This page has discusses llamas as sheep guards, grooming and brushes,
what loads they can carry, llamas and water, llama milk, temperament,
getting along with new dogs, and more.
(Updated December 15, 2002)
Q. Do Llamas naturally guard sheep or do you need to train them to do that?
A. Training a llama to be a sheep guard is not done. Not every llama is suitable as a sheep guard, but usually they take to it just naturally. A few years ago we had a very alert gelding who would alarm call as soon as he saw anything unusual and he was always the first to spot a coyote in the fields behind us. We decided that he would make a great sheep guard, so we went to the livestock auction and bought three sheep that we could put in with him. The idea was that he would learn to guard them and we could advertise him as a trained guard llama.
The three sheep didn’t look that big when they were in the auction ring, but were much larger when we tried to load them in the truck. Anyway, we got them home and we put the truck in the llama’s field and opened the tailgate. The three sheep jumped out into the tall grass and decided this was heaven and just started eating. The llama took one look at these strange animals and left for the far side of the pasture. We waited about fifteen minutes for him to settle down and went inside.
A few minutes later there was a great deal of screaming so we rushed outside and found that the gelding had jumped the fence to get away from those awful sheep and was in with the moms and babies. The male in the next field was going nuts at the gelding being in the wrong field (male llamas are very territorial) so we had to round up the gelding and get things quieted down.
We moved the sheep into an adjoining field at the back where they were quite content but the gelding would not go near that fence. We moved his feeder gradually down the fence and it took about a month before he would even eat his grain if it was on the back fence.
After a month and a half we decided to test it again and let the sheep back into the gelding’s field. Within a few minutes he was over the fence again.
We sold him as a pack animal and told the people not to let him near sheep. He settled down amazingly and had geese, goats, horses, other llamas around with no problems whatsoever. He even met a mother bear with a couple of cubs on the road and didn’t panic.
Since then we have learned not to introduce them so quickly. We have sold a number of geldings that were introduced slowly to the sheep by being in a nearby pasture or pen for a couple of days and when they finally were put in with the sheep, started looking after them within a day or so. The sheep were nervous at first, but soon realized that this was a protector not a predator.
The answer to your question is that we don’t have trained sheep guards but we judge the ability and attitude of the animals and so far have been extremely satisfied with their performance, as have the new owners.
Most male llamas seem to adapt very quickly to guarding as it seems to be a natural ability. The key seems to be to introduce them slowly, putting the llama into an area near the sheep and then putting maybe one or two in with him first. (Not just dumping the sheep into his field as we did.) The sheep may be nervous at first, but will soon realize that the llama is going to look after them. We have found that the llamas are very gentle and protective, particularly with the new lambs.
Salvador Dali is a gelding that we recently sold as a sheep guard. The photo below shows him with part of his flock. Here is a note from his new owners:
Have not lost any sheep since Salvador was hired. He not only guards the flock from coyotes and dogs but he also makes sure they all stay together and none of the lambs get left behind. Yesterday, two lambs got left in the barn and were bawling because they did not know where the rest of the flock went. We watched Sal come in from the field and then drive the two lambs out to where the rest of the flock were. Now all we have to do is get him to start throwing down hay from the loft and give the sheep grain every night.
Q. I have 30 sheep and have had problems with coyotes, so I was told to get a llama. I use a basic electric fence, with the white poles and black and yellow wire that runs across to keep my sheep in my front pasture, and is about 3 feet tall. It works great for my sheep but will it work for the llama? Or should I invest in a better type of fence?
A. Once a llama has touched an electric fence with his nose, he will not likely go near it again. We had a couple of males that got into a great fight a few years ago and roared out into the neighbour’s acreage which had a low electric fence. They were so fixated on chasing each other that they went through the electric fence, even breaking a three inch wooden post. One of the llamas got the wire around his neck and lay there screaming every time he got zapped. Once I got it off of him, he wouldn’t even step over the electric fence wire that was lying on the ground.
A three foot high fence is not really high enough to keep a llama in, ours are about four feet, but they are wooden rails. They can jump that but don’t normally.
If your llama turns out to be a good sheep guard, there is no way he will go over the fence and leave the sheep.
Q. What type of brush is best to use on llamas? We have done a lot of reading and nothing says what is best. Our llama is getting several matted spots on his back.
A. A pin brush or a slicker brush work best. Some of the dog grooming brushes will work fine and are easily obtained. There are a number of llama suppliers on our links page if you are unable to find brushes locally.
Don’t overdo brushing out matted areas as they are going to pull the fibre and your llama may get fed up. You don’t want to make it an uncomfortable process for the llama. Sometimes it is better to cut off some of the matted areas
Q. How much weight can a llama carry?
A. It depends on how heavy the load is. They can easily carry about a quarter of their body weight so if you figured that the animal weighed about 350 pounds then he could easily carry about 80 pounds if he was in good shape.
If you put too much weight on a llama, most of them are smart enough to just lie down and refuse to get up. Obviously you wouldn’t put this much weight on an animal the first time. You would want to start with a light pack and gradually add a little more weight each time you did a training session until he is comfortable with a full pack.
Chungara in this photo has a comfortable load in his pack. We were only going out for a few days so we didn’t need a whole big load of gear.
For more information see:
A. Llamas can swim, but they don’t do it normally. The countries where they are native do not have a lot of water, the high areas of the Andes are very desert-like actually.
I remember seeing photos a few years ago of someone taking their llamas swimming in a pond on their property, but he had trained them to go into the water. Most often the llamas will jump over a creek rather than go through the water until they are trained to walk through the water.
The photo on the right was taken in Patagonia and shows two guanacos standing in a pond and a couple more on the shore. They are not very large in the photo as I didn’t want to get too close and scare them off. These small ponds are usually not very deep, maybe a foot and a half so the guanacos don’t swim in them but they sometimes stand in the water for quite a while and I assume they are grazing on water plants as well as drinking.
We have never seen any of our llamas swim, but I am sure they could if they had to.
We have some photos of llamas splashing through a fairly deep creek on one of our hiking pages.
A. Llamas come in quite a variety of colours from pure white to solid black, with a wonderful variety or browns, from light to dark. The browns seem to be the most common colours. Some llamas will be all one colour while others will have patches of two or three different colours. Occasionally you will see an appaloosa with lots of spots.
The samples below show just some of the varieties of colours gathered from a few of the llamas on our farm. These are by no means the only colours that llamas come in, we didn’t have a sample of a lighter gray for example.
A. This question seems to going around as a trivia question lately. Llama milk is white, just like any other milk. The first milk, or colostrum, is very thick and is a creamy colour, but the normal milk looks exactly like any other milk.
Occasionally people ask if you can drink llama milk. It is possible but most female llamas do not have an excess amount of milk, they have enough for their offspring and that is all. Their udders are fairly small and the nipples are sometimes tiny, looking not much bigger than raisins on some animals. If a female has too much milk, perhaps the cria is small, or the female just has a lot of milk, we will milk off her excess and freeze the milk in one ounce lots. This milk is extremely valuable when someone has a problem with a female with little or no milk. A number of crias in our area have been saved this way as a few members of our local llama club have reserves of milk which they will share.
If a female has too much milk for the cria to keep up with, it is important to milk off the excess as there is a possibility that she could get mastitis and then the problem can become extremely serious.
For more information see:
Animal Planet (part of the Discovery Network) has done two TV shows about llamas one about Diane White-Crane, the Llama Lady, and her llamas Dudley and Sammy, and another about Sandy Stillwell and her llama Charlie. Both have been shown eight times in late 2000 and early 2001, and may be shown again. Both shows are really well done and are worth watching.
A Day in the Life of a Llama (about Dudley, Sammy and Diane the Llama Lady).
Llama Love Story (about Charlie the Llama).
Walt Disney has a movie featuring a llama, called The Emperor’s New Groove about a young, wise-guy know-it all emperor who gets turned into a llama with an attitude, and learns all about the value of friendship and loyalty, etc.
A. Llamas usually don’t like dogs much until they are familiar with them. Once they are used to a family dog, they mostly tolerated it, but we have some that will always try and stomp the dog, no matter how many years the dog has been around.
We recently acquired a new dog. Sebastian is really good around other animals and has ignored the llamas pretty well since he arrived. We got him used to some of the llamas who were in smaller groups and after about five days I decided to let him visit the larger groups. In the photo on the left he is running for his life with a whole herd of two-year-old females after him. Actually they were just trying to sniff him, but there were several of the older females who tried to stomp him when he was in their field.
Even Pizarro who is a gelding that we take hiking and is used to various dogs has chased poor Sebsastian and tried to stomp him. I think that Sebastian still thinks that the llamas just want to play with him, but he will soon learn to keep his distance once he gets kicked.
Q. What is the best age and gender to get for a pet llama (used for occasional hiking and companionship for smaller livestock). I suppose a better inquiry would be, what are the variations between male and female temperament? What is the best combination for two companion llamas I'm assuming two females?
A. There is no best age but you would want to make sure that the llama is weaned. We usually wean between six and eight months of age and unless mom does it herself it is sometimes a little stressful for some of them. After they have been weaned a month or so they usually are a little more confident and would adapt to different surroundings more easily.
As far as temperament, females are usually calmer than males, as males tend to fight more to establish dominance, particularly if there are some females around. A male by himself has no reason to fight.
For two companion animals, a couple of females get along with no problems at all normally. A couple of males would get along but they would wrestle and chase each other around which is typical male behaviour. In fact, right now we have a visiting gelding that jumped the fence and got in with three other geldings and they have been chasing around all afternoon and there is still the occasional screaming match going on, but they will settle down in a day or so. Otherwise he will be back in a field by himself again.
Costwise, you would be best to get a couple of males and then when they are about two years old, get them gelded. When they are about three, have their fighting teeth removed and you should have two good, and safe, animals.
Just be very careful if you buy males to make sure that they haven’t been handled too much when they were babies as they can imprint on humans and this can cause problems later on. Also, if you were to purchase a couple of young males, no hugging and cuddling them, no matter how cute and cuddly they seem.
Follow-up Q. Also, is it best to buy an adult pre-trained llama or to train it yourself?
A. Llamas are very smart and willing to learn so if you wanted to train them yourself, I would suggest that you look into clicker training. This is a system where you first have to have the animal trust you enough to eat a little grain out of your hand. Then you ask the animal to do something, such as touch a target with their nose. As soon as they touch it, you click the clicker and give them a little grain. You would be amazed at how quickly they learn that the click means that they have done what you wanted them to do. After a while, you change the target to a halter and it is not long until they will stick their nose into it for you. Getting them to load into a trailer using this method is a non-event as opposed to dragging and shoving a scared animal into a trailer.
There is lots of information on clicker training on the internet, much of it having to do with dogs, but the methods are the same. Jim and Amy Logan have some wonderful videos which are available from their web site. There is a link on our links page under Llama Training.
Training them yourself gives you confidence and the llama learns to trust you, whereas buying a trained animal may be easy but the animal doesn’t know who you are and you don’t know what signals the llama may be looking for when you want it do do something. I am not saying to go and buy an animal that has never been handled, it should be used to a halter and lead easily.
Follow-up Q. Do llamas ever have a tendency to be aggressive towards humans?
A. Not normally, that is why you don’t want one that has been handled too much when it was young. Humans will cause a male llama to be aggressive by cuddling it and babying it when it is small and when it becomes mature, it may be confused as it identifies too much with humans. All of a sudden the human is competition and male llamas at that age fight pretty roughly, their fighting fangs are designed to try and castrate the competition. 'Nuff said?
Follow-up Q. I understand llamas are usually standoffish, however, do they show affection or really trust their owner to the point of listening to commands?
A. I have often said that you don’t own llamas, they own you. They don’t show affection like a cat or a dog will, but in actual fact, you don’t want them to show too much affection. You want them to be a llama. they are very gentle and will come up to you and sniff your hair or sniff your face. This is known as a llama kiss and when you are visiting a farm and one does this to you, you are hooked, so be warned. If this happens (or maybe when this happens) and you decide that you just have to have this one, you might be wise to buy one of its buddies as it makes the separation from the herd a little easier.
They don’t normally want to be touched, especially around the eyes and ears. Once they learn to trust you, and this can take some time, you can run your hand over them and they will tolerate it. Using a clicker can really accelerate this process. You can train them for voice commands as well as hand signals. The videos I mentioned will astound you if you have never seen anything on this method.
Being gentle with the animals and getting them to trust you can take a long time, particularly if they have learned not to trust humans earlier or if they have had some bad experiences with humans. We bought an older female at an auction many years ago and she was so miserable that we renamed her Bitch Cassidy as she would spit at anyone that came anywhere near her. We just left her alone, never forcing her to do anything and being really kind to her. She must have been really mistreated somewhere down the line as it took years to gain her trust. Then one year she got a bad cut on her eyelid and the vet had to give her a shot of anethsetic in her eyelid and then sewed it up and then had to give her a antibiotic shot. You could hear the spit gurgling up and when the vet was finished she walked calmly out of the barn and spat out into the field.
After that we had to lift the eyelid every day for about three weeks and put some ointment in her eye. She would just lie in the barn and let us do it without even putting a halter on her. We would leave and she wouldn’t even get up. Now that is trust. By then we had changed her name back to Laura, her original name.
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|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 poopyellow?||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 (Present Page)|
|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?
Brian and Jane Pinkerton
29343 Galahad Crescent
Canada V4X 2E4
E-mail address: email@example.com