Although their original habitat is the
arid, high altitude regions of the South American Andes, Ilamas are quite
adaptable, and with good care they are thriving in climates from Florida
to Alaska, Europe, Great Britain, Australia and New Zealand. Llama
facilities need not be elaborate, but adequate shelter and fencing are
necessary. When planning housing and fencing, the animals' health, safety,
and comfort are major concerns, as is the convenience of their caretaker.
The more easily daily maintenance is done, the more time there is for
training and enjoying one's llamas.
Shelter and Housing
Climate largely governs the type of housing
needed for Ilamas. Some kind of shelter in the form of trees, sheds, or
barns is necessary.
In considering the type and size of
shelters needed, it is important to keep in mind that llamas treasure
their freedom to come and go. They are more apt to use shelters with large
doors or windows that give a feeling of openness than dark stalls or sheds
which give the feeling of being shut in.
A general guide to the minimum shelter
space for compatible pasture-mates is that five adults or seven yearlings
shelter nicely in an open 12 x 16 foot shed, and six mothers and babies
fit comfortably in a 16 x 16 foot shed. The key is congeniality. If an
animal is forced to stay outside, it may suffer. Some owners successfully
house with even greater density, especially in cold weather conditions.
In warm climates shade is essential, as
Ilamas may suffer heat stress (see ILA educational brochure #11) and even
heatstroke, when the temperature rises, especially if the humidity is also
high. Although they sometimes lie when
it is very hot, they will more often seek shade and other means of cooling
themselves. In areas of high temperature (110°
summer humidity, Ilama owners have successfully maintained their animals
by providing sprinklers, misters, streams, ponds, and plastic wading pools
for cooling. An area under shade with deep sand kept damp is effective.
Young shade trees should be fenced or wrapped with wire to prevent
debarking by nibbling Ilamas. Large fans used in a shaded area have proven
In rainy climates where the ground may
remain soggy for long periods of time, Ilamas should have housing and
holding areas where their feet can dry out every day, preferably where
their hay and water are provided. This should avoid a possible "foot
rot" condition, which, though not common, is very difficult to heal.
Cold climate housing varies considerably,
depending upon weather severity and relative wooliness of the Ilamas. It
is a common misconception that the Ilamas' native high altitude habitat is
very cold. The Andes' proximity to the equator provides average extreme
temperatures of 20 to 55° F.
Although it commonly freezes at night, the temperature rarely falls below
In climates where temperatures do not
drop lower than 15°
for long periods of time, three-sided wooden "loafing" sheds
usually sufficient. They should be oriented to afford maximum protection
from prevailing winds and storms. In regions where cold temperatures
range frequently from -20 to 15°
large barns or enclosed shelters provide the best protection. Under these
conditions, less woolly llamas
need special consideration and should be watched for signs of hypothermia.
Where temperatures remain below -20°
F for extended periods, insulated and heated
barns are commonly used for all livestock, including Ilamas. Enclosed
barns should have adequate
ventilation for fresh air and good straw bedding for warmth and
cleanliness. When unprecedented cold spells occur in regions without
heated barns, essential body heat can be preserved by forcing compatible
Ilamas to cluster close together in barns or sheds. Provide extra feed
during cold weather when additional calories are needed to maintain body
condition. Older, or sick, Ilamas may need a warm coat during a
particularly cold period.
In any climate it is useful to have at
least one stall where a mother and newborn baby or an ailing member of the
herd can be confined. A pair of heat lamps mounted on the walls will help
warm a baby born in cold or damp weather and may prevent frostbitten ears.
Heat lamps should be firmly anchored and mounted high enough so an adult
Ilama cannot singe itself. Baby llamas must learn about their creature
comforts and should be watched closely the first week or two, if born
during extreme weather conditions. Even a normal, healthy baby may need
protection of a coat or jacket in the first two weeks during very cold,
snowy or rainy weather.
While most llamas seem to prefer feeding
outdoors, they do not like wet hay. Waste can be avoided if some feeding
mangers are located indoors for wet weather use. Hay racks with a catch
tray below work fine for grass hay, but llamas will waste less hay if
flat-bottomed feed bunks at least 2 feet wide are used. To decrease
chances of their picking up parasites, Ilamas should not be fed on the
ground or near dung piles.
Llamas need a regular supply of clean
water. In subfreezing temperatures, electric floats or submersible stock
tank heaters are necessary.
Catch Corrals and Chutes
For ease in managing one's herd, small
catch corrals or pens are necessary. To facilitate catching individuals or
groups of llamas for training, brushing, vaccinating, nail-trimming, etc.,
build catch corrals in the area the llamas are accustomed to entering for
food and shelter.
A chute built into a corner of a small
corral aids the handling of routine health procedures and medical
emergencies. Several portable restraint chutes designed especially for
llamas have been developed, but a simple chute can be built using sturdy
wooden posts and two fence poles for each side. The chute should be about
2 feet by 5.5 feet, with the top pole about 45 inches from the ground, and
located so that the Ilama is accessible from all sides. It need not open
at the front, since llamas easily learn to back out. If desired, removable
plywood side panels can be wired to the side poles to form solid walls.
Depending upon the arrangement of the barns
and corrals, sorting gates are also helpful in controlling the movement of
animals between the corrals and separating out individuals. In addition,
it is often desirable to have large holding pens or small pastures
surrounding the catch corrals to permit animals to be held temporarily
without confining them to a small catch pen.
When llamas are kept with other stock such
as horses, goats, or sheep, the llamas should be carefully observed to
ensure they receive their fair share of feed and shelter, as greedier
animals may prevent llamas from eating. If llamas are pastured with
horses, it is easy to make a feeding area available only to llamas. Place
a single pole across the entrance just low enough to prevent horses from
entering; the llamas will easily slip under the barrier to eat and rest
What constitutes adequate and safe fencing
for Ilamas varies enormously. It is often easier to caution against
possible dangers and unsuitable fencing than to specify what may be best.
In some circumstances a 3.5 foot-high, two pole fence may suffice, while
elsewhere a 5.5 foot chain link or v-mesh fence might be necessary.
The nature of llamas and how they behave in
given situations governs the choice of fences. Much depends upon herd
size, pasture sizes and proximity, number and ages of males, females, and
geldings, make-up of living-groups, the necessity of weaning babies at
five to six months, and keeping young females separate from stud males
until they are of suitable age for breeding.
When llamas are content in their
living-groups and are left with their usual companions, even if just one
other Ilama, they generally respect standard 4 foot fences used for other
large livestock. However, llamas are very agile and can easily jump 4.5
feet when they feel the need to do so. They are equally adept at crawling
under or through fences. Weanlings can be true escape artists in their
efforts to rejoin their mothers, and stud males may jump or crawl under a
fence to breed an available female. As long as llamas have adequate feed
within their pastures, they seldom put pressure on fences to reach more.
Tasty treats such as asparagus and apple or other fruit trees, however,
may tempt them.
If one stud male and a group of females are
kept together there is usually little strain on fences. However, if
several stud males are kept in adjacent pastures or paddocks, or next to a
group of females, fences need to be more substantial. Adjacent studs may
rear up, lean on, reach over and even lunge against gates or fences while
"defending their territory" against neighbors. Fences and gates
separating stud males should be at least 5.5 feet high.
Another factor to consider is the presence
of wild or domestic predatory animals. A major threat to llamas are
roaming domestic dogs, which have killed and injured many llamas. In some
areas peripheral fences must be dog-proof. Forty-eight-inch field fence
set tight to the ground with one or two smooth wires running above it will
usually discourage all but the most determined marauding dogs. Electric
fence strung close to the ground or chicken wire partially buried around
the outside fence is also an effective deterrent against digging dogs.
Gates must also be made secure, as dogs will dig under them. In some areas
mountain lions and bears are an increasing hazard, and a secure fence
surrounding the llamas' nighttime housing and corral area is necessary.
Strong, high fences with electric wires outside and at the top are the
It is more economical to build strong, safe
fences at the beginning than to spend time and money rebuilding flimsy
ones later demolished by your llamas. Wooden pole or board fences are
aesthetically pleasing and are usually safe for llamas, unless there is a
problem with dogs entering or young llamas crawling out. Cedar rails are
attractive but llamas tend to chew on them.
Among the many kinds of wire fencing
available, v-mesh is one of the safest and most durable - but also one of
the most expensive. No-Climb fence is safe and strong. Chain link fence
topped with either corral poles or sturdy boards works well. If it is used
for interior fencing and hung without touching the ground, poles can be
run along the bottom to prevent llamas from crawling under. Field fence
(rolled wire), which has smaller openings at the bottom and larger ones at
the top is relatively inexpensive, is flexible and easy to install on
uneven terrain. Its flexibility is a safety factor, as it is quite
"forgiving" if a Ilama gets caught in it. The heavier gauge is
worth the added cost, is more durable and holds its shape better. High
tensile "New Zealand" fence with several of the wires electric
to keep out dogs and coyotes is being used successfully by many Ilama
owners. However, several llamas, both young and mature, have died from
"weaving" their necks through the taut wires and becoming stuck.
In some situations electric fence is useful
for restraining llamas. However, the hair and hide of llamas' necks are so
thick that electric fence shocks do not have much effect there. Putting
one inch square pieces of masking tape every few feet along a newly
installed electric fence shows the Ilama where the fence is and entices
them to touch it with their noses, after which they avoid contact with it.
Small solar collectors to power electric fences are efficient and
Several kinds of fence are best avoided.
Barbed wire is potentially dangerous and is wholly unnecessary for llamas.
Anywhere that single or multiple strands of
wire are useful, llamas are restrained just as well by smooth as by barbed
wire. Two x four inch welded mesh wire is too light weight for active
males, but it may be satisfactory for peripheral fences on even terrain.
Any wire fence with squares six inches or larger can cause problems, since
llamas stick their heads through such openings. Therefore, when field
fence or cattle panels are used for corral fences, it is safer to mount
these with the smaller openings at the top and the larger openings at the
Round metal tube gates are durable and
safe, but pole and heavy wood gates are also usable. In planning the
location and widths of gates, the problem of the periodic removal and
general management of dung piles should be taken into consideration. For
cleaning up after just a few llamas, a sturdy wheelbarrow and shovel is
adequate, but for larger herds, a small tractor and other mechanized
equipment are very useful, and gates must allow their passage.
A Few Safety Tips
Because of their excellent eyesight and
agility, llamas are not prone to injuring themselves. However, llamas of
all ages tend to stick their heads through any opening including loops in
dangling ropes, hay strings, slots in feed racks, gates, and fences. At
about three to four weeks of age, baby llamas also go through a stage when
they explore their new world by tasting and mouthing everything.
Therefore, it is prudent to maintain an environment free of sharp or
potentially harmful objects such as bits of plastic, baling twine, or
On the whole, llamas are easy to care for.
If you are prepared for the more extreme situations, your llamas will be
comfortable, happy, and safe, and you will easily be able to manage and
enjoy them to the fullest.
"Llama Housing and Fencing" ILA
Educational Brochure #5 Author: Bobra Goldsmith, Ph.D.
Cover Design: Patricia Waters
Bobra Goldsmith owned and trained her own
pleasure horses for 30 years and began training llamas when she started
her herd in 1978. She introduced commercial Ilama packing in the Central
Rockies in 1981 and has been active in developing appropriate equipment
for all llama activities. She and her husband, Ulo, are retired from
teaching in the humanities at the University of Colorado.
Bobra maintains a herd of about 75 llamas.
She gives seminars in basic training, packing, herd management, and cart
driving for Ilama owners and contributes to Ilama publications.