About Llamas

Llamas were domesticated from guanacos some 5,000 years ago.  Their ancestors inhabited the plains of North America and migrated south to the Andes about three million years ago!

Llamas can be grouped broadly into two types: Ccara and Tampuli:

“Ccara”, the most commonly seen type in the UK, has a short to medium length coat with very short fibre on the legs and head.  Ccara llamas tend to be larger than Tampuli.

The “Tampuli" is more heavily woolled than the Ccara, its coat extending down the legs and often distinguished by a woolly "topknot".

Llamas are the largest of the South American

History

Llamas are members of the camel (camelid) family which include the camels, guanacos, alpacas and vicunas.   Originating in the central plains of North America about 10 million years ago, the llama predecessors migrated to South America around 2.5 million years ago.   Its cousin, the camel, relocated to the Middle East and other regions of the world.  The end of the Ice Age 10,000 to 12,000 years ago marked the extinction of the camelid in North America.   Llamas were domesticated from the guanacos of the Andean highlands of Peru 5,000 to 6,000 years ago and are among the world’s oldest domesticated animals.   While primarily a beast of burden for the native herdsmen, llamas also provided them with meat, wool, hides for shelter, manure pellets for fuel and became sacrificial offerings to their gods.

 

Today there are an estimated 7 million llamas and alpacas in South America.  In the UK there are estimated to be well over 5,000 llamas and a 100 guanacos.   Llamas have international appeal and in the United States and Canada there are estimated to be around 65,000 llamas.   New Zealand actually augments their fibre industry with llama and alpaca wool.  

As in ancient times, the llama today is important to the agricultural economy of the remote highlands of Argentina, Bolivia, Chili and Peru. 

 

Physical Facts

  • Life span :     about 15 to 25 years although some exceed the 25 years.  The average appears to be around 18 years.

 

  • Weight :       140 to 180 kg. on average

 

  • Height :        1.25m  at the shoulder – up to 2m  at the head

 

  • Average gestation :  350 days (11.5 months)

 

  • Colour :         A llama may be solid, spotted or marked in a wide variety of patterns with fleece colours ranging from white to black and many shades of grey, beige, brown, tan and fawn in between.

 

  • Reproduction, birth and babies :    Females are first bred at between 16 and 24 months of age.  Llamas do not have a heat cycle, they are induced ovulators.  Llamas can be bred at any time of the year.  A single baby (called a “cria”) is usually delivered from a standing mother, normally without assistance.  Twins are very rare.  Most births occur during daylight hours which is better for the cria and most certainly more convenient for the llama owners !   Actually, many owners will tell you that more often than not, crias are born between 10 in the morning and 2 in the afternoon !!    Normal birth weights are between 9kg and 15kg.   A cria normally stands and nurses within 90 minutes.  Depending upon the cria’s size and the mother’s condition, the cria is weaned at 4 to 6 months.

 

 

Health and Basic Medical Needs

 

Because their ancestors evolved in the harsh environment of the Andean highlands, the UK’s llama owners have found them to be generally easy to care for.The recommended primary care of yearly vaccinations, checking for worms and treating as appropriate together with regular toenail trimming help llamas remain hardy and healthy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Frequently asked questions

 

What are they used for ?

In the UK, llamas are primarily recreational animals.  Many are just well loved field pets being gentle, quiet, hardy and undemanding, but they are also bred and raised for trekking, cart pulling, animal facilitated therapy, companion animals and exhibition in shows.  They live in harmony with other field stock and make good companions for lone ponies etc.  They also make excellent guardians of livestock such as sheep and poultry.  Although gentle by nature, male llamas are protective of their group and are used very successful to keep predators from attacking lambs and even ducks and poultry.

 

Can you use their wool ?

 

The llama’s “wool” is actually referred to as a fleece.Llamas have a double fleece; an outer guard hair and a fine, soft undercoat much sought after by weavers and hand spinners. It is grease-free and lightweight and is particularly warm and luxurious.Llamas do not have to be sheared at all, but the undercoat can be used to make an array of wonderful garments and the guard hair can be used for other products such as bags, rugs etc. The fleece comes in many natural colours from white to black with a wide range of browns and greys in between.It has a particular construction which means it has a huge ability to insulate.Many alternative uses are currently under investigation, such as for insulation.

 

Are they intelligent ?

 

Yes, very much so, which is why llamas can quickly learn to accept a halter, follow on a lead, load in and out of a vehicle, carry a pack and learn action and reward exercises.

 

Are they good pack animals ?

 

Llamas are excellent packers.Historically, llamas have carried packs for man.They are sure-footed and agile and can carry an average of 170lbs or 25% of their body weight.Their two-toed foot with its leathery pad gives the llama a low environmental impact equivalent to that of a considerate hiker’s athletic shoe.Their ability to browse lessens their intrusion on the native vegetation, which is one of the reasons llamas are gaining in popularity with environmentally conscious users and managers of our public lands.

Llamas can be walked for pleasure and will happily carry a pack, offering the long distance walker or the picnicking family both a fun companion and a willing helper!A number of enterprises around the UK offer llama treks of varying lengths from just a half day upwards.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What do they eat ?

 

Llamas are modified ruminants with a three-compartment stomach.Like cattle and sheep, they chew their cud.Because of a relatively low protein requirement and an efficient digestive system, they can be kept on a variety of suitable pastures or hay with the supplementation of recommended vitamins, minerals and salts.A llama costs significantly less to feed than other comparable-sized animals.

 

What is their personality like ?

 

Because they are highly sociable herd animals, llamas need the companionship of other llamas.A gelded male will generally be happy living alone provided he has been trained to guard a flock of sheep or chickens.Independent yet shy, llamas are gentle and curious.Their generally calm nature and common sense make a trained llama easy for anyone to handle.

 

 

What sounds do they make?

 

Llamas communicate by humming.They also express themselves through a series of ear, body and tail postures.On rare occasions, they will alert their companions and human keepers with a distinctive alarm call, rather like a donkey bray, to alert them to the presence of unfamiliar dogs or something else which they perceive as a threat.During breeding males make a distinctive orgling sound.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

DO THEY SPIT ?

 

Yes they do only at each other to establish the pecking order within the group or to ward off an unwanted suitor, or to say clear off.A llama who has been mishandled, feels abused or threatened may also occasionally spit at humans.

History

Llamas are members of the camel (camelid) family which include the camels, guanacos, alpacas and vicunas.   Originating in the central plains of North America about 10 million years ago, the llama predecessors migrated to South America around 2.5 million years ago.   Its cousin, the camel, relocated to the Middle East and other regions of the world.  The end of the Ice Age 10,000 to 12,000 years ago marked the extinction of the camelid in North America.   Llamas were domesticated from the guanacos of the Andean highlands of Peru 5,000 to 6,000 years ago and are among the world’s oldest domesticated animals.   While primarily a beast of burden for the native herdsmen, llamas also provided them with meat, wool, hides for shelter, manure pellets for fuel and became sacrificial offerings to their gods.

 

Today there are an estimated 7 million llamas and alpacas in South America.  In the UK there are estimated to be well over 5,000 llamas and a 100 guanacos.   Llamas have international appeal and in the United States and Canada there are estimated to be around 65,000 llamas.   New Zealand actually augments their fibre industry with llama and alpaca wool.  

As in ancient times, the llama today is important to the agricultural economy of the remote highlands of Argentina, Bolivia, Chili and Peru. 

 

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