FAQ about Llamas and Alpacas
Q: Where do llamas & alpacas come from?
A: Llamas and alpacas come from Peru, Bolivia, and Chile, in the high
plains areas called the " Altiplano" (elevation: 8,000'-15,000' ).
Llamas were first brought to the United States by William Randolph
Hearst in the 1920's for his personal zoo. Alpacas were imported much
more recently, beginning in the '80s. Llamas and alpacas were
domesticated from their wild counterparts, the Guanaco and Vicuna.
6,000-7,000 years ago by the Quechua Indians and their fiber and
structure were improved by the Incas.
Q: What kind of personality do llamas have?
A: Llamas by nature, are very intelligent, gentle animals. They are
relatively inexpensive to maintain, relatively disease-free, and are
quick,to learn, cooperative, and patient in training. Their quickness
to learn can make them, at times, mischievous.
Q: Do they spit?
A: Yes, they do spit, but usually at each other. This being over
disputes about food primarily. A bred female llama will spit at
advances from a male llama. An over-handled llama, improperly
socialized without other llamas present, will think humans are
llamas and will spit as a normal course of action against the other
"llama". A mistreated or mishandled llama, may also spit at humans.
Q: What do you do with a llama?
A:There are seven main uses for a llama, many compatible in the same
*A pet and companion
*A sure-footed, alert pack animal
*A source of excellent fiber (similar to alpaca)
*An animal trained to pull a cart
*A show competitor: 4-H Projects, parades
*A competent guard animal, very effective against small predators
*A breeding animal, as a source of income
Q: What's the difference between alpacas and llamas?
A: Size and fiber quality. Llamas were primarily bred to be a beast
of burden, and alpacas were bred primarily as fiber producers. An
average alpaca standing 34"-36" at the withers, where llamas stand
42"-48" at the withers. An adult alpaca will generally produce 5-8#s
of high quality exotic uniformly crimped fiber in a single fiber
fleece, each year.
Q: Do llamas produce fiber of high quality? How much do they produce?
A: Llamas are excellent fiber producers too. They usually have a dual
fiber fleece, however, which includes 80-100% fine crimpy fluff and
20-0% straight coarse guard hair. The fiber is hollow, making it
excellent for creating warm clothing. It is also oil free and has no
inherent odor. The qualities make this fiber a spinner's dream, and it
may be felted as well. The amount of fiber varies from animal to
animal, but an average is about 2-5#s per year. Most llamas would
need shearing every other year, some every year, and some every third
Q: Can you ride them?
A: It is not generally recommended to ride llamas, except for small
children. An adult male will reach a weight of between 300 and 450
lbs. and stand 5 to 6 feet tall. They are expected to carry
approximately 1/4 of their body weight, so a rider or load of between
75-115 lbs. may be carried. This weight may be increased to a maximum
of 1/3 of their body weight as they reach top physical conditioning.
Q: Can you take them back-packing?
A: Llamas are great friends to have when you want to head to the high
country for a little camping and back-country trekking. Because of
their soft foot (two toes, with toenails) they leave no scars on the
trail. Because they are modified ruminants, their fecal matter comes
as very well digested, almost odorless pellets. They can usually
browse for their food as they go along the trail. All in all, they fit
into the mountain trail or back-country environment very well.
Q: How much space do they need?
A: Llamas can be maintained in a backyard, however, it is best that
they have a good sized area. Llamas are very athletic and like to run
and play. This could be an acre or two. Llamas are efficient
digesters and usually one horse will graze about as much a 5-7 llamas.
They can easily jump most fences, but train to fences as youngsters
and usually don't jump. A minimum 4' high stock fence is recommended
for protection against feral dogs.
Q: Do they bite or kick?
A: They do not bite or kick like a horse. A human isn't in danger of
being kicked or bitten by a properly socialized and desensitized
animal. They will kick at a fly or something around their back feet,
but because the foot is soft it's just not as dangerous as a horse's
kick and isn't used as a primary self-defense measure.
Q: Is their manure good fertilizer?
A: Their manure is excellent fertilizer and may be applied to the
garden immediately. Because they are not nomadic (stay in an outlined
territory), and mark their territory with their dung piles, they
usually wait to get to a dung pile to defecate or urinate.
Q: Do they get along alright alone?
A: Llamas and alpacas are herding animals, and are most happy when
in the company of other animals, preferring other llamas or alpacas.
Q: Do you have to castrate the males if they won't be used for
A: Not every male must be castrated. This is an individual choice
by temperament, and many get along fine without castration. There is
some disagreement among breeders and owners regarding this subject.
Q: Can llamas be used as guards for smaller livestock?
A: Llamas have been used very successfully as guard animals for
sheep, goats, and miniature horses. They are very intelligent and
curious, and have the ability to recognize family pets, neighbors'
pets, and the difference between them and coyotes. Their curious
nature and athletic ability bring them into close proximity to the
coyote, causing the coyote to turn tail. Gelded males are preferred
as guard animals. They work best without other llamas, in this case,
adopting the herd of sheep (goats, miniature horses, cattle) as their
Q: How long do llamas and alpacas live?
A: Llamas have a life expectancy of approximately 20-25 years.
Q: When do they reach breeding maturity?
A: Breeding capability is reached by 16-24 months. Some breeders
starting females at 12 months (some females will be capable at 9
months), with most breeders waiting until 24 months to allow full
development of the mother's growth. Males usually don't reach sexual
potency until 24 months, with the rare one becoming potent as early as
Q: What is the gestation period?
A: The gestation period is 11-1/2 months (350 days average).
Q: When do females stop breeding?
A: Females will breed throughout their life.
Q: How much do the babies weigh when born?
A: Average llama cria (baby) weight is 25 lbs, alpaca crias average
18 lbs. Almost always a single cria birth, twins are very rare.
Q: What is Berserk Male Syndrome? - or - Can llamas or alpacas become
over-bonded or over-handled, and how can this be avoided? What are
results of this type of over-handling/mistreatment?
A: This syndrome is usually caused by bottle feeding a cria and/or
fondling, playing llama games (bumping, nudging, running with, &
cuddling) while a youngster.
The young llama then bonds so completely with humans that s/he thinks
that humans are llamas too. As s/he grows, s/he begins to play
and rougher, until he becomes unmanageable and (not she here) quite
dangerous. Females will develop the same bond, but their activities
don't include chest-ramming and "serious" conflict, but very well may
include frequent spitting at humans and a general difficulty in
**CAUTION: This phenomena can become VERY serious and many times
ends with the (male) llama being euthanized. Once they reach
adulthood, turning back is very difficult and requires intensive
training. **If you have a cria that requires bottle feeding,
immediately consult an experienced llama handler for explicit
instructions how to avoid BMS. -or- If you have a young animal that
is "pushy" affectionate, beware. This is usually the beginning of
difficult behavior and will more than likely develop into "nasty"
behavior. Steps should be taken immediately to redirect any pushy
Compiled and edited by Michael Shealy. With input from many others.
Maintained by William Bagwell.