Loving Responsible Owner
When considering the purchase of llamas do your homework to find out what the needs of the llamas are. Are you ready to care for all their needs and take on the responsibility of these animals? Well cared for llamas can live a long happy life. Llamas can live 15-25 years.
Local Veterinarian Care
Locate a vet in your area who can assist you with the care of your llamas. Build a relationship with your vet, not only for help in securing inoculations recommended for your area, but with nutritional advice as well. There may be a day when you have an emergency (or a perceived emergency) that requires veterinarian assistance. By working with a veterinarian through routine maintenance such as inoculations or worming, you build a relationship. Your local vet should be able to alert you to timely concerns such as West Nile virus vaccinations or the availability of new vaccines such as for rattlesnake bites. The veterinarian is much more likely to respond to your emergency if you are someone who is known (you, your ranch, your animals). Respect your veterinarian. Have your llamas caught up in a small catch pen, already haltered, before your vet arrives. Ask your vet to refer you to another resource if or when he/she is not available or if the task requires more effort than is available locally. Have a plan to transport your llamas if needed.
Awareness of Well-Being
The old saying rings true still today, "the most important thing for success on your ranch is your own shadow". Our llamas are each fed a cup of supplement every morning. This allows us to see that everyone is well. If a llama does not come in for breakfast, something is wrong. If there is a weeping eye, it could be a cold, allergies, or a foxtail. If there is a ear down, it could be that someone spit in it or there could be a foxtail in it (which can be deadly serious if untreated, but easily remedied when caught early). You will get to know each of your llamas and be aware if something just doesn't seem right. Behavioral changes tell you a lot. Is it unusual for your llama to separate himself from the herd? Is a particular llama being bullied or kept from food or water by another?
Managed nutrition is very important. Discuss the nutritional llamas of llamas with the previous owners of your llamas and with your vet. We have limited pasture available to our herd, but all have grass hay available free choice. We prefer to feed a grass hay rather than alfalfa. Alfalfa can be "too hot" for the llamas. The ratio of calcium/phosphorus nutrients for growing llamas is better served with grass hay. The hay should have a protein content of 8-12% and should be free of mold or poisonous plants. Also, be on the lookout for plants containing mechanical concerns such as barbs, awls, foxtails, and other non-injurious qualities such as burr clover or other such devices that stick in the fleece. Our daily supplement consists of alfalfa based pellets containing selenium, vitamins, and minerals. A mineral block or granulated mineral salts are also available. A clean reliable water source is just as important to the llama as it is to you. Make sure it is accessible year round. Keep your llamas on a regular inoculation schedule. Check to make sure their toenails are not too long. Find a way to shear them before the heat of summer arrives.
Your llamas should have room to run. This keeps them physically fit and mentally happy. Thoughts on how much space is needed per llama varies. If your llamas pronk - spring around bouncing off all four feet - they are probably happy. You can't not be happy watching this joyful display. The kids like to run full speed, sometimes kicking up their heels and running sideways, usually near dusk. Although adults do not tend to run as much, sometimes the females will party with the youngsters at dusk. The adult males need space where they might distance themselves from an aggressor or another llama they do not like.
Llamas are herd animals. They need companionship. Usually, the more the merrier. When we started out with llamas we were told that it was difficult to keep intact males together. Our adult male herd consists of 15, only two of which are gelded. One of these geldings is recent. He was sold and lived in a herd of 4 males, one of which was aggressive. We had to reacquire him and another male. When placed back in our male herd he was too aggressive and had to be gelded. Remember you need to know your llamas and when to take action to correct a situation. The gelding of this male has calmed things down in the adult male herd. Guard llamas are very special. They require intelligence and courage. Once they make the connection that the sheep or goats are their herd they will usually protect them even at their own risk of peril. Never put an intact male or one that is a "breeder" in a guard situation. The sheep or goat may suffocate if mounted by a llama.
Your llamas will live a longer and healthier life if they have protection from the elements. This includes protection from cold, wet, and heat. We find a three sided shelter is usually adequate and preferred. If it is too closed or dark, the llamas may prefer to remain outside. If the entry is too small, an aggressive or dominant llama may block it, preventing others from entering or leaving. Before you construct the shelter, take into consideration prevailing weather patterns such as wind and rain tendencies. Also, consider your line of sight. If you can see your llamas from the house or porch, you will not only know more about their well-being, you will receive more enjoyment from being treated to their sight. A word of caution - llamas are addictive - try to build your shelter larger than you think you will need it - you just might end up with more llamas than you originally thought.
This is the crux of the reason for their care and their existence on your property. You get the privilege of relating these amazing social creatures! The more you know about llamas, the more you will understand they are all individuals with differing potentials and personalities. See Eyes of the Llama. Each has its own strengths and weaknesses. In breeding these amazing creatures, we take each strength and weakness into account, always trying to produce a llama that is even better than its sire or dam. It is much easier to develop a relationship with a llama that is trained. We train llamas to interact with people without fear. The llama will generally do what you want it to if it understands what it is that you want it to do and there is no fear involved. On the other hand, a llama that is afraid of people cannot concentrate on what it is you are asking it to do. I have trained hundreds of llamas and could take just about any llama and built a relationship with it in a short while.If you are new to llamas, it can be a long, frustrating experience trying to bond. Make sure your first llamas are well trained! Make sure that you get training as well. Make sure you can catch your llamas, halter them, walk them, and pick up their feet! I cannot stress this enough.
Relationship to People
Be sure you are ready for their arrival before you bring your first llamas home. Their area needs to be free of poisonous plants, protruding nails and screws or sharp objects such as glass and metal debris. They should have a means to get out of the wind, wet, cold, and heat. In the summer, misters and shearing are recommended to help them keep their body temperatures safe. We recommend ground level misters flowing upwards so they can stand over them and get their bellies wet or drink from them. There have been cases where above misters cause moisture in the air they breathe, promoting pneumonia.
Llamas in a good environment don't tend to try to get out unless the males see the females and are motivated by breeding. We also had an instance where the females broke through fencing to get to the males. If your llamas are on poor pasture and there is green on the other side of the fence, or maybe an orchard next door, they could be motivated to break out. Usually, the fence is designed as much for keeping danger out as keeping the llamas in. The two biggest killers of llamas are oleander and people's dogs. Just a few oleander leaves is enough to kill even a large llama. People's dogs pack up and destroy chickens, ducks, goats, sheep, llamas, and even cows. My dog would never do that! Unless it joins with other dogs in pack mentality. Make your llama's area dog proof. Non-climb fencing 4 1/2 to 5 feet tall works well. Wood fencing can be fine with proper board spacing.
Make sure your dog(s) are not a problem. We have seen people trying to train or build a relationship with their llamas with harassing or barking dogs present. In time, you may be able to walk them together but there are many inherent dangers in leaving them together. Your llama needs to feel safe in its environment before it will feel safe around you.