Llama Day is coming up on December 9th. Llamas are enjoying a wave of popularity here in the States, particularly in cooler climates. In fact, the New York Times just did an article about these lovable, fluffy animals. A local Wichita, KS vet discusses llama care below.

Llama Basics

Llamas are camelids, and are therefore more closely related to camels and alpacas than they are to horses. They originated in North America about 40 million years ago. About three million years ago, they migrated to South America, where they were eventually domesticated. Today’s llamas are descended from those that went south: The North American camelids went extinct during the last Ice Age, about 10-12000 years ago. (Here’s an interesting tidbit: most of the llamas here in the States today were descended from one of two herds. One was near the Catskills, and the other was once part of the menagerie at Hearst Castle in San Simeon, Calif.)

What Are Llamas Used For? 

Llamas were—and still are—multipurpose animals. Even today, they are often utilized as pack animals in South America. They have been used for their meat, hides, and bones, but are also great guard animals and make fun pets. Turns out, these guys much prefer the relatively-luxurious life of being a pampered pet rather than a beast of burden. Today, you can find llamas working as therapy animals or even as golf caddies.

What Are The Benefits Of Having A Llama?

Llamas do have some wonderful qualities. For one thing, they’re really cute, and many are super sweet and friendly. They’re also easy to train. Another bonus? They’re naturally quite clean.

Are Llamas Difficult To Care For?

Another reason llamas are gaining so many fans is because they are easy to keep. Providing suitable pasturage, clean shelter, and fresh water will see to their basic needs. As long as they are getting suitable nutrition and have a clean, comfortable habitat, they are one of the most low-maintenance farm animals you can have. 

Of course, you’ll also need to provide regular veterinary care. Preventative care is very important. Llamas are quite hardy, but they are susceptible to certain illnesses and diseases. Parasites are a big concern. Llamas can be infected by internal parasites, such as lungworms, meningeal worms, tapeworms, and flukes; and external parasites, such as ticks and lice. Wellness checks are crucial as well. In between appointments, watch for signs of illness or injury. Ask your Wichita, KS veterinarians for specific advice.

What Do I Feed A Llama?

Ideally, llamas should be kept in areas with decent, grazeable pasturage. However, you can also feed them hay. As a general rule of thumb, you can expect a llama to eat around 11 pounds of hay daily. For most llamas, that would come out to about 2 to 4 percent of their body weight. While many people may assume that llamas need grain, this isn’t necessarily the case. Your vet may recommend offering grain if a llama is pregnant or nursing, or perhaps if they are severely underweight. In winter, your furry friends may also need some corn or beet pulp, for extra calories. Your fluffy pals will also require mineral supplements, which should contain selenium, calcium, phosphorus, and salt. Ask your Wichita, KS veterinary clinic for specific nutritional advice.

What Should Llamas Not Eat?

Every animal has a specific list of safe and unsafe foods. Llamas are no different. These guys should never have any type of animal products, such as meat or dairy. Other unsafe foods include avocados, cherries, chocolate, and garlic and onion. Nightshade veggies, such as tomatoes, potatoes, and eggplant, are also unsafe, as are peas and lima beans. Plants that are rich in nitrates, such as kale, lettuce, and beet greens, are on the no-no list as well, as these can cause cyanide poisoning. Plants in the mustard family, which includes broccoli, brussels sprouts, and turnips, should also be avoided. Ask your vet for more information.

How Do You Groom A Llama?

Llamas are prized for their fluffy coats. Their wool is in high demand, and, for some, fetches enough to make keeping llamas not only fun, but profitable. You may be wondering how hard it is to deal with all of that fluff. The key really is in keeping your llamas healthy and happy. A good diet and care regimen will go a long way towards keeping your llamas fluffy. Plus, if your llamas are happy, they’re more likely to tolerate—and perhaps even enjoy—being groomed. That’s important, because llamas need toenail clipping and dental care. These are both much easier with a calm, cooperative animal!

As to the llama’s exact grooming needs, it depends on their coat type. If your llamas have Suri fiber, you’ll have to detangle manually, and will need to avoid using certain types of brushes. You have more flexibility with silkier coats. You may want to use a leave-in grooming product, to keep your fluffy buddies looking their best. It’s worth noting that llamas benefit from—and often love—getting a blow-out. (Yes, this is adorable to see.)

How Often Do You Shear Llamas?

Wool shearing is usually done annually, though it depends on the type of coat the llama has and the climate they’re in. In colder areas, some llamas may only get shorn every other year. That said, the general rule of thumb would be to shear annually. This should be done in spring, so  the llama will be cooler when summer comes around, but will have a suitable winter coat before it gets cold.

How Many Acres Do You Need For A Llama?

Llamas don’t need as much land as cows or horses, which is another reason they’re popular on smaller farms. Generally, you’ll need about one acre per llama. Just keep in mind that you really should never have just one llama. If you’re just starting out and are considering breeding or expanding your herd, factor in some extra space for growth as you’re planning your layout.

Are Llamas Friendlier Than Alpacas?

Llamas do tend to be more affectionate than alpacas, though both are quite gentle. As long as they have been properly socialized, llamas are often very fun and friendly. They’re inquisitive and affectionate, and many aren’t shy about asking for treats or neck scritches. However, there are a few things to be aware of. When it comes to socialization, more isn’t necessarily better. Llamas that were overly coddled as babies sometimes become too confident. That can actually lead to behavioral issues. That’s because the llama may come to see you as another llama, in which case they’ll deem it acceptable to kick, spit, or strike out. (Note: llamas rarely bite or spit at people, but they do it to each other, often as a way of settling social hierarchy disputes.)

Can I Keep A Llama In My Backyard?

That ultimately depends on your backyard. Llamas need suitable space to roam and graze. You’ll also need to provide a suitable shelter. A barn is ideal, but a three-sided shelter will work for warmer climates. You will need sturdy fencing. We’d also recommend checking the land for toxic plants. Open Sanctuary has a good resource here. You can filter by ‘llama’ to get a specific list. Remember to check local ordinances first!

Do you have questions about llama care? Contact us, your Wichita, KS animal clinic!