Whether viewed in the pasture or glimpsed in the wild, all llamas have a striking beauty owing to their elegant wool and graceful posture.
Color: Llama and alpaca wool ranges from white to black, with shades of gray, brown, red and roan in between. Markings can be in a variety of patterns from solid to spotted.
Size: Mature llamas weigh an average of 280 – 350 pounds but range from 250 – 500 pounds. Full body size is reached by the fourth year, and while there are no obvious differences between the sexes, males tend to be slightly larger.
Life Span: Llamas are long lived, with a normal life span of 15 – 25 years.
Ruminants: Like cattle, sheep and deer, llamas’ are multi-chambered stomached ruminants that chew their cud.
Teeth: They have a hard upper gum (no upper teeth in front) grinding upper and lower molars in back, and an ingenius upper lip for grasping forage in unison with the lower incisors. Adult males develop large, short upper and lower canines (fighting teeth) for fighting. You should ask your veterinarian to remove those to prevent injury to males pastured together or to females being bred.
Feet & Scent Glands: The llamas’ unique, specially adapted foot makes them remarkably surefooted on a variety of terrain, including sandy soils and snow. It is two-towed with a broad, leathery pad on the bottom and curved nails in front. The small, oblong, bare patches on the side of each rear leg are not vestigial toes ("chestnuts" as found on horses), but metatarsal scent glands, suspected to be associated with the production of alarm pheromones. An additional scent gland is located between the toes. Unless your llamas are pastured on hard or rocky ground, you may have to trim their toenails once or twice a year. It is easy to do yourself with hoof trimmers, but consult available literature or your veterinarian before your first attempt.
Habits & Behavior: Llamas have a dignified, aristocratic manner about them. Because of their curiosity, they have a delightful habit of coming close to sniff strangers. But despite your natural temptation to hug and cuddle them, most of them prefer not to be petted except on their necks and backs. Llamas are typically docile around children. They are gentle and do not spook easily, and rarely bite or kick unless provoked. They are highly social animals and need the companionship of another llama or other grazing livestock.
Communication: Llamas communicate their moods with a series of tail, body, and ear postures as well as vocalizations. Learning this llama language is one of the joys of ownership. Humming is a common manner of communication between llamas, and indicates a variety of moods from contentedness to concern. Another interesting llama expression is the shrill, rhythmic alarm call emitted at the sight of a strange animal (especially dogs) or a frightening situation.
Spitting: Yes, llamas spit. Spitting is usually related to food disputes and is seldom directed at people unless a llama has been mishandled or become imprinted on people through bottle feeding as a baby.
Dung Piles: Llamas are remarkably clean, and even large herds are quite odorless. Dung-piling behavior is an important means of spatial orientation and territorial marking for these historically open habitat animals, and a convenience when you clean their pens. By taking advantage of this habit you can encourage your animals to establish dung piles in a new pen by "prebaiting" four to five sites per acre with a shovel full of llama dung.
Breeding and Reproduction: Female llamas are good mothers and there is nothing as delightful as the sight of their babies playing and romping. Though females may conceive as early as six months, they should not be bred until they are 18 – 24 months old depending on size and development. Males may be fertile at seven to nine months of age, but aren’t fully dependable breeders until three years old when they are socially and sexually mature. Llamas breed in a prone position (male on top), and copulation may take up to 45 minutes. The act of copulation induces ovulation (i.e. they ovulate 24 – 36 hours after mating). Gestation averages 350 days and a single offspring is produced ~~ twining is rare. The average weight of a normal newborn cria is 25 – 30 pounds, but can range from 18 – 40 pounds.
Because they are induced ovulators, llamas can give birth throughout the year. Depending on your climate, you should plan breeding to avoid births in the extreme heat of summer and cold of winter. Births normally occur in the daytime. From the onset of normal presentation (of both feet and head) to birth, 10-45 minutes may elapse. Unlike most mammals, llama mothers do not lick their newborn nor eat the afterbirth. Llama young, called "cria" begin walking within an hour and should nurse in one to two hours. The placenta is usually passed within four hours. Females are normally bred back two to four weeks after giving birth.