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Though herd management includes all aspects
of dealing with and caring for your Ilama herd, this brochure is intended
to provide information only on the physical handling and care of Ilamas in
a typical herd situation. Other ILA brochures in this series provide more
detailed information on specific topics such as nutrition, birthing and
newborn care, organization of facilities and medical management.
A Llama herd is a dynamic system with
subgroups requiring special treatment or separation from each other. A
good herd manager must pay careful attention to these groupings,
especially as the herd increases in number. Keeping a precise record of
transfer of animals from one subgroup to another, breeding and birthing
dates and health notes will assist in developing accurate genealogical
information and in making medical decisions.
The main herd typically consists of all the
females (bred or open) and their young offspring of both sexes. An adult
male may be kept with this group if he is your choice for breeding to all
of the females. Keep in mind that female Ilamas are induced ovulators,
without a heat cycle, thus can conceive year round. Maidens are normally
bred at 14-18 months of age depending on their size and the season, but
have been known to be fertile as early as four months of age. Males become
potent when they are 1-3 years old.
Expectant mothers within a few weeks of
their due dates are often kept together in a separate group so they can be
monitored for signs of impending delivery. When possible, they should be
kept in a pasture that is easily checked. No male should be kept with this
group because the scent of a female approaching delivery may stimulate
breeding behavior. Even geldings or juvenile males may pose a threat to
the baby by attempting to breed during the birthing.
Llama babies have special nutritional
needs. Many breeders provide free-choice feed supplements for babies, who
begin nibbling at solid food when they are only a few days old. A creep
feeder, an area which babies can enter to obtain special or additional
feed without competition from adults, may be free-standing or partitioned
off inside the barn. Larger Ilamas can be denied access by making the
entrance only 30-34" high. A 4" high threshold board will keep
adults from crawling through the entryway.
Babies ready for weaning should be
separated from their mothers for at least one month. Weaning is usually
done when the baby is 4-6 months old, depending on its size and the
condition of both mother and baby. By that time the baby is able to
provide for its own nutritional needs, and the mother, who is usually
rebred, may be nutritionally stressed if she must produce large quantities
of milk for a nursing juvenile while supporting her growing fetus. Note
that the key to weaning is separation, and either mother or baby may be
removed from the main herd. Many breeders feel that removing the mother
creates less stress on the baby, who remains in familiar surroundings.
Separation of a pregnant mother also presents less of a management problem
since she can be kept with juvenile males, geldings or even with a stud.
Separation by a single fence is not adequate because the baby may nurse
through the fence. Stress on both mother and baby will be reduced if they
are out of each other's sight.
Juvenile males (6-24 months of age) are
often treated as a separate group. These young males can cause problems In
the main herd by "play breeding" the females which may trigger
ovulation, and confuse or disrupt a controlled breeding program. Juvenile
males should be separated from adult males by more than one fenceline,
since the youngsters seem compelled to pester until they provoke an
Gelded (castrated) males of any age can
usually be kept together without problems. Many responsible breeders
recommend gelding all males who will not be used as studs. Castration Is a
simple, safe and relatively inexpensive veterinary procedure which is
sometimes done as early as six months of age or any time thereafter.
Depending on disposition and temperament, geldings may be kept with the
main herd or with any other subgroup except expectant mothers.
Whole adult males represent a real
management challenge because they fight. Fighting males scream and bash
into each other so violently that they may cause serious damage to
themselves or to your facility. Even across a single fence they may cause
enough commotion to disturb the neighbors and disrupt the peaceful
atmosphere of your Ilama ranch. The most satisfactory way to deal with
stud Ilamas is to keep each one separated from any other subgroup and from
other studs, preferably by at least two fences. Sometimes a stud is kept
with the main herd, but he may breed related females, juvenile females or
females in labor, or injure young males. Some owners successfully run all
males together, but they must be kept out of sight of females.
Newly acquired Ilamas are a subgroup for
which separate accommodations may be desirable. Depending on the
information available about the health and management of the herd of
origin and whether new animals have entered that herd recently, it may be
wise to provide a quarantine pen or field to isolate newcomers for a
reasonable period of time until their health status is certain. A
quarantine area should be organized so that contact with other llamas is
Herding, Catching and Holding
Before attempting any procedure which
requires handling untrained Ilamas you will want to put on leather boots
to protect the top of your feet from injury if a llama accidentally steps
on them with its hard toenails. Light gloves will protect your hands from
incidental scrape, and sunglasses or other protective eyewear will allow
you to face a llama unflinchingly in the unlikely event of threatened
Handling Ilamas, moving them from one place
to another, catching and holding them for examination or treatment
requires a basic understanding of the species. Individual animals may
react in different ways, but a few generalizations about llama psychology
will help you deal with your animals more efficiently.
- Llamas are quick learners, easily
conditioned, and are willing to comply with the wishes of their human
handlers if the intent can be communicated and if the humans can
demonstrate their control of the situation.
- Llamas are uncomfortable about abrupt
movement, direct eye contact, the silhouette of a human with arms
widespread and about being touched, particularly by human hands.
- Llamas have a strong tendency to move as
a group when being herded.
- Llamas instinctively oppose any pressure
you apply against their body. It may be valuable to realize that
pushing a Ilama to the right will usually result in it leaning to the
- Llamas are not very responsive to
physical punishment or to the most common incentives used in training
other types of animals (treats, petting, praise).
- Llamas are repelled by agitated behavior
and calmed by a relaxed, peaceful attitude.
To herd a group of Ilamas in a given
direction, apply herding pressure from the opposite direction. If there
are no factors which repel the group (people, fences or other physical
obstructions) or attract it (another group of Ilamas or anything which
excites their intense curiosity) you can assume that they will move
directly away from you. In an open pasture you might begin herding
pressure at a distance of 50-100' from the nearest Ilama, gradually
approaching the group until they begin to flow in the opposite direction.
Additional herdsmen can help focus the herding pressure. Some Ilama
handlers use herding poles (plastic pipe or bamboo 12-15' long) or ropes
stretched between herdsmen to extend their influence on the animals.
Once the Ilamas begin to move, or as the
distance between you and them decreases, it may be desirable to lessen the
pressure by moving more slowly and with more relaxed body language. Your
success will be enhanced if you move the whole group, not allowing even a
single Ilama to split off in another direction. Keep them moving along
smoothly so they do not begin to consider other options. A single herdsman
attempting to drive a large group of Ilamas may have to range from side to
side to include all stragglers. The object of most herding is to move the
animals from a larger area to a smaller one where they may be sorted or
Once you are among the animals in a
confined area, project a calm and reassuring image, eyes lowered,
movements slowed and hands at your side or behind your back. Many Ilama
handlers imitate the llama's soft moan or hum to calm them.
Sorting, separating one group into smaller
groups, is most easily done with at least two people. After the whole
group is herded into a confined space, a corral or small pen, one handler
can be stationed at the gate to another pen, allowing the desired animals
through and blocking the passage of others. Meanwhile, other handlers
exert mild herding pressure on the group to present different animals to
the gatekeeper for the sorting process. A herding pole makes maneuvering
the animals much easier.
The best way to catch an individual is to
herd it into a corner or small space where escape is impossible. Most
Ilamas will surrender peacefully in this situation, especially if you
allow a few seconds for them to adjust to the idea. If you feed in the
barn or in a small pen at the same time each day, you can simply wait
until they go in, then close the gate and quietly move the individual
animal into a comer.
To make first contact with an animal who
seems resigned to being caught, slowly and deliberately place a hand on
its back. After a few seconds move your body alongside the animal and
either halter it or "ear" it by running your hands up both sides
of the neck from behind, maintaining firm contact until you reach the base
of both cars. The ears may be grasped firmly if the animal decides to
struggle, but often simply cupping and massaging the base of each ear
between your thumb and index finger will distract and calm the animal
enough for routine examinations or treatments. Additional handlers in
contact with the Ilama will lessen the chances of a struggle.
Catching a Ilama in a large field usually
requires several people. An adult Ilama is a physical match for most
people, and an untrained animal in the open is much more likely to bolt
when surrounded and to struggle when caught. One technique is to use ropes
stretched between the handlers to make a moving corral and to snag the
animal if it tries to run through. The success of this approach depends on
quickness and coordination, because the rope usually stops the animal for
only a few seconds. Another method is to herd the animal against a fence
or into a corner of the field where one or two handlers can move in to
catch it. If it shows any intention of going over the fence, which in the
case of barbed wire is a real danger to the animal, pause 6-10' away and
wait a few seconds for the animal to calm down before approaching it.
Experienced Ilama handlers may be able to accurately judge the moment of
hesitation by the Ilama as it tries to decide which way to escape. By
moving quickly at this moment, one person usually can restrain it long
enough for others to assist. Unless you have confidence that you can act
decisively at just the right moment, wait until the Ilama will tolerate a
slow, deliberate approach, even if that takes a minute or more. The risk
of injury and stress for both the animal and the people involved makes an
open-field catch a very poor second choice to a controlled catch in a
Some Ilamas have toenails which grow too
long or twist to the side. Periodic trimming will improve their appearance
and help prevent foot soreness. This procedure may be necessary only once
a year and many Ilamas never need it.
Nail trimming may be done with side-cutting
nippers designed for use on sheep and available at many feed stores or
through veterinary supply catalogs. The animal may have to be restrained.
Any of several types of Ilama restraint chutes on the market work well for
this purpose. Some Ilamas will allow nail trimming while standing, either
haltered or gently eared. Others may need to be held down on their side by
two or three handlers. Adult male Ilamas can often be trimmed quite easily
The object of nail trimming is to cut away
excess horny material. Care must be taken not to cut the sensitive quick
which is supplied with nerves and blood vessels. Lay the nippers along the
length of the toenail. Trim along one side and then the other of each
nail. One additional cut across the tip may be necessary.
Removal of Fighting Teeth
Male Ilamas have sharp-edged fighting teeth
or fangs which may begin to erupt by two years of age. These teeth are
along the side of the jaws about halfway back. There are two fangs on the
upper jaw and one on the lower on each side of the mouth. Llama fighting
teeth have a very sharp point and sharp cutting edges front and back, much
like a shark tooth. They represent a danger to other Ilamas and to humans,
so they should always be removed or blunted. Some Ilama owners choose to
have tooth removal done by their vet, but many feel that the procedure is
simple enough to be considered a routine part of their herd management.
The most commonly used technique for
removal of fighting teeth is to cut them off at the gumline using a
flexible braided cutting wire known as obstetrical or OB wire, available
from your veterinarian. Special metal handles are available for gripping
the ends of the OB wire, and if these are used a 24" length of wire
is adequate. If no handles are available, the ends of the wire must be
wound around your gloved hands or fingers, so allow a few extra inches.
Restrain the animal in a chute or by
cross-tying from the cheek rings of a sturdy halter to two solid posts
about 3-6' apart. A third lead line from the chin ring of the halter will
provide additional control. If enough helpers are available one can firmly
ear the animal.
Carefully retract the lips on one side and
hook the wire behind the forward upper fang. The fighting teeth are
slightly curved backward, so the wire will find its proper position at the
gumline as you pull the ends of the wire forward. The OB wire is designed
to cut only hard tissues like bone or tooth without cutting soft tissue,
so once the wire is in place the animal may be allowed to close his lips
Both ends of the wire should be directed
forward out of the mouth, one end held in each hand. Draw the wire across
the tooth by pulling first with one hand and then the other at a rate of
about one stroke per second while maintaining a firm pull on the wire.
Usually the fang will be cut off neatly at the gumline in about 15-20
seconds. There may be a little bleeding from abrasion of the gums, but
this is no problem. Any sharp edges or points which remain can be smoothed
with an ordinary metal file. Make sure that the sharp, severed crown of
the tooth is out of the animal's mouth before going on to the single lower
fang on the same side, and then the rear upper fang. Repeat the process on
the opposite side. After one use the wire will coil when tension is
released. This makes placement on subsequent teeth a bit more difficult,
but the same piece of wire can be used on all six teeth and even reused on
Fighting teeth can be cut off as soon as
they have erupted even 1/4" and this is sound management policy. The
teeth will continue to erupt until the animal is 4-5 years old, so put a
reminder in your files to check the teeth of your males every 6 months and
redo the procedure if necessary.
Female Ilamas can get small fighting teeth.
These erupt much later and usually are not removed.
Llamas instinctively deposit their manure
in communal dung piles. This trait may reduce the spread of internal
parasites, because the animals will not eat the grass near any of these
Llama dung is pelletized and nearly
odorless. In the high, dry environment of the Andes, Ilama pellets are
used by the Indians for fuel. Dried pellets bum much like charcoal
briquets, but the smoke has a pungent aroma.
Llama dung usually does not cause a serious
odor or fly problem, but most owners clean up the dung in barns, corrals
and pens. Though fresh dung may used for fertilizer without burning garden
plants, it is usually composted in large piles along with used bedding
materials like straw or sawdust, and waste feed or moldy hay. After a year
or more the composted material may be mixed into garden soil for an
excellent fertilizer or used on the surface as a mulch. Because Ilamas
will not eat dung-contaminated grass, it is not productive to spread it on
pastures except in areas that will not be grazed by Ilamas for several
When introducing Ilamas Into a new field,
you may be able to designate the position of dung piles by
"baiting" desired spots with dung.
Llamas are "easy keepers"
compared to any other kind of domestic livestock. They are not prone to
accidents and injuries. Still, a good herd manager will anticipate hazards
to the animals and take steps to avoid them.
Predators which can threaten Ilamas include
coyotes, bears, cougars and, most significant of all, freeroaming dogs.
Most of these can be discouraged by wire mesh field fencing, a guard dog
on the property or by bringing the herd into a protected area at
Be sure to pick up and dispose of all
placentas and provide extra protection for newborns. Where wild animals
are a serious threat, predator control programs may be necessary.
Skunks may carry rabies in many areas, and
Ilamas' natural curiosity may draw them close enough to be bitten. The
only real defense is to vaccinate against rabies in high-risk areas.
Porcupines can be a hazard to curious
Ilamas and guard dogs. Quills are more easily removed after they have been
snipped with scissors to release pressure in the barbs. Special fencing
may be warranted.
Deer can carry diseases and parasites.
Protection of a Ilama herd from contact with deer is very difficult, but
good high fences and a guard dog may help. White-tailed deer, particularly
in wetland areas with snails, can carry the deadly meningeal worm. You may
need to use a systemic wormer on a regular schedule.
Plants poisonous to Ilamas include
oleander, choke cherry, rhododendron and hemlock. Find out what poisonous
plants grow in your area and eliminate them from your property.
Small apples can be a hazard to Ilamas, and
choking fatalities have occurred. It is probably best to prevent access to
orchard areas at times when there are small apples on trees or ground.
Phosphorus fertilizers and other chemical
poisons should be properly stored where animals cannot come in contact
with them. If chemical fertilizer is spilled in the fields it should be
cleaned up before Ilamas are allowed to graze. Bulk seed is sometimes
treated with insecticide, so spills or open seed containers can be
Sharp projections of fence wire should be
trimmed and other sharp objects in the fields or barns should be removed,
blunted or covered. Llamas' large, protruding eyes are especially
vulnerable. Though Ilamas have tough skin rarely injured by barbed wire,
many owners replace barbed wire with smooth wire as a precaution.
Ditches and dust baths can pose a threat.
Potentially dangerous ditches, especially deep, narrow ones, should be
filled in or widened. Because Ilamas can become trapped on their backs by
rolling up against a fence, barn or wall, it is best to prevent use of
dust baths uphill from these or other hazards.
Ice may cause serious falls, especially in
sloping areas. Llamas will try to avoid areas of slippery footing, but you
may want to spread sand or salt at times.
Grain overdose can be fatal to Ilamas. Take
care to keep your grain and other feed supplements in covered containers
in a secure area. Forgetting to close a door or gate to the grain storage
area can have heartbreaking results.
Good Ilama herd management is based on an
understanding of the animal and on common sense. Get to know each of your
Ilamas and observe their behavior at least once each day to make sure they
are acting normally. Try to anticipate. Seek the advice of experienced
Ilama owners or consult your veterinarian about problems that arise.
Llama Herd Management ILA Educational
Brochure #7 Authors: Paul & Sally Taylor
Cover Design: Patricia Waters
Paul and Sally Taylor have been Ilama
breeders since 1975. Sally was one of four founding Directors of the
International Llama Association, served on ILA's board from 1982 to 1985
and is a Director of the International Lama Registry. In 1982 Paul retired
from dentistry to devote full time to Ilama ranching. He has been an ILA
Director, organized the first major registry for Ilamas in North America
and was active in legislative and international political matters on
behalf of ILA.
The Taylors are respected authorities on
Ilama care and management. In 1986 they co-produced the All About Llamas
videotape series, and they have written many articles on herd management,
breeding, birthing and care of newborn Ilamas.