Care of Alpacas and Llamas on the Farm
Llamas and Alpacas use to be rare and expensive outside their native South America, but now their price has dropped and pretty much anyone with some land can keep them as pets. Llamas and Alpacas are often used to guard sheep and goats. Knowing how to look after them is important.
- General Information About Llamas and Alpacas
- Selecting and Purchasing a Llama or Alpaca
- Housing Requirements fof Llamas and Alpacas
- Feeding and Care
- Other Information
General Information About Llamas and Alpacas
Llamas and Alpacas are not commonly thought of as pets, both have bad reputations for spitting. While it is true that they spit, this is how they protect themselves and their personal space. A tame llama or alpaca will not spit at its' owner. In fact if well socialized they will run towards you looking for treats.
Llamas and Alpacas have been used as pack animals, guard animals, or for their fiber. In some areas of the world, such as Peru where they come from, they are also used for their meat. They are very hardy and versatile.
Differences Between Llamas and Alpacas
Alpacas are usually under 100 kg, and Llamas are usually over 110 kg. Llamas have been used more for pack animals while Alpacas have been used more for their fiber, as such Llamas have tended to be the more social animal of the two, but many people find Alpacas to be very personable and "cuter" looking.
We wont get into the differences in fiber here as it is all very technical and has little to do with keeping them as pets. There are many different hair lengths and types which you may find worth considering if you are interested in collecting their fiber.
Young of both are called crias, and they generally are mature at two years of age, but can be weaned at 6 months. Gestation is about one year.
Llamas and Alpacas do make sounds, rather like hums, moans, or whines.
Selecting and Purchasing a Llama or Alpaca
Do you want a pet only or will this animal be used for fiber, show, or guard purposes?
You can purchase pet quality llamas for very cheap. I have even seen them go for free; this is especially true of unregistered male llamas who may not have been handled.
Llamas and Alpacas where first introduced to North American and European buyers as a money making exotic pet, for show and fiber, but the market has declined and now only the top quality llamas and alpacas are the ones that cost thousands of dollars. If you want a show animal you should purchase one from a show home, where the parents were both shown to prove they are producing top quality,and of course make sure you get a registered animal. These top quality llamas and alpacas have thicker fleece.
The best guard, or pet, animals may be the cheaper ones. Intact males may be somewhat aggressive towards your livestock, so you may want a gelded male or a female. A single llama is best if you want one as a guard animal.
If you are selecting a pet Llama or Alpaca, you should pick a friendly one, preferably one who is halter trained. They are naturally curious, a friendly Llama or Alpaca may come bounding towards you to give you their friendly version of a hug, which can be both a frightening and interesting experience for the new owner. Do not allow them to invade your personal space, especially with young males, as they will soon take this for granted and can become pushy and dangerous.
Depending on where you live you may find Llamas and Alpacas for sale in livestock websites (often under guard animals) or at some exotic livestock auctions, or in hobby farm magazines. If you ask around you can probably find somebody who knows somebody with some for sale. I live in Alberta, Canada, and the pet quality ones are frequently sold in auctions here for under $50,or as I mentioned you can sometimes get them free.
Housing Requirements fof Llamas and Alpacas
Llamas and Alpacas can live outdoors year round even in a cold climate, however they do require shelter from the wind, sun, and snow. Note that if they have thick coats they are at risk for heat stroke so shade is a must in the summer.
I have found they can be hard on any fences that they lean on to get the grass from the other side. Llamas always think the grass is greener on the other side. As such tall fences, barbed wire, or electric fencing is good.
You will want a proper barn if you are in a particularly cold area or if you plan on breeding.
Feeding and Care
Llamas and Alpacas are quite easy keepers. Often kept with sheep or goats, they have similar requirements. They can graze freely in the summer, and be fed hay in the winter. I do give mine a good handful of oats twice a day in the winter, but if you prefer you can buy them a special Llama or Alpaca ration from your local feed store.
Like all animals they must have access to water, salt, and a mineral block. You want to be cautious against selenium deficiency or an over dose of copper (especially in copper enriched horse feeds). Increase the amount of oats or ration in pregnant animals.
If you live in an extremely hot climate, you may want to have your Llama or Alpaca sheared. This is not an easy process and requires special equipment. You can try cutting some hair off the body if you cannot arrange a sheerer, but if you try this yourself do not cut too close or you may cut your pets skin, remember some hair is needed to protect your critter from the sun and insects. Or select one who does not have extremely long thick hair when you make your original purchase. Alpacas tend to have thicker coats and as such this is more of a concern with them than a poor or average "pet" quality llama.
Their hooves do grow and may need trimming or may wear themselves down naturally on the ground. If the nails start to curl up or under and start to impede with your animals ability to get around it will be important to get some care for his or her hooves.
Males tend to grow long teeth which may need to be trimmed.
Because they are commonly kept as guard animals against coyotes, you may find your Llama or Alpaca may take time to get used to your family dog or a herding dog. Keep the dog on leash until your Llama or Alpaca has realized this critter is allowed. For guard purposes they are better kept singly as this will help them stick with what ever form of livestock they are intended to protect.
When keeping camelids it is important to know that two or more males may be kept together as long as there are no females present. As soon as you introduce a female the males will begin to fight. The female will lay down to allow a male to breed her. If you are going to breed your Llama or Alpaca make sure to remove the male when the female is ready to give birth or he may accidentally harm the young cria in an attempt to mate with the female again, even while she is giving birth.
I currently own one Llama, and have had others in the past. My wife and I have kept Alpacas too, but find Llamas more to our liking and being larger, we consider them better for Our Llama is guarding our sheep. She also has a donkey and a miniature horse as companions. If you do not have sheep, horses, or other animals to keep your Llama or Alpaca company you should get it a companion of the same species.