Living the Llama Lifestyle

Purchasing a new llama or llamas for fiber, companionship, guarding, breeding, or showing is an exciting and rewarding venture!  However, there are a few necessary preparations before bringing your new purchase home.  Hopefully, the breeder you are purchasing from has given you  much information, inspected your area, and advised you on most of these important requirements.  Discuss your needs and wants fully with your breeder and if possible talk to many other breeders before purchasing an animal.


Most llamas do not mature fully in size and personality until they are 4-5 years old.   Purchasing a young animal (6 –14 months)  will require a little special attention on your part.  Remember, do NOT purchase a bottle fed, or very young cria (under 6 months) without adult companionship.  This is a recipe for disaster! 

Llamas are very herd dependent, and don’t learn how to be llamas without the discipline from other llamas.  These kinds of circumstances lead to major behavioral problems with the onset of puberty. Even  the 6-14 months age  youngsters benefit from the companionship of older more mature animals to avoid behavioral problems in the future. 


You need to  have some sort of fenced pasture area before bringing your new llama(s) home.  Fencing can be woven wire, cattle wire panels, board fencing, chain link or electric. Barbed wire is not good for safety reasons. 

Fencing should be dog proof if possible—this is more important if you have young llamas.  A small 12-20 foot square catch pen will make it easier to catch llamas for feeding, vet work or handling.  Most llamas will not submit to being “caught” in a larger area.


A shelter should, at minimum, be a three-sided run-in for shade and protection from extreme heat, cold, wind and rain. If you have severe chill factors in winter, a completely enclosed shed is necessary.  Good ventilation is important in both summer and winter.  Most llamas prefer to sleep out in the open rather than inside a barn unless the weather makes it more desirable. 

Heat stress in the summer months is a concern and electricity for fans, or access to a hose or wading pool are essential, especially for medium to heavy wooled animals.  Shearing  is also extremely important in the summer months.  (See the section on shearing under health concerns.) Bedding in the shelter is not necessary, however, straw may be welcomed in a cold winter.


Llamas are very adaptable, being both grazers (grasses) and browsers (shrubs and trees). Because of a relatively low protein requirement due to their efficient digestive systems, they can be kept on a variety of pastures or hay. Llamas eat about 2%  to 4% of their body weight in dry matter every day. Without pasture, a 70 pound bale of hay will last an adult llama about a week.

If you're going to graze your llamas, plan on about three to five animals per acre on a moderate-producing pasture and feeding hay throughout the winter months.  With good pasture or hay, grain should be kept to a minimum.  Check with your breeder about the grain requirements of your animal.  A small handful in the summer months up to a cup in the winter is normal. 


Of course, aged, pregnant, or lactating llamas will have greater needs.  Don’t overfeed your llama. Just like with humans, it is much easier to put on weight than take it off.  An overweight llama can have significant health problems. 


Feeding bowls and watering troughs should be kept clean and fresh water should always be available.  Some llamas may not know to drink out of streams or ponds or may not like the moving water. Provide your llama with a bucket of fresh water until you are sure he has mastered this. 

Llama mineral should be available free choice. Many areas carry a specially formulated llama mineral but a sheep mineral is better than none.  Do not use a “red” horse mineral block because of the excess copper.



Many new owners acquire their first llama as a guardian animal for sheep or goats.  Be aware that not all geldings and/or females make good guards.  Many are just too dependent on their own herd companionship.   Intact males can be dangerous as sheep or goat guards as they may try to breed the others and suffocate them.

Since guarding is an adult instinct and many farms do not geld males until they are 12-18 months old, buyer beware.  Most geldings and/or females may not take on the aspects necessary for guarding until they are 2 to 3 years old when they are comfortable within the herd hierarchy.


Many have found great success by using a pair of llamas as guards with sheep or goats.  If it is in their nature at all, they will still have that guarding tendency plus be a happier llama because there is someone there who speaks their language. 


Remember, it takes time for a new llama to adjust to their new herd environment.  Don’t expect too much too soon.  A llama that has never seen sheep or goats, may actually be a little afraid of them at first.   Give them time to adjust. As for what you will need—most of this article still applies.

You will still need a catch pen, you will need shelter and proper fencing.  And you will need a way to feed your llama where the sheep will not steal the food.  The same goes for feeding the sheep—although, most llamas will not enter a pushing/butting herd of sheep to get to their food. 

 Make sure your hay situation is such that the llama gets some as well.  Try to limit handling  your llama excessively.  He is a working animal, not a pet.   However, catching him only for monthly shots will not create a trusting bond with you as owner either. Try to find a happy medium.



If you are purchasing a llama from out-of-state, your state probably requires a veterinarian-issued health certificate.  Tests for brucellosis, tuberculosis, and other diseases may also be required. These may take several weeks to arrange.  Some states may require permanent identification  (microchip) .

Before acquiring your new llama, take time to locate a veterinarian in your area that understands the needs of this species, or at least is willing to learn with you and take advice from more experienced vets and/or breeders. You may want to keep your new llama(s) separate from other livestock for a week or so to insure that they are disease free.


Also watch  closely to make sure they are eating and ruminating, as well as eliminating pelleted feces.  May new animals may need to be de-wormed within several weeks of arrival to your new pastures.


Many plants which are poisonous to sheep and goats are also poisonous for llamas.  Check with your extension agent or a knowledgeable person to identify these possible hazards.  Most common is the  wild cherry trees which are deadly when the wilted leaves from broken branches are eaten.

Llamas are very hardy animals and have very few problems with disease. But to ensure good health you should establish a regular schedule for cleaning their dung piles, and a preventative medicine program which should  include yearly vaccinations of 8Way or CD&T, Rabies, and a diligent deworming program for internal and external parasites.


It is necessary in the East to deworm by subcutaneous injection with Dectomax every 5-6 weeks or  Invermectin every 30 days to avoid the meningeal worm parasite.  This parasite is carried by deer but is actually ingested  by the llama eating small ground snails (the secondary host) on leaves and grasses.  Meningeal worm is deadly in the llama, causing paralysis and death.  Also deworming with a paste (Safeguard) for tapeworms periodically ensures good health.


If your llamas are pastured on hard or rocky ground, you may only have to trim their toenails once or twice a year. It's not a hard task to do with sheep toenail nippers, but ask your breeder for a lesson before attempting it on your own.  Llamas are generally very protective of their feet and many do not like to have their legs touched. 

It is advisable to shear all llamas for the summer months, even the ones with light wool.  It is not just the heat that can cause heat stress, but the humidity as well.   If you are uncomfortable outside in the sun, your llama can be too, even though you may see him out there basking upside down in the direct sunlight. 


Ask your breeder how they shear their animals.  Many use sheep shears or Fiskar scissors rather than go to the expense of purchasing machine shears.  Unlike sheep, most llamas can be simply tied into a corner of the catch pen and will stand to be sheared.  If your breeder uses a chute for shearing and toenail clipping, have them instruct you on how to accomplish these tasks until you can construct something similar.



Llamas, because of their curiosity,  have a delightful habit of coming close to sniff strangers. But despite our natural temptation to hug and cuddle them, they prefer not to be petted except on their necks and  backs.  They usually are safe around children and rarely bite or kick unless provoked.

 They are highly social animals and need the companionship of another llama or other grazing livestock.  Llamas are very concerned with personal space issues. They communicate with a series of tail, body and ear postures, and vocalizations, mostly to warn off another animal getting too close.


  Humming is a common manner of communication between llamas, and indicates a variety of moods from contentedness to aggression.  Males will also scream as part of their competitive behavior, as well as chasing and wrestling with each other. Another interesting llama expression is the shrill, alarm call given at the sight of a strange animal (especially dogs) or a frightening situation.



Spitting is usually related to food disputes, or disciplinary action between llamas within the herd hierarchy.  It is seldom directed at people unless a llama has been mishandled or has learned to treat people as llamas through improper handling.  Many bottle-fed llamas can be dangerous as adults, because they lack  their normal fear of people and regard them as competitors. 

Some llamas are very greedy and will often get very “pushy” at feeding time.  Be especially diligent to keep your own personal space. Llamas learn very quickly to get to the food by pushing you around.  This also applies to hand feeding.  It is easy to become caught between two llamas spitting over food issues.  After spitting a llama may hang his mouth open and drool for some time—they hate the taste too!


Dung-piling behavior is an important means of marking territory  and a convenience when you clean their pens.   Keeping your dung areas cleaned up encourages the llamas to keep them small.  It also helps with parasite control and can make you very popular with local gardeners!  Llamas also love to roll in the dirt, taking a dust bath to help maintain a healthy, fluffy coat of wool.  No need to create a dirt area—they usually find a thin spot and by consistently going there to roll, create their own!


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Last Updated 10 October  2008