Llama Question and Answer Page heading Ambassador drawing

This page has discusses shearing llamas, using llamas for therapy
handling llamas, grooming, leading, and much more.

(Updated December 15, 2002)

List of questions:

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Shearing questions

Q. How do you get the llama fleeces off them?

A. You can shear them by hand using sheep shears, which are similar to big scissors or you can use electric shears. In South America sometimes they use a sharp lid from a tin can to cut off the fibre.

The most important thing is to make sure that the llama is brushed out before so that the fibre is clean.

Q. I am having great shearing difficulties. Last year I had two llamas that I was able to use hand shears on. This year I have eight! I have invested in pair of clippers, but, man, oh, man, they really do not like that idea! How do you set up your llamas for shearing? Do I need to have some kind of restraint? I tried cross-tying them, but all that got me was kicked! Needless to say, I am going to have big problems if I don’t figure this out real soon.

A. We have a friend that is a shearer come in and do ours!

Over the years we have used both electric and hand shears though and whether or not they have to be restrained depends entirely on the temperament of the llama. We have some that will stand nicely and seem to enjoy it while others leap all over the place. With those ones it is advisable to have a chute where the sides fold down or open out of the way. The halter tied so it is held forward and a rope holding the head up makes things easier also.

The part that makes them antsy usually is the legs and rear end. It is not necessary to shear the entire animal. If you get the main part of the body (and belly) done it will keep them cool. If you are not taking them to a show, it really does not matter how rough the cutting is, it will grow back fairly soon and smooth out.

If you don’t have a chute, the safest way to hand shear is to stand beside the llama and lean over the back and cut the fibre on the opposite side. The llama is usually much calmer this way and cannot possibly kick you if you are beside it. In the picture on the right, Ambassador is being shorn and he wasn’t impressed at all. He started to jump around and eventually someone had to hold him by hanging onto his ears.

The fibre is being held by someone out of the picture in order to keep it clean as it may pick up vegetation or dirt if it is dropped onto the ground.

Have the halter tied fairly short so they can’t thrash around with the head, and you can move with the animal if it goes a bit sideways, rather than trying to hold it completely still. If you keep going with the llama, it will eventually stop trying to evade you, but if you keep pushing against it, you can’t win.

Try going through the exercise first without the shears to see how the animal reacts. Simply rub your hand back and forth along the opposite side and once they accept that without any fuss, then you can start shearing.

It also doesn’t have to be done all in one session. If the animal seems stressed you can always let it go and finish the job the next day.

Llama life span

Q. My sister has just become the owner of a male llama. My question is “What is the average life span of a llama?” I’ve been reading your Question and Answer pages and haven’t seen anything about how long they live. Any information you have would be very helpful and appreciated.

A. If a llama is reasonably healthy it could live to its mid twenties. We had a male die of a stroke recently who was eighteen, and we have another gelding who is twenty. He obviously doesn’t have the energy that he had a few years ago but he is is doing fine. I have seen females who were twenty-five years old and were pretty arthritic, but aside from that, seemed very healthy.

In the wild though, it would be a different picture as when an animal gets six or seven years old it is a little slower than the younger ones and a puma would likely make a meal of it.

It is pretty hard to give an average life span as most farms haven’t had llamas for more than just a few years.

Can llamas be used for therapy?

Q. I was thinking of therapy use dealing with troubled children and also stress management with work related stresses.

A. Llamas are normally great with children. We have quite a number of pre-schools that come and visit and we never worry about the children in with the animals. We give them a little talk first about what not to do first as we don’t want them running for example and scaring the animals. We have noticed that the llamas are especially good with mentally challenged children, there is a real connection somehow. We will never forget the look on a young child’s face as he led a llama around the field from his wheelchair.

In the photo on the right, Lazo and Cholo are visiting a nursing home and the woman in the bed is pointing to a poster from their previous visit two years before.

Llamas are very therapeutic to have around and are great stress-reducers. If you are feeling down, spending some time in the barn or the field watching the llamas is very relaxing. they are not judgmental and have the ability to to make you feel good. How could you not feel better when a baby llama comes along and gives you a kiss?

How do I earn my llama’s trust?

Q. We obtained two llamas two days ago. They are six months old and are both males. We plan on having them as pets, with no plans to breed. One of them (Llouie) is very affectionate and comes immediately to be petted and have his neck scratched. The other (Lloyd) is always by Llouie’s side but shies away from being handled at all. What should we be doing to gain Lloyd’s trust? We spend lots of time in the pasture with them. Lloyd will eat from my hand but doesn’t want me to touch him. Also, are we cuddling them too much?

A. First of all, you are to be congratulated for getting two as they do need company.

Llamas are not like dogs who need to be shown affection and in fact, they are normally aloof like Lloyd. Be very careful with Llouie that you don’t let him get too affectionate as he could start to get pushy. If he starts to get “in your face” just flick your finger on his nose to discourage him a bit.

It is very easy to cuddle a young llama as they are very lovable, and this can cause problems when they get older.

Lloyd needs time to gain your trust. You should be able to get both of them eating out of your hand without much problem. We start by giving them a little grain (we use 14% dairy ration) every day, half a cup or so is enough. We put it in their feeders or in a bucket. They soon learn to like this and come running at feeding time.

You didn’t mention whether Llouie will eat out of your hand but it is a small step then to get them to eat out of the bucket while you are holding it. Often then we will put some on a frisbee and get them to eat a bit that way. The next step is to have some grain on your hand on the frisbee. Once they have learned that it is safe to eat out of your hand, you have gone a long way to earning their trust. Don’t force them or get frustrated with them, just let them come along at their own pace.

You have to remember that they really don’t have any idea what you want them to do so it would never occur to Lloyd that you would like him to come up and stand beside you while you rub his neck. From his point of view, why would he want to have anyone even touch him?

Try putting Llouie in a small area maybe ten feet by ten feet and then just put your hand on his back. He will very likely start moving around the perimeter so just go with him leaving your hand on his back. Eventually he will stop. Take your hand off then and back away, praising him. Then repeat the process. With a little time he will learn that it doesn’t hurt and when he stops you take your hand off. It shouldn’t be too long before he will stand while you touch him and then you can rub his back a little. This will not work in a large pasture, you have to work with them in a contained area.

We have found that once they will take a treat out of your hand they will be much easier to train so with Llouie you are over a big hurdle. They really respond to the “Click and Reward” system and learn very quickly when they hear a click and get a small treat when they do something that you desire. This can be learning to put their head in a halter or letting you pick up their feet.

It is wonderful to spend lots of time with them but their attention spans are fairly short so don’t try to spend hours on end trying to train them. A few minutes at a time a couple of times a day is more effective. Remember they are still young boys and will want to do young llama things such as wrestling which involves much chasing each other around the field and screaming occasionally. The dominant one will probably decide he should try to breed the other every once in a while which will probably cause more chasing and fighting. In this case you may decide that gelding is in order but try to wait until they are about two years old first.

For more information see:

Follow-up Q. We are confused about handling the llamas too much. It seems that gaining their trust is a good thing but when I read about “Berserk Llama Syndrome” it alarms me.

A. You won’t have to worry about your animals becoming berserk. This problem usually is caused by overhandling and cuddling very young animals. The first few weeks or months are the critical time particularly if a young male has to be bottle-fed. A normal young llama can be handled without fear by the time they are weaned. Relax.

The llama on the right, leaning on the fence became quite aggressive as he was handled too much as a youngster. He was in a petting zoo for a few months before he came to our farm. In this photo he he is not showing any aggression, his ears are forward which is an “alert” sign. If his ears were back and he was screaming, you would not want to be anywhere near the fence. The fence is at least five feet high so you can imagine how tall he is when he is standing like this.

Follow-up Q. Is it a good thing that they will eat from our hands?

A. Yes, because it shows that they trust you. When an animal trusts you they will do nearly anything you ask and this is very important if you are out visiting with your animals or out hiking.

In the photo on the left, Sarah Barnart is quite happy to take a treat from one of the residents in a retirement facility.

Follow-up Q. Our one llama (Llouie) is very friendly but not at all pushy. Is this normal?

A. That is exactly what you want in a llama, he sounds perfect. The thing to watch though, is that he doesn’t get too pushy. He has to know that you are in charge. They are a little bit like children sometimes and want to see what they can get away with.

Follow-up Q. How much handling is too much?

A. They will let you know. The ears will go back and their body language will say when they have had enough. A couple of short sessions in a day will work wonders with them.

Follow-up Q. Is it a good thing when a llama is standoffish? I guess I don’t understand how a llama thinks.

A. It would be normal for a llama to be standoffish. They know that they are superior to us and look down their noses at us. Eventually they learn to tolerate us and even may decide to do what we ask occasionally, just to make us think that we are teaching them something.

It just takes a little longer for the standoffish ones to learn to trust you, but if they are eating out of your hand they may trust you just so far, but they may not want a hand touching them near their eyes or ears. Just touching them on the side or back as you pass them is a good way for them to get used to the idea and they soon learn that it is not really too bad to be touched.

Follow-up Q. Llouie will allow my daughters to brush him. He was very dirty and filled with burrs when we got him two days ago. We would not attempt to brush Lloyd yet as he is very aloof. Should we be brushing the llamas yet at all?

A. Grooming is a whole different matter. My wife usually does it as I try to ignore that part. As I mentioned in the previous paragraph, touch them as you pass them letting them get used to your hands on them. Then brush your hand down their side or along the back. Once they are used to being rubbed with your hand it is a natural progression to using a brush. The key at first is not to make the brushing session too long. Too often we decide what the task is going to be and are determined to finish it. The llama may decide that the task is taking too long and start to fuss. You don’t have to completely groom the animal in one session. Just be happy with a little bit and end on a good note, praising the llama and giving a treat when you are done.

Getting the burrs out may pull his fiber so don’t try to get them all out right away. Let him get used to you working on them. You may have to separate the fiber and remove some of the burrs by hand. The ones on the back and neck will not be too bad but any down his legs may be tougher to get out, as they don’t usually like their legs being touched.

Young males will often wrestle and fight and the winner is decided when one lies down. To make the opponent lie down, one of the tricks they use is to bite at his front knees. The one being bitten then often will tuck his front legs under his body and is forced to lie down. The winner will then hold him down by pushing down on his neck with his own neck.

From the llama’s point of view, when you try to touch their legs, it must be an aggression. He thinks you are trying to force him down. This is why you want to just brush your hand down his leg every once in a while and then back off, so that he knows that your touch is not aggressive.

For more information see:

Follow-up Q. Should we be trying to pull our llamas around on a lead at this point? They both have halters on and Llouie doesn’t mind the rope attached but resists a little to being led around. I could easily grab Lloyd and make him cooperate but haven’t yet because I am trying to gain his trust.

A. Remember they still don’t know what you want when you have the halter and a lead on and their natural instinct is to resist when you pull on the rope. You shouldn’t leave the halters on all of the time. Get them used to you putting the halters on and taking them off.

A very good way for them to learn about a lead rope is to get a bicycle inner tube and attach it to a post. Then attach the lead rope to the inner tube. They will pull on it and of course, it pulls back. You will be amazed how soon they learn to “go with the pull” instead of fighting it and then the pressure releases. You might even have to touch their neck to make them back away from the pole at first to get some pressure on the inner tube. Obviously you would want to keep an eye on them so they don’t get in a panic and twenty minutes would be long enough for a session. Once they have learned that there is no pressure when they follow the rope is is easy to get them to follow you. When they learn that having the halter means going for a walk and seeing new things and places they start to look forward to it. Make it a pleasant experience for them.

One of the things that happens with us, particularly with some of the older females is that every time they get a halter on it means that the vet is coming. Worming and shots are not the best thing for them to associate with the halter.

Not only is it a pleasure going for a walk with your llamas, the llamas enjoy it too. Taking your llama out like this is the best type of training you can do. It gets the llamas used to travelling in the trailer, and also gets them used to meeting all sorts of other animals and obstacles.

This photo was taken on a walk along the dike at Pitt Lake, near Vancouver, B.C.

Choking question

Q. I have inherited a two-year-old male llama. Last night he gave us a scare by choking on his sweet feed. I had a vet come out but just before he arrived our llama coughed a few times and then was fine. Before that for an hour he was moaning, lying down, and had a great deal of saliva coming out of his mouth. The vet suggested putting some large protein pellets in his bucket to keep him from eating too fast. We are wondering if we shouldn’t feed him something softer that he wouldn’t try to gulp down and choke again.

A. A two-year-old male probably doesn’t need any sweet feed if he has lots of hay and grass.

Some llamas will really gobble down their food, but it usually happens in a herd situation where the llama is concerned that another llama will come along and take the food. A single llama shouldn’t be concerned about this. It is a pretty scary thing when your llama chokes and we have heard of llamas dying from this.

In the summer we give the males just a little sweet feed, we often use a dairy ration which is grains mixed with molasses and now out feed mill has come out with a llama text mix which we have used for the last couple of years. The amount they get depends upon their age and condition and whether they have just been working, but normally it is not very much, probably half or three quarters of a small cottage cheese container (250 ml) which is probably about a cup. In the winter when it is cold they get a little more.

Our vet says to stay away from pelletized feeds as they seem to tend to cause choking more than the sweet feed.

I would suspect that you are giving him too much feed at present. You could try dishing it out a little at a time so that he is forced to eat more slowly and therefore less likely to choke. One solution I have heard people try is to put some good-sized rocks in the feeder to slow down the gobbling of the food.

You could also try letting him eat the feed out of your hand as you can then control how much is in your hand and if he starts to bolt it down you can easily move your hand away. It certainly wouldn’t take too long to feed one llama this way and it also has the advantage of him learning to really trust you.

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Index to the Question and Answer Pages

Page One Page Two 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 (Present Page) 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

Who made these pages?

Mount Lehman Llamas Farm Page