Lamas (single "L") include the
Llama (double "Ll"), Alpaca,
Guanaco and Vicuna. Originating in the
Central Plains of North America in
pre-historic times, the lama’s predecessor
migrated to South America. Their cousin, the
camel, relocated to the Middle East and
other regions of the world. The end of the
Ice Age marked the extinction of the camelid
in North America.
Llamas were domesticated in the Andean
highlands of Peru thousands of years ago and
are among the world's oldest domestic
animals. While primarily a beast of burden
for the native herdsmen, llamas also
provided them with meat, wool, hides for
shelter, manure pellets for fuel, and became
sacrificial offerings to their gods.
Similarly, alpacas provided fine fiber,
meat, and manure pellets for fuel. There are
two distinct breeds of alpaca, the "Huacaya"
and "Suri." The Huacaya’s fleece
is very crimpy or wavy, while the Suri
alpaca’s fleece hangs in pencil-like
locks. The wild guanaco is a common
herbivore of the arid lands, and the
endangered wild vicuña is a fine-fleeced
camelid of the high Andean mountains.
Private animal collectors and zoos began
bringing our present day llamas to North
America in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
In recent years, llamas and alpacas have
been imported from Bolivia, Peru, Chile and
Argentina. Today there are an estimated 7
million llamas and alpacas in South America.
Check with information provided by the
International Lama Registry concerning
current numbers of lamas in Northern
Llamas have international appeal, with
countries such as New Zealand augmenting
their fiber industry with llama and alpaca
wool. As in ancient times, the llama today
is important to the agricultural economy of
the remote highlands of Argentina, Bolivia,
Chile, and Peru. In North America the llama
and alpaca industry is recognized as a
viable agricultural entity. In the United
States, llamas are used for light draft,
fiber production, show, and companion and
guard animals. Alpacas are used for fine
fiber production and show. Llamas are great
working partners and family pets. They have
predictable, calm responses to new
situations. Llamas are trustworthy. Their
intelligent, gentle nature allows even small
children to interact with them. The fiber of
llamas can be spun and woven into sweaters,
blankets, hats and the like. Llamas are used
in animal facilitative therapy because of
their calming effects. Families can get
involved with llamas in 4-H, Scouts and
other youth groups.
The camelids are not ruminants, but they do
ruminate. They have some differences from
true ruminants: they have a
three-compartmented stomach instead of a
four-compartmented stomach; they have slower
stomach motility; and their stomach
movements are in the opposite direction.
However, they should be fed and treated as
ruminants rather than as non-ruminants (such
as horses). The camelids are better at feed
conversion than true ruminants. This means
that it takes less to feed a llama than it
would a sheep.
Llamas efficiently digests a variety of
plant materials including: grass, leaves,
bark, twigs, and grain. One acre of
Wisconsin pasture can support four to five
llamas. One small bale of hay will feed one
llama for about a week. Forage (pasture and
hay or browse) should be the main source of
energy in the llama’s diet. At certain
times, such as lactation, late pregnancy,
early growth and during Wisconsin winters,
grains (corn, oats, barley, etc.) are used
to provide supplemental high energy sources.
An adult llama can do well with a
maintenance diet consisting of only 8 to 10%
protein. Growing weanlings, nursing moms and
advanced pregnant mothers require 10 to 12%
protein. The maximum daily dry matter intake
for a llama is approximately 2% percent of
body weight. Llamas may also require a
vitamin and mineral supplement depending on
their feed source. Selenium supplementation
is required due to the extremely low levels
in Midwest forages. Consult a livestock
nutritionist or veterinarian for your area
and feed sources. Fresh, clean water should
be available at all times, however on the
trail, one good drink a day can suffice.
Daily water intake varies from 5 to 8% of
body weight (2 to 3 gallons/ 300 lb. Llama).
Lamas have discreet bathroom habits. Their
pelleted droppings, similar to a deer, are
virtually odorless and are generally
deposited in the communal dung pile. This
neatness minimizes parasite contamination,
reduces fly problems and makes cleanup
easier for the owner. A lama's effective
digestive system also helps to eliminate
introduction of noxious weeds into the
environment. Llama manure is great
Llamas are environmentally sensitive,
intelligent creatures. Their feet, comprised
of soft pads with two toenails, impact the
environment less than the boots of an
average hiker, yet llamas are strong. A
conditioned llama can carry approximately
25% of its body weight, making a llama as
strong, if not stronger, than a horse
relative to its size.
All of the camel family has a bad reputation
for spitting. What experience has shown is
that this behavior was developed for their
interactions with each other, not as a way
to relate to people. When lamas are
appropriately raised and treated, they never
spit in anger at people, only for fear of
what a handler might be doing..
Lamas are gentle, quiet, sociable herd
animals. They prefer the companionship of
Lamas communicate by humming and clucking.
They also use their ears, body position and
tail to express themselves. Lamas can make a
distinctive alarm call to alert fellow herd
mates and human keepers of the presence of
foreign creatures which they perceive as a
threat. Male lamas also make an "orgling"
noise during breeding.
Generally, there are no special permits to
own llamas and they are easy to house and
fence. A three-sided shelter can be adequate
to house llamas even in northern states. A
variety of barns, including old converted
dairy barns, can provide excellent shelter.
Appropriate ventilation is important,
especially in the summer. Additional fans
may be required to prevent heat stress,
which can be fatal. When llamas are content
with their companions and pasture they
generally respect standard 4-foot fences
used for other livestock. The breeding males
may require 6-foot fence when shared with or
in sight of females. Llamas are quite
athletic and agile and can easily jump 4.5
feet or crawl under a fence if they so
desire. A small catch pen (10 x 10 feet) is
often helpful for haltering and training. In
some locations peripheral fences must be
dog-proof, due to free roaming domestic dog
packs, which can kill or injure llamas. With
care, llamas can be kept with other
livestock including sheep, goats, or horses.
A single adult llama can be used with
livestock as a guardian to protect them from
are easily transported and generally ride
sitting down, in the "kush"
position. They can ride in a trailer,
mini-van or truck. Some young or smaller
lamas have even ridden in cars! Lamas are
clean passengers and prefer to stop for
potty breaks on longer trips.
to 29 years.
to 47" at the shoulder, 5' to
at the shoulder, 4'-4'5"
to 450 pounds, alpacas on the low
side and llamas on the high side.
Difference Between Llamas and Alpacas
llama is considerably larger than the alpaca
and can further be distinguished by its
flatter back, higher tail set, and larger,
llama may be solid, spotted (appaloosa), or
marked in a wide variety of patterns (from
tuxedos to paints), with wool colors ranging
from white to black and many shades of gray,
beige, brown, red, and roan in between.
produce fine, soft, lanolin-free wool that
is light-weight and warm. It can easily be
spun into yarn or felted. The yarn is strong
and feels similar to angora or cashmere. The
fiber can be harvested by shearing, similar
to sheep, or by brushing. A full-grown coat
can yield 5-10 pounds. Lamas are also shorn
to keep them cool in the warm, humid
Birth and Babies
are first bred at approximately 24 months of
age. Llamas do not have a heat cycle; they
are induced ovulators (ovulation occurring
24 to 36 hours after breeding). Llamas can
be bred at any time of the year and have an
11-month gestation. However, it is wise to
avoid delivery during very hot or very cold
months to reduce stress on mother and baby.
A single baby ("cria") is usually
delivered from a standing mother (dam),
normally without assistance. Most births
occur during daylight hours, which is better
for the cria and most certainly more
convenient for the llama owners. Twinning is
a rare occurrence. Normal birth weights are
between 20 to 35 pounds, and the cria
usually stands and nurses within 90 minutes.
Depending upon the cria's size and the
mother's condition, the baby is weaned at 4
to 6 months.
and Basic Medical Needs
their ancestors evolved in the harsh
environment of the Andean highlands, North
American lama owners have found them to be
generally easy to care for. The recommended
primary care of yearly vaccinations, routine
wormings, and regular toenail trimming help
llamas remain hardy and healthy.