Llama Question and Answer Page heading Ambassador drawing

This page discusses llamas versus alpacas, blue-eyed llamas,
how fast they can run, aging llamas, cleaning wool, and more.
(Updated April 20, 2003)

List of questions:

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Llamas vs. Alpacas

Q. What is the difference between a llama and an alpaca?

A. The llama is considered the “Ship of the Andes” and the alpaca is the “Sheep of the Andes”. There are photos of both on Page One of this site.

They both belong to the “lama” family. The main difference is in their size, the alpaca is much smaller than the llama and is not normally used as a pack animal. The alpacas are mainly used for wool. Many llamas have very fine fibre as well, but it is normally not as thick as it is on an alpaca.

The llama is basically a pack animal in South America, but only in the real rural areas as trucks are used more commonly now to move material in the areas where there are roads.

Blue eyes

Q. Is there anything wrong with a llama having blue-eyes?

A. Blue eyes happen occasionally with llamas and usually is no big deal. It is not something though that most people look for in their herd. We have never had one born here with blue eyes so we really haven’t looked into it too much.

I have heard that there is some evidence that white, blue-eyed llamas are occasionally deaf. None of the ones with blue eyes that we have seen though have been deaf.

The picture on the left is part of a stereoview from the early 1900s and is titled “The blue-eyed White Alpaca from the Andean foothills of South America, Bronx Park”. This would indicate that blue eyes are not new to llamas.

The stereo version of this picture is on our Llama Stereoviews page.

The photo on the left shows a llama’s blue eye. The picture in the centre shows a normal, black-coloured llama eye. One of our earlier studs had interesting brown eyes and this gene has come out in one of his daughters as shown in the right-hand photo.

The photo on the left shows a llama with one blue eye and one black eye. The close-up below shows just how colourful the eye is.

Speed of a llama

Q. How fast can a llama run?

A. This is a pretty hard question to answer accurately as people don’t really race llamas. There is a pack race in the US but the llamas are always led by a handler so they don’t get up to their full speed. I know that they certainly couldn’t compete with a horse. The llamas could probably run carrying a pack for half a mile or so but he would need a pretty good reason to do so.

The young cria running in this picture is moving pretty fast. They can run much faster than a human even when they are a few days old.

Back in 1984, we learned a bit about how they can run. We had been hiking on a trail for about five hours and we stopped at a little creek to let the llamas rest and get a drink. They were humming a bit and I felt sorry for them so I took their packs off and carried them up to the top of the bank. As soon as the packs were off, both llamas took off down the trail heading for the truck. My son managed to catch up with them after about a mile. After that we always made sure that they were tied to something when we stopped.

Llamas are a “fear and flight” animal so that means that they can run at a good speed to escape a puma for instance, but they only need to keep it up long enough to outrun the predator. I have heard that they can attain speeds of around forty miles and hour. They could probably run that fast if they were trying to outrun a cougar or a bear but normally you don’t see them run that fast. In most pastures they wouldn’t have enough space to get to full speed anyway.

Most of the llamas in North America have no reason to run, unless they are being attacked and they are also in pastures where they don’t have a chance to run full out for any distance. When they run for fun, they will “pronk” like a deer with all four feet off of the ground at once. In cases like this they will bounce around the field for ten minutes or so.

The guanaco, from which it is believed llamas have evolved, can run pretty fast, but I don’t have a distance for you. In Patagonia I have watched male guanacos chasing another male when they are competing for territory and they will run full out, sometimes down steep rocky hillsides, for a long distance, probably over a mile. They scream when they are doing this and eventually the screams fade into the distance.

Follow-up Q. Who is faster, the males or females?

A. The males are bigger and stronger and in the wild (I am talking guanacos now as there are no wild llamas) their job is to run off competition and guard the females. They do a lot of running where the females, being protected by the male, don’t have to run as much. My assumption is that the male could run faster.

How do you tell the age of a llama?

Q. I am planning to give my wife a breeding pair of llamas as a Christmas present. We would like to know how to age llamas. We have sheep on the farm and I imagine they are aged similar to sheep i.e. by their teeth.

A. Your question brings up a couple of points. When we sell llamas we don’t sell “breeding pairs”. Any reputable breeder wouldn’t sell them this way. For one thing, you probably plan on keeping them in the same field. If they have a female cria you have to separate them immediately as the male domestic llama will try and breed anything. Including your sheep. You do not want a daughter bred to her father. If she has a male cria, it won’t be long until he is trying to breed his mother.

Our usual advice is to get two unrelated females. Get them bred to two unrelated males and things are much easier down the line. Not as much worry about one going over a fence or through an unfastened gate and breeding unexpectedly.

As far as I know, nobody has come up with a way to estimate the age of llama accurately. They will lose their baby teeth at the front at about two years of age. Males will develop fighting teeth, or sharp fangs, at the back of their mouths at around the age of three. There are photos of their teeth on page one of this web site. As a llama gets older, the front teeth will often protrude quite noticeably.

If you are ever planning on selling any offspring, most people will want to know their background and whether they are registered. If they are registered their birth date will be on the registration papers. Ask the sellers if the animals are registered and you should be able to find out the age. You won’t be able to register your offspring if the parents are not registered.

If the sellers don’t know how old the animals are, I would be hesitant to buy them as you cannot be sure of the parentage and could be asking for trouble. You can guarantee if they don’t know the age of the animals they won’t know much else about them.

Now if you are just buying them for pets and plan to have the male gelded, none of this would matter.

True confessions

Q. Did you really cross a llama and an emu?

A. No. Well, not exactly. Well, sort of . . .

Back in 1981, when we got our first two llamas, we were walking them through the subdivision where we lived and I heard a man exclaim “Martha! Look at the emus!” That stuck with me over the years and recently I found a picture of an emu chick. I decided that, with a little modification, it would be a good addition to our series of “nonsense pages”.

I thought it was ridiculous enough, but a few people believed it so, after Jane had to explain it to a woman on the phone, it was decided that we should include an explanation.

On the left is the original picture of the emu chick.

On the right is a photo of a young llama that was similar in colour to the emu chick.

It was simply a matter of adjusting the colour of the baby llama head, flopping it, tilting it a little, and pasting it on top of the emu chick picture. I had to make the background a little higher at the top to make room for the llama head and then remove the shadow of the chick’s beak.

The other pages in the series of “nonsense pages” were done in a similar manner. Written like a short news story, they were done just for fun, and we hope you enjoy them. If you happened to believe some of them, don’t feel embarrassed, just remember you are not the only one who has been fooled.

If you haven’t seen these pages, you might want to have a look at the Emu-llama cross story to see what we are talking about. There are pictures and stories of llamas in the arctic, on Easter Island, and on the planet Mars to mention a few. We have links at the bottom of each page to all of the others. Enjoy.

Pine trees

Q. Our two males love to chew and eat our pine trees, any ideas other than putting a fence around the trees?

A. As far as your llamas eating the pine trees, there is a quick, easy, cheap, and convenient solution. Get a shovel and fling some damp llama dung on the bark. They will stop eating it. Guaranteed.

I usually wait unil it has rained before I do this but if is too dry in your area, mix some llama droppings with water and spray it on. That’s what I do with the paintings in the barn to stop any chewing. You could also put on some rubber gloves and rub some llama droppings on the bark of your trees.

We put our Christmas tree out in the field after the Christmas season.

Put your mouse over the picture above to see the same tree a couple of days later.

Young males and females together

Q. My husband has purchased two unrelated llamas, a young female and male approximately seven to nine months old for me as an anniversary present. Can the two of them be raised together?

A. Hopefully you have enough space that you can keep them in separate fields. Young female llamas can get pregnant as young as six months. We would not breed them until they are at least two years old and preferably not until they are three years old.

Young males, however, often think that they are studs when they are about a month old. A nine-month old male can breed a female. Normally they are not able to breed until they are nearing two years, but you can be certain that they will try. The youngsters will mount any female that is lying down and tolerant of them and they orgle just like the studs.

I would advise you to keep the two of them separate or you will have a baby sometime when you least expect it. If the two of them are together, you have no way of knowing when she was bred as it could be during the night when you are not around.

It is very unwise to let a young female get bred as they have a growth spurt when they are around seventeen months old. If they are pregnant then, the baby gets all of the nutrition which means that the female will usually be fairly small the rest of her life.

You will likely be safe to have them together for a short while, but keep an eye on them. When they are about a year old, the young girls will drive a male nuts by flirting across a fence with him and you can be sure if they are together, she will get bred.

Cleaning llama wool

Q. Recently we were given some llama wool. I have been trying to find out how to clean it so that my 10-year-old daughter can spin it. It is a small amount and I would like for her to do it by hand. Any suggestions?

A. Llama wool can be treated basically the same as sheep wool. Wash gently in warm to hot soapy water, rinse and lay flat to dry. Use the same temperature washing water as that used for rinsing to prevent felting. There is no lanolin in llama fibre — it’s mainly dust and vegetation. Some vegetation comes out as it is spun but if there is quite a bit, it will have to be hand picked.

After the fibre is dry, it can be carded with hand carders, or a drum carder. If you do not have either of these, a dog brush can be used — anything to try to align the fibres in the same direction and then pull out gently to make a rolag or roving.

If there is anything in the field to roll in, you can guarantee that the next llama you want to get fibre from will find it. Raindancer, on the right, has just rolled in a pile of sawdust that hadn’t been cleaned up immediately after we had sawed up a big tree.

Llamas and blackberries

Q. My property has lots of blackberry bushes. Will llamas munch on blackberries?

A. Llamas love blackberry leaves. We sold a couple of geldings a few years ago for that very reason and the llamas cleaned up the blackberry patch beautifully.

You have to be careful that the old dead branches are taken out though as they are very brittle and the thorns can damage the llama’s eyes. Their eyes are quite large and protrude a bit so are a bit susceptible to thorns. If you were to attack the blackberry patch while they are dormant and cut down most of the old growth, the llamas would keep the new growth down for sure.

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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 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 (Present Page) 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