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Tips For Caring For Llamas Without Any Fairytales

       If you are thinking of owning llamas, please read Responsible Buying. The FIRST responsibility for a new owner is to do your homework. Anything less is negligence on your part. Some people think they are "rescuing" a llama(s) by taking them in, but if you don't know how to properly care for them, 9 times out 10 it's merely a slow death sentence. That's hardly a "rescue", or any type of kindness. Dying slowly from parasites, disease, heat stress, malnutrition or predator kills is worse than a swift death. So if you want to help a llama(s), FIRST learn what that "help" entails.


       In the "olden days" llamas were expensive and most of us diligently combed the universe for ANY type of "care" information. We bought every book and video we could find, we joined every organization, we sent our vets to seminars, and we pampered our llamas as if they were our children. Even so, much of what we learned later proved untrue. But at least we were trying.

       Now many llamas are "free" and almost anyone can own a llama. Unfortunately, "almost anyone" SHOULDN'T own llamas, anymore than they should own any other animal.

       If you aren't willing to put out some time learning, and some money for proper care, DON'T get llamas. You are merely giving them a death sentence.

  • Myth 1
    Llamas are EASY CARE animals.
    What in the world can that POSSIBLY mean? How does that describe any true level of care? Even goldfish take a certain amount of care. So do elephants. So what is EASY CARE? Nothing. It was a marketing ploy and is not useful for any other purpose.

    You'll need a vet that knows something about them (or has access to vets that do, and is willing to learn), proper feed for your area and each llama's condition, clean water, good fencing, shelter (in hot areas that can include fans and ponds or misters to prevent heat stress - a real killer of llamas), and minerals of the right formmulation for camelids (AND your area and feed). And that's a BARE beginning.

    Those llamas will need innoculations (these will differ from area to area), deworming (this will differ from area to area and Meningeal Worm {Parelaphostrongylus tenuis} is a killer that requires monthly to every 6 week wormings), toenail care, shearing (or grooming for double-coated short fibered llamas), and sooner or later - emergency care.

    No animal has perfect health forever (as no human does) and sooner or later a problem WILL arise. That's true with ANY animal. Be prepared for that day. The Responsible Buying article offers tips for that eventuality. Please take them seriously. We hear of far too many llamas dying because no emergency preparations were made in advance.

  • Myth 2
    Llamas are GUARD animals.
    Llamas are PREY animals. That's a fact and no amount of hype is going to change that. They HAVE been successfully used to guard sheep and other small livestock from SINGLE COYOTES, but that's it. Dogs are the number killer of llamas. That means even a SINGLE dog CAN and WILL take down a llama AND come back for more!

    Bear, cougar, wolves, and packs of coyotes, dogs and wolves have all killed llamas. See this page for the sad results from those given misinformation. Again, 90% of the original "llamas as guards" information was merely a marketing ploy for those trying to pawn off young males they couldn't sell as breeding stock. Llamas sold as guardians should be mature gelded males or females marketed under realistic terms - llamas don't eat cougars and bear, llamas are prey animals.

    Even IF your situation is one that is positive for a llama, not all mature llamas are suitable as guardians. Just because a llama is unhandleable or untrained for anything else, it does not mean it is a good guardian prospect. In fact that doesn't qualify as a guardian AT ALL. Llama guardians still need all the health and grooming care that any other llama needs. So if you can't handle or catch it, how will you give that llama care?

    In some areas coyotes are packing. Some have wolf (DNA proven) or dog blood (coydogs) and are bigger, badder predators. Llamas CANNOT protect themselves or anything else from a pack of ANYTHING. (Well, maybe a pack of chewing gum, but gum attacks on livestock have not been a big problem.)

    Livestock guardian dogs (not guard, but guardian - there's a huge difference) have been successfully used, but there are many things to learn about them too, and each dog is not right for each situation. Again, you'll need to do some homework.

    Good fencing is probably the biggest defense you have against predators. Depending on your area and predators, fencing needs will differ. If you are in an area with a lot of predator kills, think twice before getting livestock. Many people are successfully raising worms in such areas, you might want to check that out.

    Do your neighbors let their dogs run? For help see A Message To Dog Owners.

  • Myth 3
    Hand-Raised Baby Llamas Make Great Pets
    This one gives knowledgeable, reputable llama people high blood pressure within a heartbeat. If someone offers a you a baby llama whose mom has died, PLEASE get online and look for a llama organization near you. Llamas that are bottle raised alone by newbies RARELY survive - and suffer greatly before death.

    If by some miracle they survive, they will develop behavior problems as their hormones kick in. I mean behavior problems so serious they might kill you or a child. An orphaned cria needs proper nutrition, an IgG and possibly a plasma transfer, and needs to be raised WITH other appropriate llamas - not bonded to humans. Be assured this is not a job for a newbie. And certainly not a job for those without appropriate herd members to teach that cria how to be a llama. Think I'm kidding? Read this and believe it!

    There are a few scumbag, money grubbing people that are raising llamas and tearing the crias (babies) away from their dams to make "cute pets". Again, knowledgeable, reputable llama people want to have this type of seller ground to a pulp and used as crab bait.

    If you've never seen a llama dam grieve that has lost a cria, you're in for a real heartache. They can spend months looking for that baby and calling plantively for it. How would you feel if your baby was stolen?

    Do you see horse people ripping foals away from their dams to make "friendly horses"? Of course not! Any person with an IQ higher than kelp knows that training is the key to user-friendly livestock. It is no different with llamas. Llamas have been domesticated livestock for AGES and are fully trainable. But they need to be raised with other llamas to develop normally. Llamas can live 20+ years, don't cheat them out of a normal life.

    And if you run into any of those cria thievin', scumbag sellers, be sure to let them know that you are educated and you know what they are doing is horrendously cruel and disgusting. If enough people get educated and do that, there will be no market for that practice and maybe they'll switch to some other scam. (Hopefully one that does not include harming animals.)

  • Myth 4
    Llamas All Poop In One Pile
    Right. And Bill Gates is going to pay you large sums of money to test his newest product. And the check is in the mail, and he won't... you get the picture.

    More accurately, llama females often (not always) use an "area" as bathroom. In larger pastures, there may be several areas. If your property runs downhill, and rain washes that "bathroom scent" downhill, they may use the whole pasture. Once they have started a "bathroom", it's often near impossible to change the location. That will certainly include barns and shelters.

    When traveling with llamas, we'll often bring along a can of "llama beans" and sprinkle them on the ground. If the llama is not too stressed to pay attention, it will sniff the beans and 9 times out of 10, they'll use that spot to relieve themselves. So, if you PLAN before bringing your llamas home WHERE to "salt some bathrooms", you MIGHT be lucky and be able to signify where those bathrooms will stay. However, bad weather may keep llamas indoors and there goes your plan. Sometimes new herd members will decide they want their own bathroom, and start a new one. Once someone creates a bathroom, everyone will want try out the new facility.

    Sometimes males will make neat pyramid bathrooms. But males have also been known to create areas just like the females.

    Bottom line, you are going to be using a shovel, rake, wheelbarrow or tractor to clean up. Where there's livestock there's gonna be clean-up needed. If ya wanna be a rancher, you'll accept it and move on.

  • Myth 5
    Llamas Can Go Without Water
    No, they can't. They need water available at all times. Make sure it's not frozen in winter, not too hot in summer. In hot areas you might want to add electrolytes to their water (changing it often) to help prevent heat stress. (Remember - Heat Stress KILLS Llamas!)

  • Myth 6
    You Can Make A Lot Of Money Raising Llamas
    No, you won't. First, the market is depressed. There are sales with artifically inflated prices where the rich buy from the rich (for tax purposes) and sell to uninformed chumps. (That could be you.)

    You are just learning about llamas. You probably know nothing about good conformation, proper movement, bloodlines, genetic faults or what constitutes a "breeding quality" llama. You will lose your shirt and where will those llamas end up when you do?

    What do you know about training crias? Probably nothing, which ensures you'll screw them up - then who will want the llamas with behavioral problems that YOU created?

    You've never cared for a non-pregnant llama, what do you know about nutrition or breeding practices? How will you handle a dystocia, or a cria that won't nurse, or a dam with no milk?

    Please start out with user-friendly, healthy, trained llamas. Expect to pay a reasonable amount of money, not $50 for such llamas. Think of the feed, vet bills, training and time that it took to create such llamas. It's best to start with mature same sex llamas, two geldings (not whole males) or two females. MATURE (in this scenario) means over two years old. Often three llamas works better than two. Weanlings still need to learn herd behavior and need lots of training. You'll have less problems, and give them less problems, if you start with trained llamas.

    Do NOT get a male and a female. Would you like to live NEVER talking to a member of your own sex? Who understands you better, your same-sex friends or the opposit sex? Many gelded males will try to breed females. This can lead to a variety of problems and vet bills - or even death. The male can get a fiber wrapped around his penis. If not found immediately, you can imagine the resulting infection and possible surgery needed. The female can develop an infection (you may not see a discharge until it's horrendously bad) from bacteria introduced from repeated breedings. Just how is she supposed to relax and chew her cud if he's on her trying to breed her every time she kushes? How would you like someone amorously leaping upon you every time you tried to rest? In heat, both the excited male and the harassed female are at even futher risk of heat stress. Stress kills llamas. Prevent stress in any way you can.

  • Myth 7
    A 4' Fence Is Adequate For Llamas
    Fencing is to keep predators out, as well as livestock in. Four foot fencing is rarely adequate to keep predators out. I've had llamas jump a 5' foot fence from a stand still. They are quite athletic. Go at least 5' to be safe. If you can afford it, go 6 feet.

    I had horses long before I had llamas. I hate barbed wire with a vengence. Llamas tend to rub their faces on fencing. You can imagine how many vet calls you'll be making over eye, ear, mouth and nose injuries from that alone. Have you ever seen an animal that got tangled in barbed wire? Believe me, you don't want to.

    If you have lots of money, 6' cyclone fencing would be a dream. If you don't, 5' or 6' 3x4 woven horsewire is pretty good. Some use board fencing and reinforce the bottom with other fencing to keep predators from going between the boards.

    Whatever you choose, make it something your llamas can't get their heads stuck in, or roll and get caught under. Preventing accidents is much easier than dealing with them.

  • Myth 8
    You Can Learn Everything You Need To Know On Email Lists
    HA! In my ten years online (since '95 in case I haven't updated this page lately) I have seen all kinds of misinformation online. Consider the source. WHY would you take breeding information from someone who has never had a successful breeding program? Raising a few crias because Bart jumped the fence and bred June and Bessie is not the same as a successful breeding program. Neither is having a lot of money to advertise. Some of the worst llama conformation (and genetic faults) this business has seen has come from wealthy breeders that had money, but didn't know squat.

    So you need to think about who you're getting your information from. (That includes me.) And don't kid yourself that all vets are created equal. There are great vets, good vets, lazy vets, and those that should have their license taken away.

    Do join email lists, and do go to clinics, and do go to shows, and do join organizations, and do talk to as many people as you can. Then use common sense and filter the information you collect. But always, always, always find a vet you feel you can trust BEFORE getting your llamas. When push comes to shove, your llamas lives will depend on that vet. For me, part of that means a vet WILLING to admit when they don't know something, and WILLING to contact more knowledgeable vets to find out.

More Helpful Pages

       I'll add more myths here as time allows. There are MANY more! You can also explore Camelid Health. I don't know how often I'll get around to updating it, but I'll try to remember sometimes.

Happy trails!
Chelle Rogers © 1999-2005 my star All Rights Reserved