Llamas are members of the camelid (camel) family. Camelids originated on the central plains of North America where they lived 40 million years ago. Three million years ago llama-like animals dispersed to South America. By the end of the last ice age, camelids were extinct in North America. Llamas were domesticated from guanacos in the Andean highlands of Peru, and are among the oldest domestic animals in the world. Primarily a beast of burden, they provided native herdsmen with meat, wool for clothing, hides for shelter, pellets for fuel and offerings to their gods. Today, there are an estimated 50,000 llamas in the United States and Canada.
Llamas come in a range of colors and body shapes, although these differences are just variations in type and not of breed. Llamas may be brown, red, black or white or any combination of these colors. Llamas can be short, broad and wooly, or tall and large-framed with short wool. There is no specific classifications of llamas other than males, females and babies. Breeding males are sometimes referred to as studs and neutered males as geldings.
Llamas are environmentally sensitive, intelligent creatures. Their feet, comprised of soft pads with 2 toenails, impact the environment less than the boots of an average hiker, yet llamas are strong. A conditioned llama can carry approximately 25-30% of its body weight, making a llama as strong, if not stronger, than a horse.
Llamas have discrete bathroom habits. Their pelleted droppings, similar to a deer, are virtually odorless and are generally deposited in a communal dung pile. This neatness minimizes parasite contamination, reduces fly problems and makes cleanup easier for the owner. A llama's effective digestive system also helps to eliminate introduction of noxious weeds into the environment. The pellets also make a superb garden fertilizer.
Life Span: Approximately 20 years
Average Height: 45" at the withers, 5-6' at the head
Average Weight: 250-400 lbs.
Average Gestation: Approximately 350 days
Reproduction and Babies
Males are considered mature at 2.5-3 years of age. However, there have been reports of males as young as six months causing pregnancy. Properly fed and well-grown females may be bred at 12-13 months of age; however, it is typical to wait until they are two years of age. Females are spontaneous, copulation-induced, ovulators. This means that mature nonpregnant females, having mated with a sexually mature male, will ovulate within 36 hours of the mating. Since llamas have no heat cycle, artificial insemination is not used. Females giving birth without major complications or post-partum infections, will usually rebreed again within 2-4 weeks.
Crias, baby llamas under 6 months of age, usually struggle to their feet within a few minutes of delivery, and can be standing withing an hour. The dam will nuzzle and hum to the cria; however, she will not lick or clean it. The average birth weight is 18-35 lbs. The cria will usually nurse within 90 minutes. Normally, a single cria is born, during daylight hours. Twins are considered rare.
Technically the fiber is not wool, as it is hollow with a structure of diagonal 'walls' which makes it strong, light and good insulation. Wool as a word by itself refers to sheep fiber. However, llama fiber is commonly referred to as llama wool or llama fiber. Oil-free, lightweight it is warm and luxurious, and popular with spinners and weavers.
As with the many colors of llama fiber, there is also a wide range of fiber type. The soft downy undercoat of the "classic" llama is usually collected by brushing in order to remove the guard hairs. The fleece of "woolly" llamas varies from some with noticeable guard hair, to those with long silky locks and medulated hair as fine as the luxurious down, creating a seemingly single fiber fleece. Micron counts of 20 or less are not uncommon.
All llama fiber is usable, with fine, luxurious garments made from the single fibered animals, and rugs and wall hangings from the coarser fleece, guard hair, adding texture and interest. Leftovers and less than perfect parts of the fleece can be used to create beautiful locker hooked rugs or felt projects, and even a tuft left on the ground may become wall to wall carpet for a neighboring bird's nest!
Diseases and Parasites
Llamas are quite hardy, although they are susceptible to many of the same diseases and parasites as cattle and sheep. The most common that infects llamas is "overeating disease" (enterotoxemia), types C and D. This mostly affects young crias. The risk can be decreased by immunizing the dam, and the crias at 4-6 weeks old. Llamas may also be susceptible to tuberculosis, Johne's disease, anthrax, malignant edema and tetanus.
Internal and external parasites can also infect a llama. Internal parasites of concern include gastrointestinal nematodes, lungworms, meningeal worms, tapeworms and flukes. These parasites can be eliminated with medicines currently used to treat cattle, sheep and goats. External parasites (ticks, mites and lice) can be treated with pesticides approved for use on cattle.