Llama Question and Answer Page heading Ambassador drawing

This page has discusses llamas shedding fiber, eating apples,
fighting with other animals, protecting other animals,
haltering, intact males, and more.

(Updated December 15, 2002)

List of questions:

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Shedding neck wool

Q. Our woolly llama is losing her neck wool. It is coming out in clumps. Is this normal?

A. When llamas are about one and a half to two years old the wool will start shedding, which is particularly noticeable on the neck. You will suddenly notice clumps of wool missing and your beautiful woolly llama will suddenly start looking really scruffy. We have a four-year-old male who is shedding presently. There are small clumps of wool all over his pasture, hanging onto fences, and stringy pieces hanging from him.

It is nothing to worry about as it is perfectly natural. The strange part is that it often happens during the winter when you would think that they need as much wool as possible. If you look closely you will see the new fibre growing underneath.

It will grow back, but there must some rule that causes it to happen just before you plan on taking the animal to that big show.

Can llamas eat apples?

Q. Our vet told us that no ruminants (we also have some goats and one sheep) should have apples because it will ferment in their stomachs, can make them “drunk” and very sick.

A. I have never heard that, but I certainly respect your vet’s opinion. We have occasionally fed some some our llamas cut-up apples and it didn’t seem to bother them. A bigger problem with apples is choking and if you were to feed them some make sure that the pieces are small. We heard recently about a llama that choked to death on an apple that someone has tossed into the field.

For more information see:

Fighting with other animals

Q. Our non-gelded llama has in the past year become nasty to the other animals. We have three donkeys, one goat and one sheep in with him. These animals have all been together for over ten years. He fights almost daily with the other llama. During the fall (heat season) our old sheep had a bad spinal injury which we believed was a result of him sitting on her back. She has always been inseparable from him. (We just separated him into a field next to the others for her safety). Once last year he had the male goat down face first in the dirt suffocating him. He has always been a pretty nice guy, not as friendly as the other llama, but still good natured. Could it be his age? He does not like being alone (although he is side by side with the others, only separated by a fence, we even built an enclosure connected to theirs) but we don’t know what else to do.

A. A whole male llama will sometimes try to breed sheep as well as becoming very protective of them. They also seem to resent rams being around “their” sheep, and may attack the male animal. It is a natural behaviour for the llama even if we can’t understand it. He may have been trying to breed the ram when he had him down and if that was the case the llama would have been making an orgling sound. If the ewe is not in heat, they would probably be all right together and he would be able to protect her and he should settle down.

The first two llamas we got were two males and we gelded one. They would wrestle and fight a bit which is normal behaviour. They were inseparable until we got some females and let the whole male breed a few times. After that we couldn’t have them together as the whole male would go after the gelding.

My llama won’t let me work with the other llamas

Q. I have just acquired four llamas, all geldings with the exception of a 16-month-old intact male. The oldest llama, 14-year-old Josh, is very protective of the other llamas, especially the cria. Everything is fine as long as it does not appear that I am trying to herd the animals to the the small corral to halter them. Then he becomes very agitated and will squeal at me and then start spitting if I persist. He does not back off and will “square off” with me. Today he ran around a tree and then fake charged. I am a big guy but felt I needed protection and flung a stick at him which only infuriated him more. I was able to separate him from the other boys, but am now in a quandary as he won’t let me near him. I don’t think it is BLS or ABS as everything is fine unless he perceives a threat. He eats from my hand, but is a little standoffish (as he should be) when I am in the pasture feeding them. He is also a gentleman once his halter is on and I am getting him ready to pack. I don’t know if I should sell him as a guard llama (his previous owner had him with six sheep when not packing), euthanize him (I have a-four-year old who goes into the pasture with me), or try something else. Would separating him (I don’t have enough room for a creating a separate, non-adjoining pasture) in the smaller corral help or should I keep him completely isolated in the small barn I have?

A. What you are describing is perfectly normal behaviour for a llama that has been guarding sheep.

You either have a sheepguard or a llama that you can take hiking or whatnot. You can’t have both. Llamas take guarding very seriously, there are ranches where they actually have to put the guard llama in the barn while they tend to the newborn lambs as the llama tries to keep the owners away from “his” lambs.

I would assume that your 14-year-old has substituted the three younger llamas as his charges and is simply protecting them. In the wild a male would be protecting his females and their offspring and driving off any other animals, both male and female. You cannot expect them to understand gelding.

This is a natural behaviour and he is certainly not berserk and at fourteen he will not develop that syndrome as it is a behaviour that is learned when they are very young.

I would think that he will always be very protective of the other three so in your case he might be better going back to guarding sheep. He sounds like a perfectly normal llama and certainly is not a candidate for euthanizing. His problem is that he is a guard animal and he is going to guard whatever is around.

We sold a young llama a year ago to some people with a few sheep and he does a tremendous job. He also guard their two little girls. He will herd the three-year-old girl into the barn if that “awful” barn cat appears on the fence. Her older sister though, objects to being herded. What I am trying to say is that llamas protect smaller “animals” whereas an adult might be perceived as a threat. Chances are that your four-year-old would be protected by him, but I would watch him carefully, as you would with any large animal.

He would be very upset if he was isolated in a barn. A prolonged period of isolation might make him prone to ulcers as they do worry a lot sometimes.

In the meantime, if you want to work with the other three, it might be best to put him in the barn while you are doing anything with them and then let him back with them when you are finished. He may learn that it is all right to let you interact with the others and that no harm has come to his charges.

In the final analysis though, he will always be a sheepguard and would be happier doing that.

Skittish llama and haltering

Q. We have just purchased a female llama — 18 months old — who has been living in a field with about 20 other female llamas of various ages. She is very skittish around people. We're keeping her in a pen about 16' x 28' which includes an 8'x8' stall (with no door) in a shelter. She is not yet trusting us, and I don’t want to move to fast to put a halter on her, but don’t know what steps I need to take to accomplish that feat. We have spent about a half hour this morning and a half hour this afternoon in her pen, talking with her, offering her food (which she took from a pan, but not from my hand) and my husband has been able to rub her back several times. She is more settled today than she was yesterday. We've had her only two days. (We also have a male llama aged two and a half years.)

Any suggestions as to what we need to do before we try the halter — and suggestions to try when we put the halter on, would be very helpful to us.

A. It sounds as if you are doing everything correctly already. It will take quite a while for her to get comfortable with you. Her whole world has suddenly been turned upside down and she will miss all the other llamas. You can expect her to be skittish for a while.

You have to remember that llamas are prey animals while pretty well everything that she sees could be a predator, especially in unfamiliar a stall as she has no place to run.

Touching her and rubbing her will help but it must be done carefully. Right now she is not sure about it at all. Try touching her and then, if she stops moving, stepping back as a reward. Once she realizes that you are not going to hurt her when you touch her she will become more accepting of it. If she moves around when you try to put a hand on her back, just stay with her and wait until she stops moving. As soon as she stops moving, turn your back and walk away. This is her reward for stopping. Wait a few moments and approach her again. As soon as she stops, or even if she doesn’t move, reward her by stepping away out of reach.

Soon she she will connect the idea that if she doesn’t move or stops moving, she gets rewarded by you leaving her alone. Then you can put your hand on her back briefly and if she moves, stay with her until she stops and reward her again by backing off.

These sessions don’t have to be very long, but you will find them really amazed as how soon she will be less skittish.

It is great that she will eat out of a pan while you are holding it. That is a big step. What you could do next is to get her eating off of a frisbee with a bit of grain on it. If you want to get her eating out of your hand you can eventually put your hand on the frisbee with some grain in your hand. It may take some time to get her to do that, but don’t rush it and don’t get frustrated. Always stop a training session on a good note, even if you haven’t got as far as you figured you should.

If she is nervous about eating from the frisbee while you are holding it, try looking away. Eye contact can be challenging to them and she may be more relaxed if you are not watching her eyes.

I wouldn’t worry about getting her eating out of your hand right away, remember you are still pretty new to her and if her former owners didn’t feed her that way, she may not be too enthusiastic. We have a two-year-old that still won’t take cookies out of my hand while all of her buddies will.

Once you get her eating out of the frisbee while you are holding it, the next step is to put the halter on the frisbee so that she has to put her nose through the straps to get the grain. If she doesn’t want to do this try leaving the frisbee on the ground with the halter and a little grain. Eventually she will eat the grain and find out the halter is no big deal.

Once you have her eating this way while you are holding the frisbee, the next step is to slip the halter up her nose a bit while she is nibbling the grain. Let it slide off again the first few times. Don’t get impatient. Soon she won’t even you notice you slipping the halter on. Keep working with it and eventually she will even let you fasten the halter, but don’t rush this part. It is not as if you need to get the halter on today or tomorrow or even next week.

Often some of ours only get a halter on when the vet is coming and we have to grab their ears to do this which is obviously not the best way. Getting the halter on should mean something nice such as going for a nice walk.

Another really great way to get a llama halter trained is to use the Click and Reward method. There is a link on our Q&A links page. Basically, this involves asking the llama to do something and as soon as she does, you click your clicker and then give her a reward, which is usually a little grain in your hand.

Normally you have them touch a paper target with their nose. Once they get the idea, you use the halter as a target and soon they will come across the field when you hold up the halter and stick their nose in it. You will be amazed at how quickly they catch on to this. The trickiest thing is to time the click so that they hear it as soon as they have done the task that you want them to do.

Jim and Amy Logan have a couple of great videos showing this method, either of which will inspire you to try it.

Mouth abscess?

Q. My llama has an abscess near his teeth and we and the vet are nervous about putting a bandage or anything on it inside his mouth.

A. I think you are right about not putting anything on the inside of the mouth. It would be nearly impossible to get something to stick, and it could be very dangerous if it came loose.

My cousin had a llama a number of years ago that had an abscess in the jaw. I can’t remember just what the original problem was, but it was something to do with a tooth. He had to have surgery for it. Anyway, he had a hole in the side of his cheek and they had to put peroxide on it every day. Believe it or not, eventually the hole closed up and he was fine, but it did take quite a while.

The bright side of it is that it makes you work with the animal every day and llamas get used to being handled and it is amazing how soon they learn to trust you. After a while you probably won’t even have to put a halter on him to treat his face. We had to put ointment in one of our female’s eyes every day for three weeks. After a couple of times we didn’t have to put a halter on and after a couple of more times she wouldn’t even get up. She would just be kushed in the barn and she would let us deal with the eye — the barn door was wide open and she could have run out if she wanted to. This was an animal that originally was a real spitter and you couldn’t even touch her.

Why is my llama afraid of me?

Q. Help, I have just inherited a male llama with a new farm I bought. I don’t have a clue what to do with Llouie, he is not friendly to the point of coming up to you, actually he seems quite afraid of me. He will take food from me, but if I move to approach him, he runs away. I have noticed that he will hang around the barn with me, but always at a distance. His former owner said they did not handle him. Also, the cows and the horse tend to run him off, nothing terrible, just keeping him at bay. Does he need companionship? I'd hate for him to be lonely, but then I can’t introduce another one, until I know how to handle him.

A. Everything you have described is perfectly normal llama behaviour. You can’t really expect him to trust you until you have earned it. As far as he is concerned, things have changed. When his former owner didn’t handle him, that is what he considers normal. now you want to interact with him and he can’t understand why.

You have to remember that llamas are a “prey” animal so their first instinct is to flee if there is anything that is unusual or doesn’t look right, or safe. He is acting instinctively.

The good part is that he will hang around the barn when you are there. From that you can surmise that he trusts you to a certain degree.

It will just take time for him to learn to trust you completely. The more time you spend with him, the more he will learn to trust you. The John Mallon method of training would be useful for you. This is where you reward the animal by walking away from him. For instance, you have him in a small area such as a pen or a stall. If you put your hand on his back, he will try to evade you. As soon as he stops, you take your hand off and walk away. His reward for stopping is that you leave him alone. He will learn very quickly that it doesn’t hurt for you to touch him.

Give him lots of time and he will come around. You can’t rush these things.

He shouldn’t be too lonely as long as he has the other animals around but he would probably be happier with a llama companion eventually.

In the meantime, take your time working with him and just enjoy him!

Follow-up Q. So, I can in a way handle him the same as a horse, correct? I have one that was abused and it was the same type of reactions, now we have a great relationship. I have found Llouie loves oatmeal cookies and will actually take one out of my hand and then just look at me, like why are you doing this, so I do understand he is confused.

A. If you treat Llouie the same way you did the horse, you will have a great relationship with him as well. It probably won’t take as long though, as it sounds as if he is already beginning to trust you, and he seems pretty intelligent.

Sometimes it takes years before they will take something out of your hand so that is a really big step. It means that he is overcoming his fear. We have a recipe for llama cookies on the web page under “Treats” that someone sent me. It is actually a recipe for horse treats, but the woman who sent it says her llama just loves them.

Follow-up Q. His hair is awfully long and matted, is this something I should be concerned about?

A. I wouldn’t worry about it right now. as it probably won’t be too pleasant if you try and brush it out. Touch him a lot so that he gets used to it, rubbing your hand on his back and sides. Let him find out that it isn’t dangerous for you to touch him. Later on you will probably have to cut off the worst mats, but let him get really settled in first. Don’t push him. You don’t want to lose any trust that you have gained. It would probably be a good idea to shear him when the weather gets warm and then after that you will be able to brush him, which will keep him from getting matted again.

Follow-up Q. Can I find out more about the John Mallon methods more on the web?

A. John has a web site called Mallon Method and he runs clinics all over the place so you might find one near you. He lives in California but his clinics should be listed on the site. John is a cowboy and trained horses with this method before he got into llamas.

There are also a few other training methods that I would recommend with web sites that are listed on our Llama Links page under “Training”. Marty McGee (Santa Fe) is wonderful and teaches the TTEAM method which originally started with horses. Jim Logan (Spokane) teaches Click and Reward which gets incredible results quickly. He has a couple of videos that show him getting his animals to do unbelievable things.

I know you won’t have any trouble, as you seem to be doing everything correctly already. Llouie just doesn’t know how lucky he is.

Can I have my breeding male in with other llamas?

Q. Our male and our gelding are fighting quite a lot. They have been in with our female and her cria. It has reached the point where the stud is actually keeping the gelded male in a small pasture alone all the time and was trying to starve him out or so it appeared. We had thought that time was correcting the behavior until this week when the fighting has reinitiated itself.

I am worried that the gelded male is spending all his time alone and not being able to reenter the little family, we only have the four. We tried haltering the stud for awhile and was okay for a little bit after but now is as aggressive as ever. My main question is, do you feel the gelded male will be okay spending his time separated, we know they are herd animals by nature and my heart is breaking for him being all alone, he is fed and watered separately and is just not allowed to interact at all.

A. Once a male has been breeding he thinks any other male must be competition. It makes no difference to him at all that they may be gelded. I have watched the wild herds of guanacos in Patagonia and a male there may have a little harem of about six females. He spends his entire time guarding his territory, running off any intruders, both male and female. There is only enough vegetation in his section of real estate to feed his females and their offspring.

The picture above is of Galahad and Hummfree, a couple of young males learning how to fight. Chest butting is part of it.

So, what you are describing is a completely normal thing for a male.

I would be tempted to put the male in a separate, adjoining pasture. That way the gelding could be in with the mom and baby. Separating the stud is a way of ensuring that you don’t get surprise babies as occasionally the female will “slip” or reabsorb the fetus in the first sixty or ninety days. The male will re-breed her automatically and if you are not around to see this, you end up thinking that your female is due and all of a sudden the baby is late. You can get pretty worried, but then she will have the cria two or three months later.

If the male is in an adjoining field, you will notice if the female is open as she will start hanging around the fence and he will certainly show interest.

Also as Diamond gets older, the male will perceive him as competition and he will start putting him in his place. Diamond will also learn to wrestle with the gelding which is a lot safer as they don’t usually fight as seriously.

Once a llama decides to protect his territory, there is not much you can do to change that and he will drive off all competition. We put a calm gelding in for company with another frisky, recent gelding. The recent gelding cornered the newcomer to his field and kept him cornered for three days until we took the poor guy out. That was months ago and the frisky one has settled down quite a bit but he is still by himself as we don’t want to put any others in with him and go through that again. We had three females in with him for a number of month, to try and get some weight off of them, and everything was fine.

We have a page with a couple of QuickTime movies of llamas fighting but the files are fairly large, one is 507k and the other is four and a half megabytes.

Can I have a young male in with an intact male?

Q. Can a six-month old male be in the same field with a four- or five-year-old intact male? Will they get along after the older male asserts his dominance? Will the younger one pester the older one so that he is attacked?

A. I would think that the older male would get along with the young guy for about another year or so. The six-month old certainly won’t want to fight and will offer a submissive posture with his neck down and his tail up. This is a signal that he is not looking for trouble. The older male will probably be protective of him after they have been together for a while. As long as the youngster is not perceived as competition for the females there is no reason for the older male to assert his dominance.

Follow-up Q. Also, in a separate pasture are three open females and two castrated donkeys and they get along very well. The dominant donkey is the guard of the females and I am quite sure that they will not accept youngster. This six-month-old male is in a pen by himself and has horses and miniature horses in adjoining pastures, but he is lonely and the horses do not like him. Can you tell me what might be best for the little guy?

A. The older male would probably be upset if the youngster was put in with the females. In his mind, any male in there must only be in there for one reason. From what you have said, it sounds as if it would be more dangerous for the little guy to be put in with the donkey.

Another problem with putting him in with open females is that he is going to try and breed them. It won’t bother him that he is not able yet, but he will go through the motions. It can happen though, that young males can impregnate the females. I have heard of this definitely happening with males as young as ten months and there are stories of it happening with even younger males.

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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
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 (Present Page) 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

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Mount Lehman Llamas Farm Page