The Llama (Lama Glama) is an indigenous camelid from South America. As a member of the Camelidae family, they are related to alpacas, vicuñas, guanacos, dromedaries and Bactrian camels.
In physical form, camelids are large mammals. Many, including the llama, are large enough to serve as pack animals. Camelids are herbivores and quasi-ruminants with three-chambered stomachs.
Camelids are also even-toed ungulates, which use the tips of their toes or hooves to support most of their body weight when on the move. Other large mammals with the same foot structure include (but are not limited to) pigs, cows, deer, sheep, and goats.
Llama, alpaca, vicuña, and guanaco are animals of the New World, while dromedaries are Arab and Indian camels. They have the traditional “camel” appearance and a single hump. The Bactrian camel, indigenous to Central Asia, is a short, domesticated furry domestic animal with two humps.
Appearance Of Llama
Llamas are sleek, elegant animals with beautiful wool coats ranging from white to black with all shades in between, including grays, browns, reds, and roans. You will see a wide variety of markings and patterns, as well as solid-colored animals.
A fully developed Llama measures approximately 5.5-6 feet /1.7-1.8 meters at the top of the head and weighs 280-450 lbs /130-200 kg at age four. There are no major gender differences, although the males are slightly larger.
There are four basic types of coats:
- Woolly llamas have strong wool coverage over their entire body with higher concentrations in the head, neck, ears, and legs. They produce fine, curly fiber on a par with alpaca wool in quality and exhibiting very few protective hairs.
- Medium flames have longer fibers on the neck and body, but shorter coverage on the head, ears, and legs. They have rough protruding hairs and are therefore said to have a double coat.
- Classic llamas have less wool on the head, neck, and legs with slightly longer hair on the back forming a saddle on the sides. The guard hairs on the neck seem to be almost a mane.
- Suri Llamas are extremely rare and difficult to breed, but their wool, like that of Suri Alpaca, hangs in rope-shaped tendrils and is less fine than Wooly Llamas.
Llamas eat by grinding their upper and lower molars from one side to the other. They don’t have upper front teeth, but they use their upper lip to help them grab food with their lower incisors.
Adult males develop large, very sharp fighting teeth that must be ground to the gum line to avoid serious injury during territorial fights and general disorder.
Their two-toed feet are well-suited for good footing on all types of terrain, from sand to snow. The foot has a leather pad on the bottom and there is a curved toe that extends from each toe.
Llamas are intelligent herd animals with a lifespan of 20-30 years. They can serve their human masters in many ways. The Llamas produce a very smooth, lanolin-free fiber and, like a beast of burden, can carry 25-30% of their own body weight over a distance of up to 5-8 miles / 8-13 km.
Because they are territorial and brave enough to be aggressive in defending their “flock,” llamas are excellent guard animals for other types of livestock.
Camelids That Are Similar To Llamas
The ancestors of modern camelids lived on the plains of North America 40 million years ago and were likely forced to enter South America during the Ice Age. The most important camelids that are similar to Llamas seen in the Americas today are the alpaca, the vicuña, and the guanaco.
Alpacas, which are often confused with llamas, are grown mainly for their fiber, which is classified into up to 52 colors in their natural state. Adult alpacas measure 32-39 inches / 81-99 cm at the withers or shoulder, and approximately 5 feet /1.5 meters from the ground at the head. Adults weigh 106-185 pounds/48-84 kg.
Vicuñas have long, woolly coats. These Animals are brown on the back and white on the throat and chest. At the shoulder, they are around 3 feet (75-85 cm) tall.
Vicuñas were declared endangered in 1974 when there were only around 6,000 left in their native Peru.
Due to the hard work of conservationists, their number has now increased to 350,000. The greatest ongoing threat to Peru’s national animal now is habitat loss.
Guanacos are similar to vicuña and are also wild animals. They are slightly larger than the vicuña, with gray faces and bodies ranging from dark cinnamon to light brown. The lower part is white. With less than 600,000 guanacos remaining in the mountainous ranges of South America, they are considered vulnerable from the conservation status.
The species is still considered wild, but approximately 300 guanacos are now found in zoos in the United States with an additional 200 recorded in herds maintained by private entities.
The Guanaco is classified as the mother species of the domesticated llama.
Difference Between Llamas And Alpacas
The easiest way to distinguish an alpaca and a llama is to look at the ears. Llamas are physically larger than alpacas. They have curved ears that look like bananas, while alpacas have straight ears.
The fur of a llama is interspersed with thicker guard hairs that must be removed during processing, while the alpaca fiber is very fine and soft. However, it is a myth that llamas do not produce wool suitable for use in fine textiles.
Wooly Llama’s fur is almost as smooth as alpaca’s and shares its hypoallergenic properties, minimal weight, exceptional warmth, and lack of lanolin.
The prickle factor of both fibers is very low, so neither causes the itching reaction so frequent in sheep’s wool.
From a behavioral point of view, llamas are much more aggressive and are often used as guard animals for grazing herds of sheep and even alpacas themselves.
Not all llamas are suitable as guard animals, but females that work in pairs can effectively protect livestock from small predators.
Possible Commercial Uses Of Llamas
People interested in exploring the commercial uses of Llamas will discover that they are highly adaptable animals with an inherent “multitasking” ability. It is very possible to own several llamas and use them in different ways depending on the characteristics and “talents” of each animal.
In the past 20 years, the use of Llamas for commercial and recreational packaging has been increasing. They are calm animals that literally walk and live gently on the ground.
The flames do not lift the plants they graze on, they only cut the tops, and their delicate feet do not severely affect the trails they walk like the hoofs of larger pack animals such as mules or horses.
For this same reason, horses and mules are prohibited on some federal protected lands within the United States national park system, but llamas are permitted. The roughness of the terrain is not an obstacle for the standing flames for sure, but they do not do well in extreme temperatures. After all, they are indigenous to the high mountain regions of South America.
As companions of hikers, touring fishermen, and even workers as surveyors, llamas are useful and friendly companions and beasts of burden.
While llamas do not enjoy the rarefied status in the world of fiber production for their relatives, alpaca and, vicuña, interest in llama wool has been on the rise since the 1990s.
Llama fiber is excellent for spinning, felting, and, is particularly useful when combined with sheep wool to add sparkle and shine. The flame fiber is warm, lightweight, and won’t shrink.
However, one of the biggest advantages is that the material, which does not contain lanolin, is hypoallergenic. It can be used to fill pillows and to produce garments that do not have the “itch” factor that is so often seen with sheep wool.
People with no camelid experience are surprised to discover that llamas and alpacas are incredibly clean animals. Both use communal manure piles on their pastures, making cleaning and maintenance extremely simple and efficient.
For this reason, anyone with llama has the option of harvesting the odorless manure granules for use as fertilizer. The material is high in nitrogen, but will not burn plants and does not necessarily require composition.
Llamas manure fertilizer can yield on average around $10 / £5.93 for 2 pounds/0.9 kg. The quality of the manure is approximately that of bat guano, which has a 4-3-2 ratio of nitrogen and phosphorous and potassium.
Livestock Guard Animals
The highly territorial nature of a llama makes some of these creatures well suited to serve as guardians of other types of livestock. However, it is impossible to know if a llama could be a suitable guardian until the individual has reached 18-24 months of age.
There is a growing industry to identify and train guard Llamass and educate livestock owners on their use and introduction with other species.
Don’t think you can drop any llama in the field and hope it will protect your livestock. You could go out the next day and find your sheep and flame dead from a predator attack.
Some factors to consider when looking for guard llama include:
- Age 18 months minimum. Younger animals lack the size and strength to ward off predators, nor are they mature enough to assume a responsible guardian role.
- Health and conformation. Obviously, the llama must be in excellent health and free of physical defects that prevent it from functioning athletically while “on the job” or feeding well on the grass.
- Gender and status intact. Traditionally gelded males have been sold as guard animals as long as castration is performed after 18 months of age and before 3 years of age. Conventional wisdom now holds that both intact males and gelled llamas are at too high a risk of indiscriminate mating behavior. For this reason, female couples are now favored to work as guards.
In general, successful guard llamas, in addition to being physically healthy, have a natural curiosity that leads them to be unusually aware of what is happening in their environment. The more hypervigilant and compromised a llama is, the better “watchdog” it is.
You don’t want a boring and carefree llama in charge of your sheep. Llamas that do not like to leave their food and water sources prefer to be near the barn, panic is easy and they are generally shy, nor are they good candidates to protect jobs.
Do not choose any llama that shows aggression towards humans. Animals must be trained with a halter and lead and easily loaded onto a trailer for transport.
If the llama is to work in conjunction with a watchdog, the animals should be presented to each other in a controlled environment. However, not all llamas tolerate such associations.
Do Llamas Make Good pets?
It is perfectly plausible to keep a pet llama (or preferably a pair of llamas). In fact, they are less expensive to maintain than a family dog, consume only one bale of hay per week, and happily graze on pastures during the warmer months.
They are quiet and tend to be very caring, and are easily handled by children (which also makes them popular show animals for youngsters involved in shows like 4H and Future Farmers of America).
General Remarks On Keeping The Llamas.
Due to their low maintenance profile, tough and disease resistant constitutions, non-challenging fencing behavior and general handling ability, llamas are very attractive animals to be kept for almost any purpose.
However, it is a mistake to think of owning llamas as a kind of business to get rich quickly. Very few people, only about 5% of the industry, keep these animals as a full-time business.
Profitable Llama operations involve significant financial investment. In addition to acquiring quality cattle and providing a high level of care, the business must be marketed and promoted according to its approach. For example, there is no point in offering outstanding services if no one knows about your operation.