This article appeared in the inaugural issue of our farm newsletter in April, 1998. We discontinued the farm newsletter when we started publishing articles in other newsletters. The article has been edited to reflect our experiences since 1998.
Before acquiring our first llamas in April of 1997 we spent three years attending shows, subscribing to llama periodicals, talking to farm owners and reading books on the care and management of llamas.
Our research efforts paled in comparison to what we have learned since we started on the process of establishing our foundation herd. It has been a most rewarding experience, as has been living with llamas. We strongly recommend farm visits and show attendance. We hope that you will put our farm on the list of farms you will visit.
The first consideration is whether or not it is possible for you to house llamas on your property. If you are unsure of whether or not your zoning permits llamas, you should check with your town or city hall. If your zoning does not permit the housing of llamas (or if your property is not suitable for llamas) all is not lost. Some llama farms will let you purchase a llama and house it on the farm, where you can come and visit it on a regular basis.
Assuming that there are no zoning restrictions, your next consideration is whether your property is suitable for llamas. Typically three or four llamas can be placed on one acre of land, depending upon the quality and quantity of grass available. If grass is a problem, you can increase the amount of hay you feed them. This will increase the amount of storage space you require.
Then you should locate a veterinary clinic which will provide veterinary services to your llamas. This may be one of your more difficult tasks. If there are any llama or alpaca associations in your area, you may wish to attend one of their meetings before you acquire your llamas. There you should obtain some useful advice as well as get some suggestions for qualified veterinarians. In addition, you may meet some fellow enthusiasts whom you may be able to call upon if you should run into some problems.
Next, you need to determine how many llamas you want to have. They are herd animals and need the company of other llamas or livestock. If you do not already have other livestock you should plan on acquiring more than one llama. Greenbriar Llama Karma Farm will not sell a single llama into a situation where there is no other suitable companion animal. A frequently asked question is whether llamas get along well with horses. The question should really be whether horses get along well with llamas. Some horses do co-exist peacefully with llamas, others do not. If you have horses then when you make your llama farm visits you should ask the farm personnel if they will take back the llamas if the horses do not accept them. If you already have other livestock you should ask the farm personnel for recommendations on integrating your new llamas with them.
You will need to provide shelter for your llamas. If you do not have a barn, you should provide a three-sided shed protecting your llamas against the prevailing winds. We live in Maine and have constructed our shelters so that they face south and have the warmth of the sun in the summer. The opening is designed to block the sun in the summer when the sun is higher. Llamas do not like to feel that they are closed in. If you are using a barn as a shelter, they should have free access to your pastures during the day. We close our llamas in the barn only during the most inclement weather. From early spring to late fall, they tend to stay out at night. During black fly season, they will spend much of the day inside our barn and go out at dusk for the night. Another reason for visiting farms is that you will be able to check out a variety of solutions to shelter, fencing, storage and llama management.
Heat stress may well be the most significant health management problem you will face. Your llamas should have access to shade. One of our llamas likes to go wading in a kiddy pool to cool off. Some llama farms will hose down their llamas if heat becomes a problem. We have a fan in our barn that we use on hot stifling days. We have been known to sit inside the barn with our llamas on such occasions (we like to keep cool too!) We recommend shearing your llamas in the spring to enable them to better manage the heat. More dangerous than high temperatures is a sudden large change in temperature.
You will need fencing but your fencing needs depend upon a number of factors, including what you intend to do with your llamas. We will discuss fencing in our third quarter newsletter.
Of equal importance to the physical requirements are the goals you have in acquiring llamas. Are you acquiring companion animals? Do you intend to go packing with your llamas? Will you be breeding your llamas? Do you intend to use your llama as a guard animal? Of equal importance is the choice of the llama farm from which you will acquire your llama(s). We will discuss these issues in our second quarter newsletter.