What IS that?
A llama (pronounced "LAH-muh" in English, "YAH-muh" in Spanish) is a domestic member of the camel family. Llamas and three other camelids originate in South America: the guanaco (wild llama); the smaller, wild vicuna; and the domestic alpaca, selectively bred for wool production. All four are collectively referred to as "lamas" (with one "l"). All can interbreed and produce fertile offspring.
Do they spit?
Yes, they spit. It is usually between themselves over a dispute about food or territory. Spitting establishes and upholds social order within the species, and most disputes are resolved at the mere threat of a spit. If they spit at humans it is probably because they have been mistreated or they are protecting their babies. It’s how they establish rank within the herd, meaning who gets to the food dish first. Female llamas often spit to ward off an unwanted suitor. Spitting is also a very effective way to discipline crias (baby llamas), and they sometimes spit to express fear or discomfort.
They don’t generally spit at humans. Of course, the human may just be in the line of fire between llamas. This has happened to me. It just isn’t that bad, it washes off.
What are their personalities like?
For the most part llamas are gentle, quiet, very curious and intelligent.
Llamas' personalities, though individual, are much like those of domestic cats: curious and independent.
Llamas are easily trained (or mistrained), and most are naturally very calm. Although basic tasks may be taught relatively quickly, willing obedience and trust must be earned, and true affection is rare -- and even then reserved for only one person.
Llamas normally avoid physical contact, although most learn to tolerate being touched. Those who were properly raised by knowledgeable breeders usually enjoy being petted, scratched, and stroked.
Llamas are very stoic and will endure pain with only subtle signs that something is amiss.
Llamas are highly herd-oriented and should be pastured with at least one other llama to avoid development of neuroses ranging from despondency to dangerous behaviour.
Does "ears back" mean he's mad?
Not always (in fact, rarely). Llama body language is not exactly like that of other, more familiar, domestic species. "Ears back," for instance, can show boredom, relaxation, irritation, fear, dominance or submission. The differences are often subtle and must be interpreted in the context of both the situation and other body language.
What do they eat? During the spring, summer and fall they graze the pastures. They also receive a “special recipe” of grains, corn and minerals daily. In the winter they get hay. One bale of hay can feed an adult llama for about a week.
Llamas prefer grasses, but they also browse on a variety of trees, shrubs and "weeds" -- including blackberries. They tend to sample a large variety of plants and so, like goats, are not often poisoned, although poisonings do occur. Grass or oat hay is often fed as a supplement to poor pasture and/or in winter. Llamas can easily glean 40% more nutrients than horses from poor foodstuffs. Finally, both vitamin-mineral supplementation to correct local deficiencies and a source of salt are also necessary.
Llamas enjoy corn husks and silks, grapefruit and orange rinds, and more conventional treats such as carrots, apples, and other fruits.
What do you do with a llama?
Well, first and foremost, you LOVE them. This is very easy to do once you meet a few and get to know them.
- Fibre – the fibre from a llama is used for spinning into yarn or for felting. This is all used for a variety of craft projects. Because it is hollow, llama fibre is very warm when it is used for that special clothing project. Our llamas are sheared once a year and we use it primarily for yarn.
- Packing – llamas have traditionally been used for packing in South America. Here they are used for backpackers and in the USA you can find quite a few outfitters that use llamas for carrying supplies for hikers or campers.
- Showing – in the USA there are many shows that give llama owners the opportunity to “show off” their llamas. Halter classes judge the llama on their conformation while obstacle or performance classes can display the training and teamwork between the llama and handler. Hopefully one day we’ll have Australian Llama Shows! Until then we have our own Llama Farma Open Day in February and we also attend Agricultural Shows in Tasmania to show off our Llama Handling and Training in Obstacle Course events.
- Pets – some llama owners simply have llamas as a pet. When they do you will usually see that they have two as llamas are herd animals and do require companionship.
- Guard animals – llamas take naturally to guarding other livestock and require no training to do so. They are frequently used for guarding sheep and other animals vulnerable to attack.
Livestock – llamas are easy to keep and are not hard on fencing. They do not require much shelter, just a three sided building to protect them from a pouring rain or heavy snow and strong winds.
Therapy – llamas have been used in different settings and a therapy animal. They just seem to be able to help people relax.
Are they noisy?
For the most part llamas are very quiet. They do have a few distinct noises however. When a llama is unsure about something they will make a humming noise. A mama llama will also hum to her cria. Another noise made by the male llama is called an orgle. This is a very strange noise the male will make while breeding . Llamas also have an alarm call that they use to alert the herd when they sense danger.
How big do they get?
Llama can stand up to five or six feet tall at the head and can weigh between 130 and 200 kg’s. A newborn is usually between 10 and 15 kg’s at birth.
Pack llamas are sure-footed and can negotiate pretty complex obstacles with training and experience. Their soft padded feet do not damage the environment as do hooves and hiking boots. Their browsing nature and efficient gut lower impact -- they consume less forage and generally do not decimate any one plant species. Pack llamas are a viable alternative for older persons, folks with back problems, or those who just prefer that someone who weighs twice as much carry the load -- or the children! Commercial pack outfitters and some Forest Service districts use pack llamas, hunters use them to pack game, and fishing enthusiasts use them to pack inflatable boats to remote lakes.
The most difficult part of llama packing (after locating good pack llamas) is finding a well-fitting pack. Many designs are marketed that are adequate for people, but cause discomfort and pain for llamas. Llamas are naturally very stoic and show only subtle signs of discomfort until they deems it necessary to be blunt -- by refusing to move, being hard to catch, or becoming "disobedient."
Although llamas need llama companionship at home, pack llamas quickly adapt to packing alone -- and may even prefer it -- if their handlers are responsive to them.
Llamas urinate and defecate in communal manure piles also called latrine piles. They usually have several piles around the pasture. This concentrates all the urine and feces in one place, leaving the rest of the area clean and dry for grazing..
Their manure is commonly referred to as "llama beans" and is in the form of small round pellets. Their highly efficient digestive system allows them to totally process their food for the maximum nutritional benefit. By the time it comes out, the manure is practically odourless and basically free of weed seeds. For this reason, it makes a superb soil enhancer. (I refrain from calling it fertilizer, because then it requires a guaranteed chemical analysis.) What I will say is that "llama beans" are naturally high in nitrogen and will not burn plants. It does not need to be aged, and can be used on the garden directly from the llama. Llama manure is highly prized by master gardeners everywhere. It has the texture and odour of a rich potting soil or humus (great for in the house).