The Basics of Raising Llamas on the Homestead

When you think of getting an animal what do you think of? A dog? Cat? Horse? Or, maybe you like to stray away from the norm and you want to raise llamas on your property. If that’s you, then you’ve come to the right place.

The internet is full of tips for caring for other farm animals, but llamas seem to be less common. After reading this you’ll have all the information you need to feed, vaccinate, and house your new pet.

Let’s take a look at what you need to raise a healthy, happy pack of llamas.

The Basics of Raising Llamas on the Homestead

Why People Raise Llamas

Llamas come from the same family as alpacas, guanacos, and vicunas. However, llamas and alpacas are the only animals in that group that have been domesticated.

Raising llamas has become a popular choice for livestock owners as they’re excellent guardians and loyal pack animals. Not only this but their wool can be shorn every two years for its fiber and they can carry up to one-fourth of their weight over high terrain for long periods of time.

If llamas are properly socialized they can be extremely friendly and make great pets for children and people of all ages. Even though they have a reputation for spitting, this is often only between other llamas, so you don’t need to worry about the risk of your llama spitting on you so long as you develop a trusting relationship with them.

The Basics of Raising Llamas on the Homestead

Plus, have you ever stroked a llama at a farm? If not, you don’t know what you’re missing. They’re so soft! They’ve even been used as therapy animals, thanks to their friendly, steady personalities.

A healthy llama can live up to 15-30 years of age so you want to be sure to give them everything they need in order to grow old and be happy. Even though these animals need some care and attention, who can resist their adorable faces and fluffy fur? They are beautiful!

How to Care For Llamas

Due to their stoic and calm personality, they can be very welcoming and easy to look after.

Llamas don’t need a lot of space in order to thrive. One acre should be enough if there’s a shelter for the winter season. This is especially important as they don’t enjoy windy or wet conditions, and who can blame them?

They’ll also need the occasional vaccines and veterinarian checkups.

You should also plan on spending lots of time with your llama. The more you spend around your llamas, the easier it will be to notice if there’s anything wrong or their environment needs to be altered.

Here are the basics about caring for llamas:

1. Diet

A llama’s happy place is grazing around green pastures, as long as the pasture is free from any toxins that could make them sick. You can find out more about what to avoid when raising llamas later on in this article.

For most of the year, healthy pasture is adequate for their nutrition. But, during winter they can also be kept in a shelter with the right amount of hay. Llamas need to eat about 2-4% of their body weight each day.

Overall, grass makes up most of their diet along with large quantities of water. You should also add a mineral block and maybe some corn, depending on your llama’s energy level.

The Basics of Raising Llamas on the Homestead

If your llama becomes pregnant she might need more protein supplements, but this is only for pregnant llamas. You shouldn’t feed your llamas supplements unless they’re carrying a baby as it can interfere with their immune system.

2. Housing

When it comes to giving your llama the right shelter, the good news is llamas don’t need much space. The ideal amount of space is one acre with some form of shelter. If you have this space, you can house up to four llamas.

A few examples of shelters are barns or three-sided windproof sheds that protect your llamas from windy conditions. However, in warmer climates, you want to make sure there is enough air circulation to help them regulate their body temperatures. So, shelters with a roof and one or two open sides are perfect.

The most important part of providing shelter for your llamas is giving them a space to hide under when the weather is warm and to shield them from cold weather conditions. As long as you remember that, they’ll be more than happy!

3. Vaccinations

Vaccinating your llamas is one of the first things you need to consider when you bring them home. In some areas, it can be hard to find a veterinarian that is familiar with llama care, so you should do some research in advance and call up a few practices.

Some of the essential vaccines like tetanus, clostridium perfringens C and D, and rabies are used for other species of livestock, so it might be easier to find care if you deal with a veterinarian familiar with livestock.

There is no established vaccination protocol for camelids, and it varies based on region and exposure. That’s why it’s important to work with your vet.

4. Other Medical Care

In addition to giving your llamas vaccinations, you also need to think about deworming and nail trimming. If your llama is healthy, you should only need to go to the veterinarian once a year for an annual check-up and to make sure they are healthy.

But sometimes even with the best care, your animal can get sick. One of the most common issues with llamas is heat stress. To prevent this you should offer them lots of shade and cold water so they can cool down during warm days, especially when the air is stagnant. Pregnant, high-strung, older, or llamas with a heavy coat are most susceptible.

The signs of heat stress are tiredness, panting, restlessness, and lying down for long periods of time. If you notice these signs in your llama, you can always spray them with cool water to bring their temperature down. However, if this doesn’t work you might need to call your vet.

If their rectal temperature rises above 104°F, you need to take swift action.

The other thing to remember with llama medical care is toe trimming. You should trim their toenails a few times a year depending on how active they are and the surface they live on. If the surface is hard it will wear the toenails down which will delay the need to trim them.

You can also check in on their teeth while you’re trimming their toenails as they also often need to be trimmed. Thankfully, a veterinarian can do that for you so you don’t need to!

5. Grooming

You don’t have to keep your llama in a show-quality coat at all times, but you do need to give it a little maintenance. Pull out any debris that gets caught up and comb out any mats. You might also need to bathe them every so often if they tend to get dirty. Baths are essential before trimming them, as well.

6. Companionship

The Basics of Raising Llamas on the Homestead

A single llama is an unhappy one. These are pack animals and they need companions. That doesn’t mean you need to have 20 llamas. Just two can be happy together. If you don’t want a second llama, alpacas, sheep, horses, and even dogs can make good friends.

7. Bonding With Your Llamas

The Basics of Raising Llamas on the Homestead

After making sure they have enough food, water, and shelter you might want to bond with your llama. It’s important to develop trust so that you can work with and touch them.

The best way to begin bonding with your llama is by being slow, gentle, and patient. They are emotional animals so they will take a while before they can warm up to you. They are just like us in that way, they need time to be able to trust you fully.

As llamas are naturally herd animals they can become protective if you come near them. This is useful if you want them to protect other livestock but it can make it hard for you to connect with them. You can try being around them regularly, talking quietly, and allowing them to get used to your presence.

Back off when they seem overwhelmed and offer lots of treats when they seem receptive.

Once you’ve done this consistently they’ll warm up to you in no time!

What to Avoid

Now, that we’ve covered the fundamentals of raising llamas you should be aware of the things to avoid so you don’t end up with numerous veterinarians’ visits and health bills.

If you’re new to raising llamas this is especially important as you might never have had experience looking after them and want some tips to make sure you’re doing it right.

Algae

You can normally find blue algae in slow-moving water where the temperatures are high. This can be very toxic for llamas so it’s important to house them far away from any swamps or pools of water if you live in a warm location or somewhere algae is a problem. You can also treat the water to remove algae.

Signs of poisoning include collapse, inflammation on the muzzle or ears, jaundice, and constipation.

Blister Beetle Poisoning

The Basics of Raising Llamas on the Homestead

Blister beetles contain a substance called cantharidin which is used to protect themselves against predators. This can be lethal to llamas if they ingest it. That means not only can it be dangerous if they were to accidentally ingest a beetle, but even feed that has been infested with beetles that were crushed into the food can poison them.

It’s vital that you examine the hay before giving it to your animals. If you see beetles, discard the entire bale.

Symptoms of poisoning include depression, diarrhea, increased pulse, and death. Call your vet right away if you suspect blister beetle poisoning. Quick action can save your animal’s life.

Copper

Llamas as well as sheep and alpacas can suffer from copper toxicity. Copper toxicity doesn’t come from hanging out near things like copper wires or pipes, but from ingesting food with too much copper in it. Minerals meant for livestock, chicken feed, and other sources can contribute to copper poisoning.

Watch for copper-colored, sweet-smelling urine and call your vet right away.

Too Much Grain

This might not be the most obvious thing to avoid when raising llamas but if they eat large amounts of grain it can lead to digestion problems. Essentially, too much grain in the gut starts to ferment rather than being digested. This causes lethargy, dehydration, bloating, staggering, and death.

It’s important to add any grain to your llama’s diet slowly and clean up any spilled grain. If you suspect acidosis, reach out to your vet asap.

Parasites

Llamas can become invested with parasites which will vary depending on the pasture they are kept on. For example, the meningeal worm is one of the most common parasites to infect llamas. Nematodes, lungworms, tapeworms, and flukes are also common.

You should also keep an eye out for ticks, lice, and mites which can be hard to detect in their long, soft fur. To avoid this, you should definitely schedule a deworming at least twice a year with your veterinarian.

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