LIVING WITH LLAMAS
Llamas are members of the camelid family. Their ancient forebearers once lived in North America, then migrated to South
America where they evolved into two distinct camelids, the Guanaco
and the Vicuna. Between four and six thousand years ago,
through selective breeding, the people of South America developed
the domestic herd animals, the llama and the alpaca. This ranks
them as some of the oldest domesticated animals in the world.
As a beast of burden, the llama is perfectly suited to the
harsh environment of the Andes and is still used there to
transport goods to market and as a primary provider of wool, meat,
sinew and hide.
In the United Sates, llamas serve different purposes.
Many people acquire llamas just to enjoy them as they graze on
their farm or ranch. Others use them as a source of wool.
Fine fibered llamas’ wool makes a strong, lightweight, very warm
yarn favored felt fabric or fiber artists. Coarser llama fiber is
used for everything from making rope to creating wall hangings
Many other people use their llamas as pack animals since
they are very agile on trails, can carry up to 90 pounds of weight
in a pack, and cause very little impact on the trail because of
their padded feet. The work of pack llamas ranges from carrying a
day hike picnic to carrying forest fire or trail maintenance
equipment for the forest service.
In addition, llamas can be easily trained to pull a cart.
Their gentle nature and calming effect also make them welcome
visitors at nursing homes, hospitals and schools. Llamas are
exhibited at fairs by 4-H groups, compete in conformation and
performance classes at nationally sanctioned shows, and earn
as packers at pack trials.
Today, there are an estimated 123,000 llamas in the United
States, and prices are much more reasonable than they were a few
Llamas generally have a life span of 18-25 years and weigh
between 250 and 450 pounds. They have a very efficient
3-chambered stomach that allows them to exist on many types of
forage and also allows them to exist in the higher altitudes where
forage is often sparse. Females almost always give birth to
one offspring after a gestation period of about 350 days.
Llama offspring, called “cria” are almost always born during
daylight hours, which in the wild was essential to ensure that the
cria was up and running before the predators would arrive in the
Llamas are social herd animals and although a single llama
can be kept with other animals, they really prefer and should have
the companionship of their own kind.
RUMORS, RUMORS, RUMORS
Yes, llamas do at times spit. This is one of their primary
means of communication and is normally reserved for herd
interactions, such as when there is a dispute about food or
territory. Normally, humans are only the target when the llama is
frightened or has been mistreated. However, during a herd
dispute, a llama may forget to check to see if a human is in the
line of fire!
Llamas do not bite, and in fact, llamas have only lower
teeth in the front of their mouth. Their engaging split top
lip seems to be as handy as our thumb. And their habit of
approaching anything new to give it a test of smell makes for many
entertaining moments. Offering your nose rather than your
hand in greeting a llama has a better chance of achieving a mutual
Some llamas you see in public are experienced public
relations llamas and are used to being among people. Others
are in training and will be less sure around people. By
approaching thoughtfully, you can help with the inexperienced
llama’s training. The experienced llama will be
unflappable and happy to greet you.
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