ILR 261127


Llamas are members of the camel (camelid) family , which includes llamas, alpacas, guanacos, and vicunas.  Their scientific name is Lama glama (Linnaeus, 1758). They are descendants of the wild Andean guanaco, and were domesticated between 7,000 and 6,000 years ago. The name lama is a Quechua Indian word. When spelled with one L the term lama refers to all four South American camelids.


Llamas live about 15-25 years and can weigh from 250-500 plus pounds.  They stand from 40-48 inches at the withers,  and 5 to over 6 feet at the head. Their fiber ranges in color  from white to black, with shades of grey, beige, brown, and red  in between, and they  may be solid, spotted, or marked with various patterns. Llamas are generally described as short, medium, or heavy wool, depending on the amount of wool on the head, neck, and legs. 


Llamas have been used for centuries in South America for pack animals; as a source of wool for clothing, rugs, and blankets; and for meat.  Their fiber is warm and soft and contains no lanolin.  In North America they are used for breeding and show stock, pack animals, driving animals, wool production, therapy and companion animals, community animals, sheep guards and predator control, golf caddies, and pets. Their manure is also an excellent garden soil additive.

Llamas are intelligent, extremely curious, and usually easy to train. They will quickly learn many behaviors, such as accepting a halter, being led, loading in and out of a vehicle, pulling a cart, or carrying a pack.  They are very sure-footed, and make excellent pack animals; depending on training and condition, they can carry 50-100 pounds. They are not usually ridden, although children under 60 pounds have been known to ride a llama using a pony saddle.  Instead of hooves,  each llama foot has two curved nails and a leathery pad on the bottom. 


Llamas are a modified ruminant with a three-chambered stomach. They chew a cud like cattle and sheep. They have a relatively low protein requirement , and will both graze and browse. Three to five adults can be grazed on a good one acre pasture. Adults consume 2-4% of their body weight in dry matter per day. They should have access to good quality hay or fresh pasture, clean water, and a free feed mineral supplement or salt block (with extra selenium where needed) at all times. Llamas do not usually bloat, but overfeeding should be avoided.


Llamas are among the easiest of large domesticated mammals to keep.   Their pasture can be fenced with woven wire, wire cattle panels, wooden rails, or electric fencing. Barbed wire is not recommended.  Fencing should be secure enough to keep out stray dogs or coyotes. Either a three-sided structure or  an enclosed barn should be provided against wind, rain, and extreme heat or cold. In very hot or humid climates a sprinkler or wading pool may be necessary.  Regular shearing will help to combat heat stress as well as providing a source of fiber for spinning and knitting. During periods of severe cold older or weaker animals and very young crias may benefit from a fitted blanket. The manure of llamas resembles deer pellets, and is usually deposited in one or more established communal dung heaps.  Llamas are generally very clean; even large herds do not create appreciable odor problems. 


Llamas are generally hardy, healthy, and remarkably disease-free.  They should be dewormed regularly and vaccinated annually against enterotoxemia, tetanus, leptospirosis, and various types of internal and external parasites. Their toenails will need to be trimmed at least once or twice a year.  Males develop three pairs of sharp curved fighting teeth, which should be removed to prevent injury to other animals. Always consult a knowledgeable camelid veterinarian for treatment of any unique circumstances or conditions.


Llamas are highly social animals, and need the companionship of others to feel comfortable. For this reason, they should always be kept in groups of two or more.  Independent yet shy, llamas are gentle and curious, affectionate with their young and playful with each other. They are stoics, and do not display pain quickly. Llamas  are generally very quiet, but communicate with a series of body, ear, and tail postures,  a shrill alarm call, and a variety of humming noises.  Llamas do spit, but usually only at each other. Spitting is normally used among llamas to establish pecking order at mealtimes, defend personal space, ward off an annoying threat, divert an unwelcome suitor, or discipline an unruly youngster. However, a llama that feels threatened by a specific human behavior may also spit at that particular behavior.


Llamas are induced ovulators. They do not have a heat cycle, and can be bred at any time of the year. For this reason, males should be pastured separately from females to prevent unwanted breedings. Depending on size and development, llama females may be bred at 24-36 months.  Males may be fertile at 9-12 months, but do not become dependable breeders until approximately three years of age. 

The average llama gestation period is 350-365  days. A single baby (cria) is normally delivered without assistance .  First time mothers frequently give birth in the early evening, while more experienced mothers tend to deliver in the morning. Twinning rarely occurs.  Newborn llamas generally weigh between 20 and 35 pounds.  Unlike other mammals, llamas do not lick their newborn or eat the afterbirth.  Crias are normally up and nursing within 90 minutes and are weaned at 6 months.

Information adapted from ILR Educational Brochure #3, 2004


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