Llamas are members of the camel (camelid) family. They were domesticated from guanacos in the Andean highlands of Peru 4,000-5,000 years ago. Primarily a beast of burden, they also provided native herdsmen with wool for clothing, hide for shelter, and manure pellets for fuel. Today there are approximately 7 million llamas and alpacas in South America, and 40,000 in the United States.
Life Span: About 15-25 years
Height: 40-45″ at the shoulder, 5.5 to 6′ at the head
Weight: 280-500 Pounds
Average Gestation: 350 days
Birth: A single baby (cria) is normally delivered without assistance from a standing mother during morning hours. In the High Plains of the Andes every night of the year, the temperature drops below freezing. Births in the morning hours allow the newborn to dry before nightfall.
Babies: Birth weight is 25-35 pounds. Babies are normally nursing within
90 minutes. They are weaned at about 6 months.
Reproduction: Females are first bred at 14-24 months of age. Llamas do not have a heat cycle,
but are induced ovulators. Thus they can be bred at any time of the year.
Color: Wool ranges from white to black, with shades of grey, beige, brown, red,
and roan in between. It may be solid, spotted, or marked in a variety of patterns.
Health: Because llamas and their ancestors are suited to the harsh environment of their
Andean homeland, North American owners will find them remarkably hardy, healthy,
easy to care for, and relatively disease free.
General Pack Llama Information
Llama impacts and minimal trace information.
Advantages of llamas as pack animals
The following is a simple listing of some of the many characteristics that make llamas a good choice for enriching your backcountry experience.
- Safe to handle
- Easy to train
- Convenient to transport
- Low maintenance
- Nice pace for hikers
- Llamas having pads, more like a dogs, and not hooves, are easy on fragile areas
- Easy on fences and backcountry meadows
- Grazing style tends to limit over-grazing backcountry meadows
Basic llama care
The references listed below in the pack llama literature and past issues of our newsletter can offer you much more detailed information and ideas for llama care. Llamas are quite easy to care for when compared to other large animals. No one should get llamas thinking that any large animal is “care-free.” All large animals deserve take good care and treatment.
Very simply, llama care basics are:
- Good grass hay and/or pasture (Many owners provide grain in the winter.)
- Regular shots, including worming immunization (It varies according to your veterinarian and location.)
- Toenails trimmed (Remember, they don’t have “hooves.”)
- Basic shelter to provide protection from elements (They will occasionally choose to use it.)
- Kept with other large, compatible animals, preferably llamas.
Books listed in our resources and selected web sites will provide much more information on llama needs and care.
Subscribe to The Backcountry Llama newsletter, purchase pack llama literature, and search out ranches for pack llamas in your area. You will find all of these resources helpful and enjoyable. Also check the other llama web sites that we list below for additonal information.
Other good sources for general information are LlamaWeb and Llamapaedia.
How much do they carry and How far can they walk in a day?
This is dependent upon many things, such as condition, size, condition, terrain, and condition. Some animals have superior coordination and structure and seem to take in the terrain and heavier loads better than others. All llamas are not equal. Have you noticed that with people, too? Some are “pasture potatoes,” others have heavy wool, many lack of conditioning, some just have poor physical or emotional makeup for packing. Such animals may be fine for a few miles in easier terrain. A few well-conditioned llamas have packed decent-sized loads for consecutive many-mile days. You will find everything between the two extremes.
Most people put about 60-80 pounds on their llamas and walk 5-9 miles a day. Some llama packers like to cover greater distances. It varies with each person and each animal. Some commercial packers have loaded 100 pounds on their well-conditioned animals. These are animals that have proven their endurance and have demonstrated their ability and willingness to work.
Handlers needs to consider the physical and emotional makeup of the animal, conditioning, weather, and terrain in figuring how far and how much a llama can pack. A key to success is to start slowly with the process. In the conditioning exercise the human and llama learn what to expect from each other and develop a working relationship.
We recommend that a llama be over three years of age before serious pack weights are loaded. Before that keep the training weights much lighter.
What about those llama rumors?
Do llama spit at people?
Well, do dogs bite? Some do bite when they get angry, hurt or threatened. Some may just have nasty temperaments. Llamas are pretty much the same. They spit (or threaten to spit) in their llama social structure to attempt to gain advantage over other llamas. Some, out of fear, anger, mistreatment, anxiety, or warped personality, may spit on people, too. It is the misbehaving human – and llama – that makes the news.
Consider this: spit doesn’t leave marks like the pit bull’s bite will. In fact, it washes off quite readily. It does smell. My advice is just don’t get between two angry llamas.
Llamas cost an arm and a leg to buy.
They sure used to be very costly. The price of good llamas has become much lower in the past few years. Some llamas which have special training and super conformation may cost more, but they are worth more. Some llama owners may still be charging too much. Look around and talk to several sellers. You will soon learn what the going price is in your area for the type of animal you want. You will find that there are some very good llamas available for very reasonable prices. Remember that the old adage that the buyer usually gets what he pays for. Not an absolute rule, but a reminder that the cheapest buy may not be as satisfying as finding and getting a better animal. A cheap car can “get you there,” but a sports or luxary car gets one there in more comfort, ease, and long-term satisfaction.
They carry exotic diseases that are a danger to livestock and wildlife.
This is an unfounded rumor. Research had indicates that they are as safe, if not safer, than other stock – and even man himself. Some have attempted to use this for their own purposes. Colorado State University and Oregon State Universitiy have strong veterinary schools. Both have strongly denied this rumor. Llamas are safe to have around other wildlife and stock. They pose no unusual threat.
Every llama is a packer.
Yeah, and every Ford cars is a race car. Some Fords have done pretty good on drag strips, but most street cars get left in the dust by true sports cars. Just because a llama has four legs doesn’t mean he/she will carry loads in rugged wilderness conditions like a well-structured pack llama. No, Martha, not every llama is a packer.
In fact, if you hear a llama seller try to sell you on the idea that all llamas make good packers, some just have more wool, I would move on to someone who is a real packer. Some have tried that approach to get of woolly llamas that won’t make it in the woolly shows. It takes more than shearing a woolly llama to make him a good packer. He may do fine, but then again, you are taking chances. A pack llama is not just one who can’t make it as a show or stud llama.
Those who breed for wool are usually not those who breed for packer qualities. A good pack llama has reasonable height, straight legs, straight, but not too long, in the back, guard hair, and a willing attitude (which can only be measured with use.)
Luckily, most llamas can be adequate packers for short and non-taxing terrain. For the more strenuous tasks, take you time to fine an animal from people who know packing. You will be happy for taking the time to find that special pack animal.
Some general information about stock use in the backcountry has been provided by Kit Nieman.
Read what LlamaWeb has to say about pack llamas, then check out Llama FAQs. Finally, check out the government sheet which calls llamas, The environmental animal of the 90s.
What about using llamas for hunting companions?
What about llama impact? (dowload the Acrobat document)