How to Raise Llamas and Alpacas

MOTHER's Country Vet shares tips on farm animal health, this guide provides information on how to raise llamas and alpacas.

| January/February 2007

Learn how to raise llamas and alpacas on the homestead.

A wonderful woman named Lliane called me to come check on her llama, Dolly. Her name used to be Liane, but that was before she became a llama owner.

Dolly llama had been off feed for several days and hadn't been showing her usual spunk. I peered into the strange beast's mouth, hoping to avoid the worst of llama behavior. Llamas spit. They also hum, orgle, snort, scream and cluck.

Llamas and Alpacas: The Basics

The llama family consists of llamas and alpacas, which are domesticated, and guanacos and vicuñas, which are found in herds in the wilds of South America. Prehistoric fossils suggest they originated in North America, then migrated to their native lands of Bolivia, Chile and Peru, where they've been domesticated for about 4,000 years. Llama family members are modified ruminants with only three stomach compartments rather than the four of true ruminants. Their young are called crias (Spanish for baby alpaca), and they grow to an average of 300 to 400 pounds.

Here in the United States, llamas have enjoyed quite a surge in popularity for several reasons. The woolly beasts can be shorn every two years for their fiber, which varies from white to brown to black, and they make sturdy pack animals and guards. Cute as they are, many llamas serve no other purpose than to give their owners the pleasure of looking at them. (Incidentally, though most llama owners wouldn't consider it, many South American herdsmen can attest that roasted llama is quite tasty.)

Contrary to what many llama owners believe, the fiber from llama shearing is not highly desirable because of its mixture of coarse guard hairs and fine underfiber. When painstaking efforts are made to separate and card shorn fiber, it can sell for at least $2 per ounce, depending on the color. Alpacas are far superior to llamas in the quality of their fiber, but they do not have the versatility of the llama to provide packing and guarding abilities.

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