The following linked 12-page document contains a concise description of llama
The following linked 8-page document contains basic llama care information
garnered from years of rescue experience, from the perspective of the working
llama in the Pacific Northwest, but with broad applicability everywhere.
1. Don't buy babies younger than 6 months
Unweaned crias (baby llamas) are not suitable pets. If you have inadvertently obtained one, bottlefeed it 20 percent of its weight daily with
Nubian goat milk, as much clean water as he/she will drink, and don't cuddle
him/her. Offer a coarse sweet feed and free choice quality hay at an early age.
They will start to nibble when ready. Naturally raised crias, not normally weaned until six months, should gain a half to a full pound daily. Provide another animal for company - preferably a llama - but keep physical human contact to a minimum. An adult llama bonded to a human from near-birth without proper herd socialization can be a danger when the animal treats the human as another llama.
Adult llamas teach the youngsters acceptable social behavior. Seek information from knowledgeable reputable breeders or veterinarians. A reputable breeder will not sell you a cria under
six months of age.
2. Llamas left haltered are in peril
Because many owners don't train their animals to halter, or provide a catchpen or stall for doing so, they
may leave the halters on all the time. This results in abscesses, ulcers, unsightly
calluses... and, if the halter is caught on something, a broken neck. And because haltering has not been mastered, some owners leave the SAME halter on a growing animal. Some have been found with the flesh growing around the nose band or with malformation of the nasal passages.
Never leave a halter on for prolonged periods -- only when needed, typically no
more than a day. A llama can usually be
halter trained in a matter of a few days at most, most of which is spent merely establishing
trust through two-way communication.
3. Establish trust
The quickest way to establish trust with a new adult llama is to confine
to a small pen (so he/she can't run away) and spend a little time, normally
limited to a half hour once or
twice a day, approaching until the ears drop, which is a signal to back off, then
do just that. Back out of the "comfort zone". The ears
will go back up, whereupon you slowly approach again until the ears drop, then
back up again. Repeating this process over and over will establish two-way
respect as the llama learns that you can be trusted to respect his wishes.
Anxiety will ease, the comfort level will improve and the llama will quickly
become approachable as the bubble shrinks. This precedes halter training if it wasn't already
done at a young age. This is just the initial stage of training.
Once the trust is established this practice becomes no longer necessary and
actually becomes counterproductive if continued too long --
typically just the first couple of days.
4. Llamas should not be tied to trees or posts
Don't leave your llama tied to any ungiving object. Some have tried to accustom their animals to a halter by leaving them tied to a tree. The too-often result has been a broken neck when they have tossed their heads to break free. Use a bungee or other elastic extension, firmly secured, if you must tie an untended llama.
5. Deworming and vaccination.
Absent regular fecal exams (which is the
preferred method of intestinal parasite control) llamas need to be on a regular schedule of deworming. Safeguard feed and Ivermectin subcutaneous shots have been the recommended dewormers.
Since Ivermectin is less effective for intestinal parasites and Safeguard is less effective for non-intestinal parasites, it's recommended to alternate the two.
Ivermectin Plus vaccinates against liver flukes -- a deadly parasite.
Flukes are not found everywhere, so check with your local veterinarian as to the
need for Plus. The Pacific Northwest is one region where flukes exist. Yearly vaccinations (CDT and killed rabies vaccine) are standard. Babies are vaccinated before weaning at five to six months. Young animals are more susceptible to coccidia infestations than older ones; diarrhea is a symptom. Coccidiosis presents a danger of dehydration as well as debilitation that can lead to death. Treat with
toltrazuril. Consult with your local veterinarian as to what parasites are prevalent in your
area and adjust your deworming schedule accordingly. Animals exposed to
irrigation water and open ponds are more susceptible to certain parasites.
Certain regions in the U.S. (generally Eastern) have meningeal worm which causes
paralysis and death in llamas if the preventive treatment regimen is not
carefully followed. Outside these areas regular fecal exams and treatment
only as needed is recommended.
6. Llamas may choke on concentrated pellets.
If you feed straight pellets as supplement to your llamas, you may encounter a case of choke - particularly when animals are in competition for food. A coarse feed, even mixed with pellets, is preferable. In an emergency, acute episodes of choke may be resolved by passing a tube into the side of the mouth and gently feeding the length of it down the throat to clear obstruction. Examination by vet should follow any emergency treatment and an antibiotic administered to ward off pneumonia in the event partially masticated pellets are sucked into the lungs. Some have successfully massaged the "lump" loose. However, if the airways are totally closed, time is short. Check with your vet and have a first aid plan as a contingency.
Llamas have died from asphyxiation from spectacular clogging of their airways by saliva-swollen pellets.
7. To feed pellets
To discourage choke, spread pellets in a wide pan or put large smooth rocks in their bowl so they must "lip" around them. This will keep them from gobbling too fast.
In most areas, non-breeding llamas typically fare well on free choice grass hay
or adequate pasture, fresh water and free choice loose minerals. If they are breeding, underweight or lactating, supplement them with a feed formulated for llamas.
They CANNOT be fed rabbit pellets even though the pellets may look like other pelleted feeds.
They should not be fed calf pellets, as copper levels are usually too high for
8. They need a source of minerals/salt
Whether or not you feed grain or pellets, do be sure they have free access to a source of salt and
minerals -- including extra selenium if you are in a selenium-deficient area.
The Pacific Northwest is generally deficient in selenium. Check with your Extension Agent to learn the selenium level in your state or county. Your agent can take a core sample of your hay to assess its nutritional content.
Loose salt is preferred over salt blocks. Llamas don't lick blocks much at
all but will snack on loose salt.
9. Heat and Humidity
Llamas, accustomed to the dry thin air of the South American altiplano, do not handle heat and humidity well. They need to be sheared in the spring and cooled by hosing their bellies and under their tails when the heat is oppressive. They must have shelter from direct sun and some kind of air movement if their shelter
is enclosed. Many llamas will take advantage of wading pools and/or
sprinklers to help cool off.
10. Open-mouthed breathing can be dire
In the heat of summer, never ignore an animal that is breathing with an open mouth. While they will do this if they
recently spat or were spat upon, it is an extremely abnormal way to breathe. Conclude that they are in heat stress and cool them IMMEDIATELY and
thoroughly by watering their bellies and under the tail. Do not wet the
wooly areas, as that will only serve to trap the heat. Males in heat stress
may have swollen
testicles, which can cause sterility. Fever can also elicit open mouth
breathing. A normal adult temperature is 100 to 101 degrees....sometimes 102 can be normal for your animal. 103 and higher is trouble.
If fever is suspected, consult a veterinarian immediately.
11. Poison plants and trees
Llamas are browsers - they like to eat a variety of things. Some of those things can be
hazardous: Rhododendron and wilted cherry are among the most well-known examples of vegetation that have proved lethal. There is a list available of toxic plants and trees - check with any one of the associations devoted to camelids, or your Extension Agent - who is a good resource and whose services are paid for with your taxes.... use
12. Llamas don't like to be alone
Even responsible purchasers, who have listened to responsible owners and bought a pair of llamas, can run into trouble. As long as the two are
together, they are content. If you choose to take one of them for a walk, expect the one remaining to become extremely agitated
-- so agitated that he may jump the fence or do damage to himself in an attempt to join you. Even in herd situations, llamas show concern when one is separated from the group.
13. Shelter & Fencing
Many llamas live without any shelter but trees. It can be done, but it isn't an ideal situation. Some protection from wind, snow, rain, sun and lightning should be afforded them. Fencing for any kind of livestock of similar size should be adequate. Barbed wire
should not be used. Since llamas rub against fences and poke their heads through the wires, the barbs can easily injure their prominent eyes,
tangle in the hair, or rip into their skin.
14. Males close to 1 year should not reside with females
And young females should not reside with males -- young or old. Since most are sexually precocious and fertile, it is not uncommon for pregnancies to occur in females at
six months. By six months, a young male is sufficiently practiced that he can encourage adult females to
ovulate -- and some may even be capable of penetrating a female. If you have a brother and sister together, don't rely on them to understand the taboos of incest. When animals are in unnatural confinement nature doesn't require them to recognize the finer distinctions of family trees. In the wild, some natural mechanisms mitigate against this.
15. Trim males' fighting teeth
By the age of at least two, impressive, curved and very sharp upper and lower fighting teeth will have matured to a point where serious damage can be done to other
males -- and to an uncooperative female. And, if you leave breeding males together,
particularly if they did not grow up together and/or there are females present, expect injury or heat stress. Even in 100 degree weather a male will chase a rival till he drops. One enraged male can render another emasculated with his front teeth. A full set of fighting teeth aren't necessary to inflict great and lasting damage.
With the exception of gelded guard animals, consult veterinarian about removing tips of fighting teeth.
16. You may need a chute or some safe restraint
Trying to cut toenails, (and, yes, toenails need to be cut or lameness will
result -- although some animals rarely or never need trimming) or administer shots, or handle an injured animal can be dangerous for the animal and you unless you have a reliable, SAFE restraint. Some have used a horse trailer in place of a chute.
Long term, it's better to take some time to train your llamas to stand and allow
their feet to be picked up for toenail trimming, etc. This is not as
difficult as it may sound. With the proper technique a llama can be taught
to do so in a matter of a few days.
17. Prolonged labor is not natural
Once hard labor has begun (active pushing), a nose or a foot should appear within an hour (preferably
much sooner). Don't let an animal struggle for hours without producing anything. If, prior to actively pushing, she lies down on one side and then the other
frequently - or up and down constantly - or if she is flat out with her head on the side, call your vet
immediately. If you don't have a vet
on call, learn what is, and how to resolve, a dystocia (difficult birth) before you have to.
18. Keep colostrum and plasma on hand
Some new mom's won't have milk or it will be slow to come in. Some new crias are weak. Colostrum (first milk) needs to be in a baby's belly within 12 hours
(preferably 6) after birth to help insure a passive transfer of antibodies, and to give the baby strength. Don't wait until you have a problem. Have at least a quart, preferably a gallon, (frozen in six- or eight-ounce freezer baggies or containers) of goat or cow colostrum (from animals that have been vaccinated) on hand - along with a nipple that works (recommended is a flutter valve) and a soda bottle that fits the nipple.
You don't want to be an owner calling around to distant llama neighbors at midnight in search of life-saving colostrum. Keep two units of plasma in your freezer along with the colostrum. Deep frozen, it will last a long time.
19. Don't keep "stuff" in their pens
Llamas are very inquisitive. They explore everything. Don't leave potentially dangerous lumber, wire, wheelbarrows, baling string, tractor parts or brooms and shovels where they can reach them, get tangled in them, or chew on them.