plant/grain, time of harvest, etc.  Short of analyzing everything, it's possible to roughly estimate intake by using averages for various common feedstock.

Alfalfa runs about 5.5:1, which makes it a good supplement to offset calcium deficiency in the regular feedstock. (It doesn't take very much.)   Note that llamas should not be fed just straight alfalfa.  Not only is the calcium/phosphorus balance way off but the nitrogen, protein and caloric levels are too high.  Llamas are designed to subsist on browse that consists mostly of grasses.  Other legumes, like clover, have a ratio similar to alfalfa.

Grasses often run below the target 1.5:1 ratio.
While orchard grass can run as high as 1.1:1, it more typically runs only about 0.8:1, which can be a real problem if that is the sole diet of llamas.
Bluegrass is about 1.1:1
Tall White Fescue is about 1.2:1
Oat grass is about 1.2:1
Bermuda grass is about 1.6:1
Timothy is close to 2:1

Whole grains have a very skewed ratio, running under 0.3:1.
Corn  0.2:1
Barley  0.15:1
Oat  0.15:1

Grain bran is even worse.
Wheat bran  0.1:1
Rice bran  0.06:1

Obviously one should never feed a lot of bran, especially rice bran, unless supplemented with a lot of calcium.  Pelletized rice bran sold as feed supplement for horses is fortified with calcium and is good for llamas needing extra calories for weight gain.  Some come with added joint health supplements, making it a good feed supplement for elderly llamas having a harder time keeping the weight on.

Vitamin E

Dry hay is very low in vitamin E and absent in older hay, whereas llamas seem to benefit from higher levels of vitamin E compared to other livestock.  Keep this in mind when feeding hay -- especially lower "quality" hay.  The d-alpha tocopherol form is natural vitamin E, which is derived from soybeans. The dl-alpha tocopheryl acetate form is a man-made synthetic vitamin E.  Supplement hayed llamas.

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Last modified: 15 May 2012