As the blooms of spring soon appear on the trees, love will soon again bloom in our pastures. Spring, as well as fall, is the preferred time of year for breeding llamas in the midwest due to the more moderate temperatures. Although it sounds easy enough, breeding involves alot more than just putting the male and female llama together. For maximum success, and to eliminate the chance of injury or infection to either the male or the female, it is important to understand the very complicated reproductive process ... indeed a true miracle.
The ovaries of the female llama, approximately only 1/2 to 1 inch long and almond shaped, contain all the eggs the female will have in her lifetime. Similar to the cat, rabbit, mink, and camel, the llama is an induced ovulator. A receptive female assumes a sternal recumbent position for breeding and copulation lasts anywhere from 5 to 50 minutes. If a mature follicle is present, ovulation occurs 26-42 hours after breeding as a result of the male's penis penetrating the female's cervix as well as leg clasps and the gutteral orgling sounds of the male.
A normal ovary always contains 2-3 small follicles in varying, overlapping stages - growing, mature, and regressing. Each stage averages about 4 days. Breeding causes a release of a hormone in the female, GnRH, which in turn causes the release of LH (luteinizing hormone) from the pituitary gland. This hormone causes the mature follicle to rupture and release the egg into the oviduct where it is fertilized. Following this release, the follicle becomes a corpus luteum or CL, a tissue secreting the hormone progesterone. When progesterone is being released into the blood stream, the female is no longer receptive to the male and will spit at him as a refusal. If conception does not take place, the corpus luteum starts to regress (and the progesterone level goes down) approximately 10-12 days after breeding and the female is once again receptive to the male. If conception does occur, the high progesterone level is present throughout the pregnancy and the female will still exhibit a spitting refusal to the male. Although not 100% accurate, pregnancy can be confirmed by drawing blood at 21 days after breeding and checking for the elevated progesterone level. A more accurate method is an ultrasound by your veterinarian. It is recommended that at least regular behavioral checks be done to re-confirm the pregnancy and assure the arrival of your cria in 11 1/2 months.
If ovulation does not occur after the breeding, the follicle will shrink and be replaced by the next growing follicle and the female will still be receptive to the male. This next follicle will reach maturity about 6-7 days after the first breeding and this would be the ideal time to breed the female a second time. If the female continues to be continually receptive to the male after three or four breedings, it indicates that she is not ovulating. In this instance, your veterinarian may want to prescribe a hormone therapy. If the female is ovulating but still not getting pregnant, your veterinarian should be consulted also. Possible causes for not conceiving may be infection, stress, obesity, immaturity, or poor nutritional values.
When breeding, some breeders suggest that the female be bred two days in a row in order to increase the number of sperm available for conception. On the other hand, some breeders feel breeding twice is too invasive. Since the male llama is more of a dribbler rather than an ejaculator, the longer the breeding time, the higher the sperm population. With too many frequent breedings, the breeding time will probably get shorter and shorter and there will be less sperm available. But, many times conception has been experienced with only one, short breeding.
A suggestion for a simple breeding schedule which correlates with a mature follicle is as follows: breed your female on day 14 or day 21 following the birth of a cria. Or for a maiden, just call this day one. Breed only once or two days in a row, your preference. Take the female back to the male on day 7. If she spits at him on day 7, she is ovulating and is cycling normally. Take the female back again on day 14. If she still spits, she most likely has conceived and you can look forward to that gorgeous cria. If, on day 14, she is receptive and goes down for the male again, conception did not take place. Let them breed and start counting the days again. If the female is receptive on day 7, she did not ovulate. Let them breed again and go back and count it as day 1 also.
Hand breeding is where the female is usually taken into the male's pasture for a supervised and watched breeding to document the length of breeding and to assure the male's penis does not get tangled in the female's wool. Pasture breeding is putting the male into the female's pasture for a month or longer and allowing them to breed on their own schedule as they would in nature. Hand-breeding is probably the preferred way of most breeders so injury doesn't occur and, even though this method is more time consuming, you know exactly when the breeding took place and you can predict when to expect the cria's birth.
How often can you use a male?
It varies. Some males may be able to breed two times in one day or two to three days in a row, but for better results, a day off or every other day would probably be best.
At what age can females be bred?
This varies also, but a good general rule would be 24 months of age. Most breeders prefer closer to 2 years of age. It also depends alot on the size of the female and her maturity.
How soon after birthing can females be re-bred?
Generally the 21st day after the birth of her cria is a good time for conception unless there was something unusual or distressful about her last birthing. If there was a problem with her last birthing, it would be best to wait for about six months to breed her again.
What is the best way to determine whether the female is pregnant?
The easiest and most cost effective way is to do behavioral testing - see if the female is still responsive to the male or if she shows anger and spits at him. Check on the 7th day after breeding to see if she spits (this will confirm ovulation) and check again on the 12th to 14th day after breeding. If she spits at this time, she most likely is pregnant. A blood test can be done for more confirmation after 21 days.
How long is gestation?
The cria will be born about 350 days after breeding - or a little sooner or later.
11 1/2 months is full gestation.
Can a llama have twins?
Multiple births are possible but not very common at all.
How protected should be female be during her pregnancy?
She can go on with any activities that she is used to doing and it will not hurt her pregnancy. The most care and consideration, especially from heat, medications, and stress, should be taken during the first 60 to 90 days of birth when the complicated structure of the fetus is just forming. Beyond that period, it's mainly just growth that is taking place and her activities do not need to be limited.
This article was published in "On The Farm", a column printed in the 1997 issue of the Hoosier Hummer. Written by Marilyn Nenni. This article is not intended to take the place of information from your veterinarian. Consult your own veterinarian with further breeding questions and problems.