Llama Question and Answer Page heading Ambassador drawing

This page has discusses their feet, their spit, llamas as pets,
what you can do with llamas, training, and more.

(Updated June 6, 2003)

List of questions:

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What are their feet like?

They have two toes on each foot with a leathery pad on the bottom. The pads should be checked occasionally for cracks or cuts and treated to prevent any further problems developing. The toes of some llamas, particularly if they are on soft ground, will grow quite quickly and will tend to get too long and curl to the side. These should be trimmed so that the animal is able to walk properly.

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Do they spit?

This is the most common question people ask about llamas. The short answer is “Yes”. Big deal. It is chewed up grass. It smells awful but it washes off easily. The usual reason for spitting is to settle an argument over food or to decide who is the dominant llama. A female will spit at a male to tell him to get lost and that she is already bred. Normally they do not spit at humans unless they are provoked.

Most often their body language will warn other llamas. The ears flattened back are a signal to back off and is usually sufficient. The next threat may be sort of a warning spit consisting of just air being expelled with a spitting sound.

Llamas don’t like to spit as it obviously tastes terrible. After spitting one will often look pathetic with its lower jaw hanging down for quite a while, airing out its mouth. The llama on the left had been spitting at a gelding that had just arrived in his field. His mouth was dripping with green liquid.

We had one llama that figured out if she spat a little into another llama’s grain it would get left and she could finish it up at her leisure.

Now, after many years of trying, I have finally managed to get some photos of a llama spitting, and if you don’t think that it is too gross, we have a couple of QuickTime movies of spitting.

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Could I have one for a pet?

It has been done, but they are a herd animal and can be quite unhappy if they are on their own. A single llama will be quite content if it has other animals around, particularly if it has young animals to look after such as lambs or kids. Usually we like to see a llama have another llama for company and if we sell a single male, we will loan another male until the owners acquire a companion animal. Llamas usually bond very quickly to other llamas and, for instance, if two llamas travel together for an hour or so in a trailer, they are the best of buddies when they get out. This can happen even if there is some spitting when they are first introduced in the trailer.

What can you do with them?

Llamas were used for centuries as pack animals by the Incas, and in North America it is getting to be a common sight in the mountains to see hikers using llamas to carry their gear. They can easily carry eighty to one hundred pounds and can travel up to twenty miles in a day.

A llama pack train in the Andes of Peru. We took the photo in 1965 and the colour has faded quite a bit.

Thirty years later we took this photo in British Columbia. Hiking with llamas is a wonderful way to enjoy the outdoors. You will meet all sorts of people who are fascinated with the animals and will ask all sorts of questions.

We have a page with some photos taken on a hike on the Pacific Crest Trail, a page of photos where we took some llamas into the Chilcotin Mountains and ran into deep snow, and a page of photos where we took some llamas into Taylor Basin where we had to cross a fairly deep creek. The trip in 2001 was a rainy hike near Tatlayoko Lake in theChilcotins. You can also link to short slide shows of the trips from these pages.

Llama shows are becoming extremely popular all over the country. With classes in both conformation and obstacles, people are spending their time grooming and training. The 4-H kids in our area had their llamas so well trained this summer that the judge had to go home and figure out ways to make the obstacle course more difficult for the next day.

A number of people nowadays are using llamas for cart driving. The photo on the left was taken at the Northwest Washington Fair and shows Prime Thyme pulling a cart. The young lady driving the cart is Tatiana Mercy and she trained Prime Thyme as a 4-H project and taught him to pull the cart.

Sheep herd with llama

Sheep guarding is a wonderful use for llamas as it seems to be a natural instinct for them to guard smaller animals. Training is minimal and another advantage is that they graze along with the sheep, requiring no special feeding. Llamas seem to have a great dislike for dogs and coyotes and will run at them, slashing with their front feet. Most ranchers will use a gelded male for guarding sheep.

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Spinners and weavers are finding out how wonderful llama fibre is to work with. It is a hollow fibre, with no lanolin or grease. Warm and soft, coming in colours from white to black, with a full range of browns, it usually sells for a couple of dollars per ounce. The cute little rabbit shown on the right is made from felted llama fibre.

Fibre that has a lot of coarse guard hair in it can easily be braided into wonderful lead ropes. It looks pretty classy to have a lead rope made from the animal you are leading.

Boy riding a llama

Can you ride them?

Not in the same way that you ride a horse. They can easily be trained to carry a saddle, but normally they still have to be led with a lead rope. We often will put a young child on a llama for a parade, but that is one of the few occasions that anyone rides any of our llamas. They are strong enough to lift an adult, but they are usually smart enough not to try to carry one. If the load is too much for them, they will often just lie down and refuse to go anywhere until the load is lightened.

Cholo has a bandana around his neck for the annual first of July parade in Mount Lehman. It is a fun parade as there are usually more people in the parade than there are watching.

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Are they hard to train?

Llamas learn very quickly. Usually by the time they have repeated something about three or four times, they have it learned. Once they overcome any nervousness, they are very easy to train, and once they learn to trust you, they will follow you anywhere.

Many people train their llamas to climb into a van, which certainly makes it easier than hooking up the trailer anytime you want to take them somewhere. Llamas normally will lie down when travelling so you can safely carry them in a van or in a pickup with a canopy.

If our llamas are going to be in a trailer for any period of time, what we do is get a small coffee can and put some fresh droppings in it. Before we let them out of the trailer, we sprinkle a few “llama beans” on the ground. As soon as they get out we walk them to the spot and as soon as they sniff the droppings it usually produces a bowel movement. They are very clean animals and usually don’t like to dirty the trailer.

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Are there any unpleasant odors?

They are generally clean and odor-free and so is their pasture. Their manure pellets are similar to sheep droppings but, unlike sheep, they will use a common manure pile. Easy to clean up, it makes wonderful fertilizer, and can be applied directly to the garden.

They do not like to eat the grass anywhere around the manure pile, so the grass will get quite high for some distance away. Their droppings have smells that the llamas can detect, but are not offensive to humans. One of the reasons for this is that there is not much cover in the high Andes where they are native and an odorless dung pile will not attract their enemies.

If you lead a male llama through a field of females, the first thing he will do is stop and sniff the manure piles. He will then arch his neck with this head back and decode the odors to find out if any of the females are open and need to be bred.

In the Andes, one of the uses for llama droppings is for fuel. This inspired me in the early 1980s to try it as a replacement for charcoal in the barbecue. What a marketing concept, cook your food with the flavours of the Andes. We were living in a subdivision at that time and luckily I tried lighting a small pan of dried droppings in the backyard first. I got them lit and they glowed just like charcoal but the smoke fiercely stung my eyes and they watered for hours. It took about three days to get the smell out of the house. I never did admit to the neighbours what the horrible smell was that permeated the whole neighbourhood.

What are their natural enemies?

In the wilds of South America, pumas, or mountain lions are their only natural predator. In North America, there have been losses to cougars and bears.

The biggest problem of all seems to be animals that are pulled down by packs of domestic dogs.

What do you call a baby llama?

A baby llama is called a cria which is the South American word for baby. A baby guanaco is called a chulengo.

This also leads to the question of “What do you name a baby llama?” which is quite often a problem. Some breeders have a name picked out ahead of time while others struggle for months to find a suitable name for a new cria. The following cartoon appealed to me so much that I have included it here in hope that it may help those folks who have trouble picking the right name. It is used with the kind permission of the folks at www.grimmy.com.

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Index to the Question and Answer Pages

Page One Page Two (Present Page) Page Three
Are there different kinds of llamas? What are their feet like? Can you eat them?
Where do llamas come from? Do they spit? What is their temperament?
Are they expensive? Could I have one as a pet? Are they good with children?
What do llamas eat? What can you do with them? What kind of fencing do they need?
What kind of shelter do they need? Can you ride them? How do you transport them?
What kind of sounds do they make? Are they hard to train? When do they have their babies?
How big do they get? Are there any unpleasant odors? Do llamas need help when birthing?
Do they bite? What are their natural enemies? What do llama crias look like?
Do llamas lose their baby teeth? What do you call a baby llama? How much should my cria weigh?

Page Four Page Five Page Six
Cria questions, nursing, cria coats How do you shear llamas? Breeding questions
Is baby “poop”yellow? How long do llamas live? Eating bark
Llama feeding and treats Can llamas be used for therapy? Scientific classification
Behaviour questions How do I earn my llama’s trust? Birthing and dog questions
Llama gaits Handling young llamas Training commands
Llamas with horses, halters, gelding Will they eat out of my hand? How much space do they need?
How do I trim toenails? Why is my llama standoffish? Barbed wire and electric fences
Black colour Should we groom our youngsters? What is their spit like?
Can I have intact males together? What about leading youngsters around? Llama “poop”
Deadly nightshade Problem with choking Llamas and deep snow

Page Seven Page Eight Page Nine
Shedding wool Children’s llama books Llamas as sheep guards
Can llamas eat apples? Where can I find llama songs for children? Grooming brushes
Fighting with other animals Can llamas be fed alfalfa? How much can they carry?
Protecting other llamas Llamas and goats Do llamas swim?
Skittish llama and haltering Llama and new horse What colour are llamas?
Mouth abscess Llamas and coyotes What colour is llama milk?
Why is my llama afraid of me? Do llamas get ticks? Are there shows about llamas?
Intact males with other llamas Do llamas get fleas? Do they tolerate new dogs?
Can I have a cria with an intact male? Getting a llama to kush What is the best age to buy a llama?

Page Ten Page Eleven Page Twelve
Can they eat corn? Llamas vs alpacas How is “llama” pronounced?
Pooping in the barn Blue-eyed llamas When do you wean babies?
Llamas and cats How fast can a llama run? How tall do they get?
Llamas and freezing weather How do you estimate their age? What does clucking mean?
How far can they go? Llamas crossed with emus??? Llamas and heavy loads
Spitting llama Llamas eating pine trees Halter fitting
Touching young llamas Males and females together? Do llamas guard poultry?
Llama kisses How do you clean llama wool? What do you call a group of llamas?
What do you call a female llama? Will llamas eat blackberries? Llama anatomy

Page Thirteen Page Fourteen Page Fifteen
How are llamas identified? Cooling off llamas Breeding related llamas
Picketing llamas at night while hiking Breeding for spring or fall birthing Attacking a haltered llama
Will llamas avoid poisonous plants? Female won’t spit at the male Llamas eating fences
Moving a pregnant llama Stopping spitting behaviour Spotting a sick llama
I can’t get near my new cria How did the llama get its name? Feeding a greedy llama
My baby llama cries Telling genders apart My llama attacked me
Can I put the male with new baby? Washing a llama
Can males share a pasture with females? Poisoning treatment
Are people allergic to llamas? Fun questions we have received

Mount Lehman Llamas Farm Page