Llamas evolved in the harsh environment of the Andean Highlands so are generally easy to care for under Australian and New Zealand conditions. They need to be checked regularly and any small difference in behaviour noted. Observation is the key to early detection of problems.
The advice given below is general and is not intended as a substitute for veterinary advice. We advise you to always check with your vet if you have any concerns about the health of your llamas.
Llamas are herd animals. They seek safety in numbers and thrive in the company of their own kind. For this reason, we don’t recommend that you keep just one llama. A minimum of two llamas is required for your llamas’ happiness and well-being.
Bi-annual clostridial injections are recommended. These may vary depending on your geographical area. Your vet or local agricultural department may advise on specific requirements.
Internal Parasites: The llamas’ communal dung pile habit decreases the risk of internal parasites, however worming may be necessary especially if you run or house llamas with other livestock. Your vet or local agricultural department will be able to advise on the specific parasites common in your area and which wormers are effective against them. You can also purchase a worm test kit or ask your vet to perform a worm-egg test to help identify whether worms are present.
Signs of worm infestation can include scouring (diarrhea), weight-loss, ill-thrift and even sometimes death.
Lice: In some parts of Australia, particularly the East Coast, ticks and lice can occur. Your local agricultural department or vet can advise if you need to watch out for ticks and/or lice, and what preparations to use to deter or control them.
Fly Strike: Llamas are not normally susceptible to fly-strike, however it is possible for an open wound to become infected during the fly-season. There are several antiseptic and insecticidal preparations on the market that will help prevent and treat this.
The llama has soft padded feet with two toes. The toe-nails may need occasional trimming depending on the ground available to them. The amount of trimming necessary varies between llamas. Nail clippers used for sheep and goats may be used. You will find it much easier to trim toe-nails when the nails are soft after rain or when the llama has been standing on damp ground.
Although some llamas do not need to be shorn, it is beneficial to the health of long woolled llamas to be shorn every one to two years. They may be shorn completely or barrel cut (shorn around the belly area only). This cut is great for pack llamas, as the fleece will not interfere with the pack. Hand shears or electric clippers may be used with the llama standing if trained or on its side with the legs tied in front and behind. Although this sounds barbaric it is not and is the way alpacas are shorn.
Short woolled llamas do not need to be shorn but like the long woolled animals will benefit from an occasional brushing to keep the coat clean and remove shedding fibre.
In the male llama fighting teeth begin to erupt between the ages of two and three years. These are extremely sharp and used in combat. Although these teeth may be left, some owners prefer to remove them, especially if males are kept together. Usually this is a job for the vet or experienced breeders. The teeth are not usually removed but instead are sawn off with obstetrical wire.
Llamas are easy to transport and require little specialised equipment. They train easily and learn quickly to load into a horse float, van, or covered, wind-proof stock crate. Good ventilation is important in both Summer and Winter. Llamas normally sit down (kush) once the vehicle is in motion. If given the opportunity to visit the dung pile before the trip and the trip is not longer than three or four hours they usually will wait until they reach their destination before relieving themselves again. It’s a good idea to provide them with some hay whilst travelling.
Llamas will happily browse and graze, and will eat grass and other plants commonly found in paddocks, such as wattles.
Although they can survive poor conditions, they thrive in better quality pasture. In some areas, or during some seasons, pasture may not be adequate and you may need to supplement it with good quality hay or processed feeds such as pellets.
Llamas that may require supplementary feeding include growing llamas, pregnant or lactating females, and old or sick llamas.
Llamas may also require extra feed during particularly inclement weather.
Roughage is important to assist digestion and very lush pastures should be avoided or supplemented with hay. Exercise care if using manufactured feeds such as pellets or meal. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions and introduce to your llama’s diet gradually. Always feed in conjunction with roughage such as pasture, hay or chaff.
Australian soils are often deficient in certain minerals and trace elements. For this reason, owners sometimes have their soils tested to determine which supplements may be necessary.
Llamas evolved in the high-altitude Andes and are naturally protected from solar radiation by their thick coats and skin pigmentation. During winter at lower altitudes, they may not receive enough sunlight for their bodies to manufacture sufficient Vitamin D.
To help prevent this, many owners give Vitamin ADE supplements, either by injection or as an ingredient in manufactured supplementary feed pellets.
Signs of Vitamin D deficiency can include lameness, looking stiff and sore when walking, and leg deformities.
Llamas are hardy and usually healthy and trouble free.
Keep a first aid kit on hand for minor injuries. Always call the vet if you are even slightly worried about your llama’s health. Llamas are very stoic and can sometimes hide their symptoms until they are in real trouble.
Some indications of illness in llamas include:
- Staying away from the rest of the herd and slow to come for the usual feeding.
- Reluctance to eat, or eating less than usual.
- Humming, or being more vocal than usual.
- Sitting more than usual, or laying down and unable or reluctant to rise.
- Weight loss
- Obvious physical signs of illness or injury including coughing, snuffling, runny nose or eyes, diarrhea, limping, bleeding, shaking, groaning, unable to place weight on a leg etc.
- Not cudding.
- Depression or lethargy.
- Head-hanging, head-pressing or looking hunched.
Normal adult temperatures vary from 38.1 – 39.9 degrees C.
Normal cria temperatures vary from 38.7 – 40.1 degrees C
A rectal thermometer is an essential for every llama first aid kit
Heat stress is always a risk during Australia’s long hot summers. Heat and high humidity combined can cause problems. Signs of heat stress include reluctance to move around, breathing through the mouth, drooling or frothing at the mouth, staggering gait or lack of coordination.
You can help to prevent heat stress by shearing llamas prior to hot weather, providing shade and a cool breeze (maybe a fan), ready access to fresh, cool water, and a safe area to wade in such as a dam or creek.
If you see a llama looking uncomfortably hot, it’s important to get its temperature down by spraying cool water on the legs and bare areas such as armpits, but not onto its fleece, which will only increase the humidity problem. Veterinary intervention is necessary in serious cases.
Snake-bite in llamas is fairly uncommon. Symptoms can vary a lot and depend on the particular snake’s venom. If a llama that you know to be in good health suddenly displays symptoms such as difficulty breathing, convulsions, uncoordinated movements, or inability to stand or move, then snake-bite may be suspected. In any case, it’s always a good idea to call your vet urgently if you spot any of these symptoms.
Llama gestation usually lasts for around 350 days, but can be a bit longer or a bit shorter.
A pregnant llama nearing the end of her gestation period, who is going to the poo-pile frequently, humming more than usual, rolling, or just behaving unusually is quite likely to be in the early stages of giving birth.
Birthing usually takes place in the morning and is usually trouble-free. Cria are usually able to stand, suckle and follow their mothers within a couple of hours after birth.
The least amount of human intervention in the birthing and mother-cria bonding process the better. However, depending on the weather and the time of day, the cria may need to be dried off or be wrapped in a cria-coat for warmth.
It’s also a good idea to douse the stump of the cria’s umbilical cord with iodine to prevent infections entering via that route.
Visually checking or weighing your cria regularly will alert you to any failure to thrive.
Sometimes Mother Nature needs a little help and it becomes necessary to bottle-feed a cria. You can buy specially prepared formulas suitable for llamas, or obtain some milk from a lactating llama.
Bottle-feeding is a last resort to save an otherwise unviable cria and is not recommended for healthy cria who are able to suckle from their mothers.
It’s important to give the cria as much interaction (socialisation) with the herd as their health and strength will allow, even during the bottle-feeding period, and to cease bottle-feeding as soon as possible. Your vet will be able to advise you on this.
Bottle-fed cria that are denied sufficient contact with other llamas can develop inappropriate behaviours toward their human carers and other humans later in life. Socialising the cria with the herd will ensure they learn all the llama behaviours necessary to get by in the herd on a day-to-day basis, while understanding that they are a llama and not a tall, fluffy person!
Llamas typically live into their late teens and can live into their twenties. Elderly llamas will appreciate a little extra TLC and will reward you with a special bond.
Here are some things that will help keep your geriatric friend comfortable:
- Old, sick animals may be relieved to be kept in their own small paddock away from the rigours of the herd. They will need to have company or be in sight of other llamas.
- If a separate paddock isn’t practical, you can feed them away from the other llamas to decrease the competition for food.
- Encourage geriatric llamas into the shed with a thick bed of straw in wet or cold weather.
- Heat stress can also affect elderly llamas harder and more quickly. Sometimes it’s all just too much effort to move themselves into the shade or take a drink, and they may need some encouragement from you.
- Old llamas, like old people, take longer to get their creaky joints going and sometimes find it hard to keep up when herding. Be patient.
- Take care when performing husbandry tasks like toe-nail trimming. Old joints don’t bend as easily and forcing them can be painful. Sometimes legs can be weak and balance not good.
- Don’t overdose with worming and other medications. Give just enough to do the job, but no more.
- Digestive problems and lack of teeth can cause loss of weight and vitamin and mineral deficiencies. Pelleted rations softened in warm water are highly nutritious and kind to old teeth. Chaff is easier to chew and digest than some stalky hays or rough grasses.
Monitor your old llamas closely to make sure they are coping.
Obvious cues that your llama is no longer happy and coping with life include ceasing to have any interest in food, shunning the companionship of other animals and humans, not being able to stand, or falling over and being unable to get up, or being in constant pain that can’t be adequately controlled. Your vet will be able to administer a euthanizing drug in a safe, painless and humane way.
Acknowledge that members of your llama herd will grieve for their companion and give them some extra attention. Allow yourself to grieve in your own way. Some people will say ‘it was only a llama’ or ‘you can just get another one’. Ignore them.