Caring for Llamas
Llamas are some of the easiest animals to keep because they are hardy, stoic and generally very healthy animals. All livestock should be checked at least once a day; spending a little time observing your animals and knowing their normal behaviour will help you to recognise if something is amiss. The general stocking rate is four llamas per acre but this does not equate with keeping two llamas on half an acre. Pasture needs to be divided so that one side can be rested whilst the other is grazed. This helps to provide grazing for longer whilst helping to keep the worm burden in check.
For most llamas, grazing and ad lib hay is enough to keep them healthy, with a mineral lick on hand to provide those vitamins and minerals that may be missing from their forage. Depending on the quality of your pasture and hay, supplementary feeding is not usually required; exceptions are possibly pregnant and lactating females, weanlings and elderly llamas. By regular checking of body condition you can gauge if your llama needs extra food or, in the case of obese animals, if you need to restrict intake. Since llamas have evolved to live in harsh conditions with poor vegetation, living in the U.K. tends to make our llamas fat. Obese animals are more likely to suffer from heart and respiratory problems and in later life, arthritis. In females, it reduces fertility and lactation and is more likely to cause birthing problems.
Some books recommend worming twice a year. Many vets now advocate worming only if results of faecal testing require it. Llamas do have a good resistance to internal parasites because of their clean dunging habits (communal dunging areas); unless the grazing area is restricted most llamas will not graze around a dung area.
It is recommended that llamas be vaccinated against clostridial diseases. This consists of two doses, usually a few weeks apart initially but as recommended by your vet, and then a yearly booster. This is sufficient to keep them safe from these deadly diseases. Pregnant females need a pre-birth booster two to six weeks before calving so that they pass on their antibodies to their new-born crias. Vaccination against Bluetongue may now be recommended to protect your herd, even if there are only two of them! Two injections three to four weeks apart are required initially then an annual booster, which should be given in March or April to maximise protection during the midge season since it is midges that spread the disease. Bovine TB is another threat to camelids. There is no vaccination at present and no compulsory testing. However, you should bear in mind that there are some hot spots where this disease is endemic and you should, therefore, think carefully before taking animals out of these areas to areas free of it. The DEFRA website can give you information on these areas.
The majority of llamas never need to have their toenails or teeth trimmed. Llamas that come onto hard-standing areas or are taken for walks on hard surfaces will wear their toe nails down naturally. Llamas with a good jaw alignment will also keep their teeth in check and it is rare for these animals to need dental attention.
Last but not least is stress. Llamas are born with a gentle, inquisitive nature. They are not aggressive or confrontational. They will play and chase each around and may enjoy being taken out for walks. Breeding males that run with females all the time can sometimes get territorial and possessive so are best kept separately. Introducing new llamas to an established group can sometimes cause ructions but providing you allow them to get to know each other across a fence for a while they usually accept the newcomers. Bullying can occur when greedy llamas or older llamas mix with younger llamas or newcomers. Understanding normal llama behaviour will alert you to any problems in the herd so check your llamas at least once a day and enjoy them!