Llama Question and Answer Page heading Ambassador drawing

This page has discusses breeding of llamas, birthing, training, spitting,
scientific classification, how much space they need, fencing, and more.

(Updated June 10, 2003)

List of questions:

Find the answer!

Breeding questions

Q. Have you ever had a stud that wouldn’t look at a particular female? We can’t get our four-year-old male to mate with our nearly two-year-old female. He just looks right over her at her mother and sister who he has already bred. We have tried things like hiding all the girls for a few days then only presenting the young female to him but we still get no reaction.

A. Yup. It happens occasionally. They are like people sometimes and have their likes and dislikes. We had a female in for an outside breeding to Conquistador. We took her into his field twelve days after her baby had been born, when she should have been ready and willing. He came charging over, she put her ears back and said something nasty to him. He put his neck down submissively and retreated to the other side of the field.

We tried again in the afternoon. Same thing. There was the same result in the evening. Absolutely no interest.

The next day we put them together several times. Same result. Finally we phoned the owners and said that the two of them hate each other and asked them if they would mind if we bred her to Ambassador instead.

When we took her into Ambassador’s field, she lay down instantly and he bred her quite happily for twenty minutes.

Sometimes a two-year-old female is just not ready for breeding. You may have to wait until they are three years of age before their bodies are mature enough. It can be very frustrating for the owners, but in most cases it certainly won’t hurt the young female to wait another year.

Q. My daughter seems to think that mother and son Llamas will not breed together, therefore I shouldn’t worry about getting the male castrated. Is this true?

A. Young male llamas will breed anything, or at least try to breed anything. They may mount their mothers and go through the motions, complete with trying to orgle, when they are a month or so old.

Normally the male is not capable of breeding until he is about two but there have been occasions when they have managed to impregnate a female before they are a year old.

You wouldn’t want to castrate your young male before he is a couple of years old so the safest course would be to have him in an adjoining field.

Q. I have a female llama who acts bred but apparently isn’t. What to do?

A. This is not unusual. A female who has been bred will occasionally slip and become open. This usually happens around the sixty to ninety day mark.

A female has four days out of twelve where she should be receptive to the male so if you are putting her in with the male every once in a while there is a sixty-six percent chance that she is not ready and will spit.

If your female has had a baby before we might be able to assist you but if she is a maiden, I haven’t been able to figure out anything. We have a web page with some advice on re-breeding that you might like to have a look at it as it explains the system that we have worked out. It leads to a page that will run a chart for you showing the most likely days to breed your female. All you have to do is put in the female’s name and the birth date of her last baby and it will draw you a chart for the next thirty days, with the days in green being the best days to try breeding.

Q. The breeding lasted about 20 minutes and then the female was the first to get up. Is this the norm? I thought the male got off first.

A. This is fairly common. The female seems to know when it is done and may get up first. Also she may have been uncomfortable. The other side is when she won’t get up at all when the male leaves. We have had that happen and dragged the female back to her own field where about six young males climbed all over as she lay by another male’s fence. It was bedlam trying to get her back up and back over to the original male where he bred her for another ten minutes or so and then she was satisfied and didn’t need another breeding.

Q. There was some reddish discharge from her. Would this be due to the fact that she has just had her cria?

A. Sometimes there is a little blood but it shouldn’t be anything to worry about. The male’s penis has a “corkscrew-like” tip and it can make hamburger out of the inside of a female with repeat breedings. When I saw Dr. LaRue Johnson’s photos of this we changed our breeding practice so that we don’t re-breed for at least 48 hours. He maintains that they are meant to be bred once only.

Q. I have been told to re-breed her again the next day. Is this what you would do?

A. What we do is breed on the high point of their cycle, for example day 12. Then we walk the female by the fence on day 14. With any luck she will spit which is what happened today with one female. We also tested another female with the same male and he was interested but she was not too anxious to go to the fence or anywhere near him but she didn’t spit. I took her into his field after this and he tried to mount her but she spat and spat so we hauled her back out. Both of these females were only bred the once and by the looks of it they have both caught.

Some of the vets say that they ovulate around 36 hours after they have been bred so that is one reason that we wait two full days to test them as if they are going to ovulate they will have by then and they know it.

If we can breed the females only once it is easier not only on them, but much easier on us as it sometimes is tough to get a female safely in and out of an amorous male’s field.

How do I stop them eating bark?

We have noticed that some of the llamas love to chew on the bark of trees, particularly in the spring. All it takes is one of them to start and soon all of them will be chewing away and it doesn’t take long for them to strip the bark off for as high as they can reach.

Last spring the maple tree on the left was stripped by our females who hadn’t exhibited this behaviour before. We put chicken wire around the trees but it was probably a little late by the time I noticed. After they couldn’t chew on this tree they moved to a nearby clump of maples and started nibbling there. I stopped that by scooping up some of their sloppy droppings with a shovel and flinging the excrement at the tree. They will not eat the grass anywhere near their droppings and they haven’t touched the bark on these trees since.

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Scientific Classification

Q. I am a student doing a report on the scientific classification of llamas. I need to know the class, order, family, genus, and species that the llama is classified in.

A. The following information is taken from Medicine and Surgery of South American Camelids by Murray E. Fowler, DVM.

There are several systems of classification of South American camelids. One system classifies the guanaco, llama, and alpaca within the genus Lama and vicuña as a single species in the genus Vicugna while another system classified them all within the genus Lama. Others classify the llama and alpaca as subspecies of L. guanicoe guanicoe.

Collectively, South American camelids are known as lamoids, although the term “auquenidæ” is often found in older South American literature. Both camels and South American camelids are included in the term camelid.

Camelid Classification
Class — Mammalia

Order — Artiodactyla

Suborder — Tylopoda

Family — Camelidæ

Genus — Camelus, Old World camelids

C. dromedarius, dromedary camel

C. Bactrianus, Bactrian camel

Genus — Lama, South American camelids


L. glama, llama

L. pacos, alpaca

L. guanacoe, guanaco

Genus — Vicugna, South American camelid


V. vicugna or L. Vicugna, vicuña

Suborder — Ruminantia, deer, cattle, antelope, sheep, goat, gazelle

There are photos of the four species on page one of this web site.

Birthing and dog questions

Q. We have an Australian Shepherd, which is a herding dog similar to a Border Collie. If this family dog was introduced to the llamas soon after their arrival on the farm, what could I expect in dog and llama behavior during a llama birth?

A. There are a couple of factors here. A lot depends on the dog itself and how it reacts to the llamas. Our son and daughter-in-law have a Border Collie/Australian Shepherd cross pup and she doesn’t seem to have a herding instinct but I am sure that she could be trained to it. The llamas don’t like strange dogs around so when she comes to visit they all give her a wary eye. The llamas are getting used to her now but at first, if she was following us through a field they would corner her and she would just cower by the fence. Now she is about a year old and she can outrun them. A couple of the llamas would try and stomp her though if they had a chance. One still tries to stomp the cat when he goes by, and he has been around for years.

It may take a while but the llamas get to know the dog or dogs that belong to the farm, but they never trust strange dogs. At night though I can walk through the herd of females with our own dog and pass within a couple of feet of the llamas, who are lying down, and they don’t even stir.

Q. For example, if the llama became isolated from the barn and the rest of the herd due to bad weather or something else , it seems to me the dog’s instinct would be to stay with the mother llama to help protect her during the delivery. So, if the dog did stay at her side, how do you think the mother llama would react, provided she already knew and trusted the dog? This is assuming that people are unable to locate the mother llama or reach her due to the same weather condition until after the birth is complete.

A. It is a big assumption that the dog would stay and protect her. It would have to a very special dog. Our dog would want to be inside the house during the bad weather!

If the weather here looks stormy with threatened rain or snow, and we have a female that is imminent we will keep her in a stall overnight. A little baby can get hypothermia and die if it is born outside in bad weather.

We keep accurate records of when the females are bred and how many days they have gone in previous pregnancies so that we can gauge if we want to keep them inside at night before they deliver. The weather is great here right now, but even last night mom and baby were in the stall as there is a lot of dew overnight. We had ground fog, which is pretty damp, and we don’t want the baby getting too cold.

Q. Would the mother llama allow the dog to clean the sack from the cria’s face at the point that the head and two front feet are out?

A. She would probably attack the dog. The mothers can get very protective about their babies. You have to remember that llamas are “prey” animals and dogs, coyotes, wolves, and cougars are enemies. The llama’s natural instinct is to flee and to protect its flank as that is where they are most vulnerable. A first-time mother would also be very confused when the cria is being born as opposed to a llama that has had a number of babies.

We trust our dog, but when one of the llamas is about to give birth, we shut the dog in the house. We don’t want to take any chances at all. There is no point in tempting the poor dog. We even clean up the bits of sack that we pull off the baby’s face and body so that the dog doesn’t get the taste of it. We don’t even bury the placenta as we don’t want the coyotes to get a taste of it.

Q. Would she allow the dog to eat the placenta?

A. She couldn’t care less about the placenta, but I wouldn’t think it would be a good idea for the dog to get a taste for it. We always like to check the placenta to make sure that it is all there. Sometimes small bits get broken off as it is coming out and these can cause an infection in the female making re-breeding a problem.

Getting a taste of the placenta might tempt the dog too much when a llama is giving birth, causing it to go after the baby. A placenta, such as the one shown on the right, can weigh twelve or fourteen pounds.

Q. How would she react if the dog began to lick her cria clean after the birth? Favorably, or with anger and spitting?

A. She would probably slash at the dog with her front feet and possibly spit. She is not going to want anything near that baby, I watched a mom with a brand new cria yesterday afternoon with her ears back warning the rest of the llamas away and threatening to spit. There was even a little bit of “spit warning” which is just a dry spit of air. She didn’t want to spit as it tastes awful and she would have to air out her mouth for quite a while afterwards.

Llamas don’t lick their babies and she would probably take a dog licking it the wrong way thinking that the baby was in danger.

Q. I've heard that the mother llama will hum to the cria. Does she hum during labor and while giving birth, or only after the birth, and what does it sound like?

A. You are in luck. We have a Humm Page which has a variety of llama hums and sounds on it. The mothers will often hum to the babies for quite some time before they are born. Usually during the birth they don’t make much sound but might hum if someone was interfering. Some of them can get very grouchy before the birth. Yesterday’s mom would get quite annoyed at me lifting her tail to check in the past couple of weeks. We keep a pretty close eye on them in the weeks before the due date. This one was ten days early and we have had them twenty days or more ahead of the predicted date.

The crias hum to their mothers very soon after being born and the mothers have a variety of hums depending on what the cria is doing. There is a comforting hum when the cria is nearby and a worried hum if it strays too far.

Training commands

Q. I was wondering if you could help me out with commands to use during my training with my llamas. I am totally llama command illiterate! Does it really matter if I use standard commands that others llama owners use?

A. The actual words don’t make any difference at all, but I think that the tone of voice has a big effect. Most people use “stand” and “stay” in everyday training and something like “load up” for getting into a trailer.

You could make up words if you wanted to but the key would be to be consistent with the word and the tone. The llama couldn’t care less if you said “corn flakes” or “stand” as long as it was the same each time.

The most important thing is the timing of the command so that you don’t praise him with “good boy” while he is still moving around after you have said “stand”.

How much space do they need?

Q. I recently bought a 19-acre farm and was wondering about how much land one should have in order to have llamas. Also, what is the cost from purchasing through a year?

A. The standard answer is that an acre will support four llamas. We only have five acres and have over fifty llamas so we have to feed hay all year around.

Nineteen acres would certainly support a few llamas and if you were to hay a few acres of it you would have enough to feed them all year. A llama usually eats the equivalent of one flake of hay per day which is not very much compared to horses or cows. We also give our animals a little bit of dairy ration (grain) in the evening. They really don’t need it in the summer but this way we can pick up on any that might be off their feed. If they don’t come for grain, they usually are either sick or about to produce a baby.

I guess the answer to your question about the cost for through a year would be in your case, minimal. A bag of dairy ration costs about $5.00 so if you gave one llama a quarter to half a pound of feed a day, it would last for about three months.

If you had to feed them hay though, say at $4.00 per bale, one bale would last about a week. With 19 acres your costs would be the price of getting the hay baled and you can get people to do that by splitting the hay with them.

By the way, if you do get a couple of llamas and put them on your 19 acres, be sure to have some smaller pastures where you can keep them because once they get used to having all that space to run around in, you will have a tough time catching them. When we got our first two llamas we boarded them at a friend’s place on 20 acres. When we would go to work with them, sometimes we couldn’t even find them as they would be at the furthest point behind the trees.

Barbed wire and electric fences

Q. I have a thirty-acre pasture with two bred females and one gelding coming soon. Could I run a hotwire tape a couple of feet inside the barbed wire to be safe? I don’t want to spend thousands if I don’t have to.

A. Llamas learn pretty quickly to respect an electric fence so it should work. You probably wouldn’t have to though as the barbed wire fence should be adequate. Barbed wire is needed for species like cattle who will push on or try to get through a fence, whereas llamas usually respect a fence. As long as they have plenty of feed and water on their side of the fence they will not try to get through it. They may stick their necks through the strands to get the grass on the other side.

With three llamas on thirty acres they should have no need to worry about a fence. I would be tempted to see how they are without a hot wire. The thing is that llamas don’t need barbed wire to keep them in, but it will work. They may get a little wool pulled off by the barbs but that happens with wooden fences as well.

Q. When I take them to the country, I intend on keeping them in a fairly small corral for maybe three or four days, but then walking them around the perimeter of the thirty acres twice a day or so, and then releasing them the fourth day. Does this sound like a good plan?

A. It sounds like a really good plan. I would take it one step further though. I would give them a little grain (we use 14% dairy ration) whether they need it or not, each day while they are in the pen. Then after the fourth day put grain in there for them so that they learn that is where they get fed. Otherwise when they are loose on 30 acres you will never catch them. You might even want to do a bit of cross fencing at some point so that you have a smaller pasture that they feel content in.

They would also need some shelter so that could be incorporated into your pen.

What is their spit like?

Q. What does llama spit look like, feel like and smell like? Since it comes from the stomach I wonder if it is like human vomit. If not, is it thick like poorly mixed oatmeal, or sticky or lumpy or is it smooth like mustard. Do you see partially digested food in it? Does it smell as bad as a dozen skunks? How much force is in the projection? How much volume is spit?

A. Llama spit is a very over-rated problem that people often immediately associate with llamas. It is just chewed up grass. It is brought up when they chew their cud and it depends on how long it has been chewed and whether it is partly digested.

Usually spitting is to establish dominance in a herd and most often will occur over food. A llama may spit at another llama, indicating “Stay away, this is my feed bucket!” and in that case it is usually a mouthful of grain or whatever it may be eating at that time. In this case there is no smell, just a spray of dry grain.

Often they will use body language and threaten to spit, with their head up and ears back, as a warning. The next step is a "dry" spit which is just an exhalation of air.

If you want to see what the texture is, imagine if you put some grass in a blender for a few seconds, with a little bit of water. Throw a little bit on the wall and you would have a pretty good idea of what it looks like. If you would like to see what it looks like, have a look at our Barn Art page page. This a page that shows some of the paintings on the walls of our barns. Some of the paintings get covered with bits of spit eventually if they are near a feeder or near a ring where we tie the llamas when we are giving the oral worming medication. There is a link on the opening page to a “green spit” photo.

As far as the smell, it is hard to describe but it is nowhere near the smell of a skunk. The smell is not pleasant, but it is no big deal and it washes off easily. What does it smell like? Try our new Scratch and Sniff page.

Ivana after spitting match

The llamas do not like to spit and use it only as a last resort as it must taste awful because after a couple have had a spitting match you will see them with their mouths hanging open for about an hour to air their mouths and get the taste out.

Ivana, in the photo on the left, had just chased a couple of the younger girls out of the shelter and had the two feeders all to herself until Socorra came along, spat at her and took over the feeders. Ivana has gotten splattered on the side of her face and is airing her mouth out as the hay won’t taste very good for a while now.

As far as volume, there is usually not a lot as they can only have so much in their mouth at a time. It will travel for five or six feet fairly accurately. It is usually wet enough to stick and you will often see a youngster with little green bits of spit spattered on its head and neck. In that case, they are teaching the youngster who is boss and that they don’t wish to be bugged.

We had one female who turned into a real spitter when she was being boarded on another farm. One day she was molting her fibre so I decided to brush her. She started spitting immediately so I took a small towel and tucked it into her halter so it hung down over her mouth. She spat for a solid hour and I just smiled and talked nicely to her as I brushed her. She was a bit miffed and the towel was pretty juicy and green as after a while the spit was mostly liquid. She is now with us on the farm here and doesn’t spit at all. A lot of it is getting them to trust you. She has no reason to spit as she is treated nicely.

spit graphic

She has been here a few years now and has not spit until she was shorn recently. We soon learned that she hadn’t forgotten how to spit! We have a couple of video clips of a llama spitting and a page with still pictures showing the stages of a llama spit.

Many years ago I bought a female at an auction and later when I went into the pen to see what I had bought she spat at me. I figured that she was just protecting the baby that was with her so I went to the washroom and wiped off my face and went back. She spat again. The seller came by then and said that he always carried a piece of plywood in the barn as a shield as she always spat. That was wonderful news.

We had her in quarantine for a couple of months and whenever we had to do something which was usually invasive such as drawing blood or doing ultrasounds she would spit profusely. It was very difficult to catch her as she would spit as soon as you got anywhere near her. She was awful and we called her Bitch Cassidy. Over the years though, she learned to trust us and one day she had a bad cut on her eyelid.

We called the vet and he gave her a shot of anesthetic in the eyelid and then sewed it up. Then he gave her a shot of antibiotics. You could hear the cud gurgling up and when he was finished she walked out of the barn and spat out the cud into the field.

We had to treat her every day for about three weeks and we would have to lift up the eyelid and squeeze some ointment under it. After the first couple of times she would be lying in the barn and wouldn’t even bother to get up and we didn’t even have to put a halter on her. She had turned into a real sweetheart.

In short, spitting is nothing to be concerned about.

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Llama “poop”

Q. My llama “poops” in one place for a while and then moves. Nice, very nice. I wonder if anyone has found a gardening use for the poop piles? I don’t have a garden this year to try it myself and I sure don’t want to pass it out if it is unacceptable.

A. The manure is excellent for your garden. It is a “slow release” type of manure and will not burn the garden. We have lots of people that come around and pick it up for their gardens. Sometimes in the summer we will chip up the dried manure and bag it. It is wonderful for indoor plants as there is no smell to it and the plants do exceptionally well.

Pile of llama beans

Mix some into a compost pile and you will have great compost and worms galore. In short, it is good stuff.

The males usually defecate in the same place, often in front of a gate. As shown in the photo on the right, they make a neat pyramidal pile which is easy to clean up. The females, however, are quite messy in comparison, going seemingly anywhere, but in reality in a general area. We brag that we have them trained to go in the barn, as we can’t stop them going in there anyway.

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Llamas and cold weather

Q. We just got a couple of two-year-old male llamas from a friend. We live in the Blue Mountains and it snows about six feet. We were told they do not need shelter and so we did not build any. They are doing fine in about four feet of snow now but we wanted to make sure if this was okay. They sort of have shelter from the dug out snow on their paths. They lay down and are almost all the way blocked from the wind. But anyway, we wanted to know if there is anything we should know about llamas living in that much snow with not much of a shelter.

A. They should have a shelter! They need to be able to get off the snow and out of the wind and a place to keep their feed dry and where there is water.

As long as they have a bit of a roof and a couple of walls to keep out of the wind they should be fine. They may not always go into a shelter, but with six feet of snow, I would think that they would appreciate a place that is dry and protected. If they get wet right now, they have no way of drying out.

A three walled shelter would be ideal. You should try and have it situated so that the sun shines into it during the day and so that it will break the wind. We have noticed that if we get a couple of feet of snow, the llamas will stay in their shelters and hardly venture out at all. If we make a track to the water trough, they will stay on that and not make trails of their own. Also, when it is below zero and they are exposed to a wind there is a danger of frostbite on their ears.

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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 Page Six (Present Page)
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