This article initially appeared in the April, 1998 issue of the Maine Llama Association Newsletter. The article has been edited to reflect our experiences since 1998.
In the last issue, Katie Parker and Dick LeDuc of Pondview Llamas provided us with some interesting and helpful information on barn management. They asked that anyone with better ideas share them. We do not have any better ideas but we can add the perspective of new llama owners … our mistakes and successes. We have expanded the topic to also cover some of those items a new or prospective new llama owner should consider when starting up.
We recommend that prospective new llama owners visit a number of llama farms to observe a variety of approaches to barn management. We have concluded that llama owners are very innovative and are able to adapt their facilities to the needs of their llamas.
Our first, and biggest, mistake was to use sawdust on the floor. It would work itself deep into the coat of the heavier wooled llamas, particularly on the back of the neck. On the positive side, it is absorbent and has some great insulating properties.
The llamas loved the sawdust. They liked to roll in it. If given a chance to vote on flooring our llamas would have definitely voted for the sawdust.
When we replaced the sawdust with sand, we found:
The hayracks in our barns when we moved in were the traditional barred hayracks. We observed the following deficiencies:
We designed our own hay feeders. Rather than being open at the sides and bottom, they are open only at the top with a cut down area at one end to enable the crias to gain access to the hay. They butt up against the walls. We used plywood and 2”x4” studs to construct the feeders. The tops of the feeders are 33” off the ground and the bottoms are 12” off the ground. The cutouts for the crias are 14” wide and 10” deep. The distance from front to back is 20” at the top and 12” at the bottom. The tops of the feeders and the cria cutouts are all framed with 2”x4”’s. The length is constrained only by the available space.
The llamas enjoy digging down into the hay. While we still have some hay spillage, it is materially reduced from the spillage we had been experiencing.
Katie and Dick mentioned the desirability of having a source of water available in the barn. We whole-heartedly concur. Our barn connects with one set of pastures and an open shed-like structure connects with another set. In the most recent cold snap the non-freezing faucet in the shed froze. A five-gallon bucket of water can become quite heavy if you have to carry it any distance.
To prevent the llamas’ water from freezing we use heated buckets. This works well for our herd size (currently nine llamas) but is impractical for a larger herd. We have three buckets, which is sufficient for our herd. I check the water levels twice a day.
March 2010: With our current herd and multiple shelters we are currently using 6 heated buckets which need to be refilled 2 - 4 times per day depending upon the weather. Our house was built in 1748. We do not know when the barn was built but it is a very old post and beam structure. If we were building a new barn today we would install automatic waterers.
It is highly desirable to have a telephone in your barn. If you need to talk to your vet or you are waiting for a call from a prospective buyer, it can be essential. Katie and Dick installed an underground telephone line to their barn. Our barn and shed do not have telephone connections. We have several portable phones. The base station for one of these phones is located in the second floor of our home. Its signal easily carries to both the barn and the shed.
A chute is on our recommended list of llama accessories. It is most helpful when you are trimming toenails, doing heavy grooming on a skittish llama or performing medical care on the llama.
Most llama owners we have visited have constructed their own chutes and many of these have used pipes as their preferred construction material. Dick LeDuc has built wooden chutes, which are aesthetically pleasing as well as being utilitarian.
We are not similarly talented and ended up acquiring the Mallon chute. We bolted the chute to the floor of our main barn. Unless your chute cannot be tipped, we strongly urge that you bolt it to the floor for both your safety and the safety of your llama
The Mallon chute comes with back and belly straps and a video on how to use them.
March 2010: In 2003 we converted an addition to our barn to a vet room, poured a cement floor and installed a chute we acquired from Carol Reigh, Buck Hollow Llamas. As noted below our digital scales fit perfectly within the Mallon chute and we have trained our llamas to walk into the Mallon chute for weighing.
The other accessory, which we feel is necessary, is a scale. Scales are expensive and if you are handy with your hands you may wish to construct a platform scale.
We purchased a digital platform scale because we had neither the time nor talent to build our own. The platform fit very neatly within the Mallon chute. This worked out quite nicely since it reduced the space taken up by these accessories and it facilitated weighing our llamas.
The digital scale readout can be dampened making it easy to read, even if the llama being weighed is rambunctious. We routinely weigh our llamas each month and, weigh one or more of them more frequently if there is something of concern. For example, when they went off pasture in the beginning of winter I weighed them every several weeks to determine if I was too generous with their feed.
We built a cria creep in one corner of our main barn. Our crias, after some initial work, adopted the creep with enthusiasm. We have seen a variety of creeps in our farm visits. The entrance to our creep is 22” high by 18” wide. There is a 7” high wooden flap at the top of the entrance. This flap is hinged and is held in a down position by a bungee cord. Thus the exiting space can be as high as 29”, which can be helpful if a cria gets spooked or an adult somehow gains entrance.
We have one llama, Marie, who is very adept and getting into a creep. We have concluded that she kushes and wiggles to get her to where the food is. To frustrate this I place a 2”x4” at the bottom of the entrance with the 4” side extending upwards (the 22” measurement of the entrance is from the top of this 2”x4”). This worked quite well and the crias learned to step over it.
We have constructed a creep entrance in our shed but only one cria has used it, even though the entrance is somewhat larger than the creep in the barn is. We have long since concluded that merely constructing a creep is not enough, you have to work with the crias to get them to accept it.
March 2010: Llamas are very adept at defeating your attempts to keep them out of the cria creep. I have found that using green panels to construct a pathway with narrow corners to be my most successful means of keeping the mature llamas out of the cria creep and it can be adjusted as the cria grows.
What I lack in woodworking talent, I make up for in using the computer. We have a database we have developed for maintaining the health records of our llamas using Microsoft Access.
When we are expecting the vet to call, we print off the records of each llama. We immediately enter any treatments the llamas have received.
We record registration information, weights, medical and breeding history in our database. The database is changing as we gain experience in raising our llamas.
We keep a printed copy of their latest medical records just in case there is an extended power outage and we need access to their medical information.
March 2010: I fax a copy of our Vet Sheet to our veterinary clinic when making an appointment. The Vet Sheet lists the name, date of birth, age, gender and procedures required for each llama to be seen by the vet. At the time of the appointment both the vet and I have an updated copy of the Vet Sheet and can quickly work through the required procedures. Unless there is an unexpected medical requirement we have the vet come out once a year for routine rabies and CD&T injections. We believe that with proper planning and preparation (and good records) we can reduce the vet's time at our farm to a minimum making for good farm/vet relations..
Our farm, like most, has well water. During the aftermath of the ice storm our well pump was out of commission until we acquired a generator. We recommend adding a generator to your list of required equipment.
March 2010: Much has happened since this was written. We replaced our dug wells with a drilled well and our generator was not up to the task of powering the new pump. We installed transfer switches and acquired a larger generator. This facilitated powering our heated buckets and not incidentally, our own furnace. This worked reasonably well. However the generator could not be used if the weather was inclement because the electronics would be at risk. We are now installing a standby generator to automatically provide electricity when the power goes out which is happening with increasing frequency because our storms and winds are becoming more violent.
We discovered how poor the lighting in our barn was when our first cria was born. We recommend walking around the inside of your barn at night taking a critical look at your lighting needs. Just because most crias are born in the morning, don’t expect that all your crias will be so considerate.
March 2010: Our barn lighting was rudimentary. After a few years of bad lighting we had an electrician review our lighting. He pointed out that our incandescent light bulbs were a fire hazard in our barn and that we did not have ground fault interrupters, a risk both to us and our llamas. We now have GFI protection and fluorescent lighting with fluorescent bulbs that have slip-on shields to prevent breakage. Life is good.
Although we have a prevailing breeze from the mountains, we found a fan to be a must. One of our llamas, Annalee, loves her kiddie swimming pool.
When you are working out your budget for acquisition of needed farm equipment, e.g., a tractor, consider going up one level rather than trying to scrimp. It is amazing how soon equipment you felt would be adequate, can become somewhat less so as your real needs unfold.