There's nothing more powerful...a picture paints a thousand words!

Three Young Males Playing

Agressive Behavior

Perfectly normal aggressive play behavior between

two young males.
But not normal behavior towards h
umans!!


 

What Is It?


Often referred to as Berserk Male Syndrome, and more

recently referred to as Aberrant Behavior Syndrome (ABS),  this is aggressive, un-mannerly behavior, and possibly will lead to extremely dangerous behavior in llamas and alpacas. Symptoms seen in a young animal may be jumping or rearing up, pushing against you, pulling on your clothes, getting in your face, being overly friendly and following you around trying to be very close to you, orgleing, or flipping their tail up over their back and dropping into a U-neck position when around people. This type of behavior, although it seems very innocent and perhaps cute when the animal is very young, becomes extremely dangerous as the animal matures - especially as he develops into breeding age and becomes territorial. There are many, many stories of owners suddenly finding their animals wildly charging at them from behind or rearing up at them screaming, spitting, and biting. It may happen with no warning whatsoever. Just one day as you're routinely bent over filling the water bucket, the animal comes charging from behind and smashes you to the ground. From there he may continue to stomp, bite, and scream viciously. Definitely scary, you'll consider yourself very lucky if you have no injuries.

What Causes This Type Of Behavior?


Unfortunately, this is not an inherited trait that just shows up in some lines - it is caused by overhandling by humans and the llama is the innocent victim. It is particularly common in males that have been taken away from their Moms, bottle fed, or overly handled and kitchy-koo'd alot. The animal grows to bond with humans rather than develop the social skills of the herd and, as he becomes older and breeding age, he suddenly looks at the human as his rival.

Can Anything Be Done To Alieviate This Behavior?


Any improper behavior seen in young llamas or alpacas needs to be addressed immediately and discipline given. Discipline can be as simple as a loud "No", a slight swat, or even a more firm "bringing your knee up into his chest" as he jumps up on you. If they continue to rush up to you and get really close "invading your space", some owners have found it effective to use a child's water blaster-gun in their face. If improvement isn't seen on the young animal right away, it probably is the best recommendation that he be gelded. Whatever method you choose to use, you must use firm and serious discipline! You are not being mean to the animal by administering discipline, but protecting him from being an unhandable outcast when he is older and most likely facing "being put down" because he is so dangerous.

Here is a successful story from a breeder who recognized aggressive behavior early and with her approach, turned her male into a "treasure".

"Paolo was the first problem baby male I have had in 22 years and did not know what to do with him. I got lots of input from other breeders and armed with that info, my vet and I decided to castrate him at 7 months. My vet saw that he could potentially be dangerous. She had just attended a llama vet meeting and they had discussed early castration. The consensus was that many of the vets in attendance are beginning to think that there is nothing wrong with doing castration early. My vet said if we saw any strange growth patterns we could always give hormone shots to compensate for the problem. So we watched his growth pattern very carefully.

He had lived as a cria and baby with a herd of 12 females with his mother of course. When I weaned him at almost 6 months with one other little male, I noted that he was always invading my space and it made me very nervous, in my face, etc.Was making moves to treat me like another llama. He had not been overly involved with people just llamas. I had done all the normal things one does to discourage this type of behavior but nothing worked. When I was putting out feed in the barn one evening, he came up behind me and reared. I was aware that this might happen and I swung around with my arm full force and knocked him back. He stopped and then proceed to advance again. That did it. One time too many! He was castrated. After the castration I decided that none of the females and his mom had disciplined and taught him manners and he needed a 'reality check'. It might save his life. So I sent him to stay with a friend who has a whole herd of males, studs and others that range from 1 year to 5 years. He was not impressed in the beginning and continued his bad behavior even in these circumstances. He had no respect for his elders, even other llamas for sure. It was interesting because all the other llamas found his behavior unacceptable. For 3 days they never let him in the barn to eat, morning and night, at feeding time. They ran him off and it wasn't always the same male, Finally on the fourth day he walked goose neck with his tail over his back and they then allowed him to come in an eat. I left him in that situation for 4 months. When he came home he was a different little guy. He is well behaved and totally trust worthy. HE JUST NEEDED TO BE TAUGHT SOME MANNERS and that male herd straightened him out. Regarding early castration, Paolo has grown normally, has great bone and is structurally a well developed llama. He was born in October of '98. My vet thinks that proper nutrition plays a big part in normal growth and with the diet that Paolo has had he proves out that theory, in his case anyway. No it's not a study but only a sample of ONE."

The bad boy at Marian's Llamas is now a treasure!!!

Petey is a llama who was purchased cheaply at a livestock auction.

" A few years back, one of the regular auction goers knew that I had llamas and bought a young (maybe 2 or 3 years) male for me. Of course this man is a "horse-trader" and made a healthy profit off of the llama. This llama is very smart, although not very pretty, and I worked with him for a few weeks doing the regular things, i.e. haltering, leading, etc. Then one day as I was approaching him to put his halter on, he reared up and chested me. It happened so fast that I didn't know what hit me! Fortunately, my husband was there and was able to keep Petey from causing further injury. My rotator cuff was torn and I had to undergo surgery to repair it - not fun! Bottom line is Petey is still here and will be until I can no longer function. I cannot sell him because he is dangerous and I refuse to kill him. It isn't his fault. He does get his toes trimmed and regular shots and worming, just like the rest of my llamas. I just make sure to have at least one other person around and I never turn my back on him. He used to spit at me every time I fed him, but I solved that problem by carrying a squirt gun and soaking him whenever he threatened to spit. He hasn't even threatened for a few years now."
Ellen Diamond State Llama Farm, Delaware.

An Extremely Dangerous Situation



"We definitely need to have him moved as soon as possible, as he's getting way worse! He's now charging the fence at me from 50+ ft away and if I come closer, he rears up and tries to go over the fence! My husband is still able to feed him by threatening to squirt him with a water hose and getting in/out quickly, but that's not solving the problem nor is it safe for him to be doing this (especially by himself), so the sooner we can get him to someone to rehab the better."

Male Behavior
Can males llamas be housed together in one pasture?

Males housed together in the same pasture can act pretty crazy sometimes - even gelded males. Especially if females are in the same vicinity. The natural instinct of male llamas is to protect their territory from other males. They will chase each other, scream, chest butt, neck wrestle, bite at each other's necks, legs, and private parts. Alot of this type of behavior is just everyday "boy play" - especially in a pasture where young males and geldings are housed together. But often it can get beyond the point of play and can become quite dangerous. Any males, intact or gelded, sharing the same pasture should have their fighting teeth checked periodically and removed when they first appear to avoid ripping injuries. The six fighting teeth are extremely sharp and can inflict injury to the bone. Torn ears and testicles are very common.

Some breeders successfully keep a large number of males together, but once the males start to develop raging hormones and are ready to breed, most remove these males to their own separate pastures to prevent possible serious injuries. There have been more than one report of broken legs and broken jaws as a result of the jousting of intact males housed together. The frequent loud screaming may even be enough to justify separate pastures.

Handlers should be constantly alert when haltering and removing males from the pasture housing male llamas. When an animal has a rope on him or is being haltered, the other males look at him as in a "weakened position" and may proceed to attack him. Especially if the one being haltered is of lower rank in the pasture. More jousting occurs when he is returned to the pasture and he is being unhaltered. Handlers need to be aware of this behavior and stay out of the way of the ramming. Try to release the returning llama in a separate area and let them all find each other again. Then is usually just some sniffing, snorting and posturing rather than a ramming. A catch pen with two gates - one that opens into the pasture and one that opens out of the pasture - can be very helpful and provide safety when dealing with a pasture full of males. With this type of catch pen in the pasture, you can unhalter and release the returning male without having to deal with his jealous pasture mates!

Actually there is no single right answer that will work for everyone. You need to know your animals, understand your herd's behaviors, and re-arrange or shift various groups as they need to be changed.

 

Can two or more breeding males be housed together?

Yes, it can be done ...... if all the fighting teeth are removed and you have the stamina and the extra strong fencing to withstand all the chasing, pushing, and screaming. However, the fighting has been known to get rough enough to result in broken legs and broken jaws. They are especially interested in charging the one who has been removed from the pasture for some reason and is now returning. Handlers must be aware of this common behavior and stay out of the way.

 

At what age should males be removed from the girl's pasture?

It is recommended by most breeders that young males be removed from the female's pasture at around 7 months of age. Actually it has been reported that a young male as young as 6 months has actually settled a female, but that would be a rare happening. Usually a male llama is not able to settle a female until close to 2 years - or older. Young males will often practice breeding the females, and even other young males, at a very young age - this is normal behavior.



 

What is the best age to geld males?

Although there are a number of different opinions on the subject of gelding age, most veterinarians recommend waiting until at least two years of age. It is sometimes thought that gelding at an earlier age results in a long, leggy animal due to the fact that the gelding was done before the growth plates in the legs closed. Another question pending is whether early gelding may cause the llama to have weak or dropped pasterns at a fairly early age. Some breeders report successful gelding at only a year old, but with the results of studies so far, it probably would be better for the animal to wait until an older age.

 

Can gelded males be kept in with the females?


 

Any gelded male may be safely kept in with the females since he is no longer able to impregnate them. However, if it is a male who has once been used for breeding, he may still exhibit this instinctive behavior and be a bother to open females. If a male has never done any breeding, it usually works out well for him to be in with the girls. He may think he's the guard over this particular group and act effectively. I have had a gelded male in my girl's pasture for a number of years and he is well accepted. He tolerates the new cria following him around and is very protective of any new gelding put into "his" herd. The girls accept him well and he lives a contented life without any other males to pick on him.

 

What about male's fighting teeth?

At around two years of age, male llamas will develop six very sharp fighting teeth - two on the top gum and one on the bottom on each side of the mouth. These curved teeth are very sharp and angle towards the back of the mouth thus making them very adept for ripping. Many ears, legs, and testicles have been deeply injured due to intact fighting teeth. These six teeth need to be observed carefully when they break through the gums and can easily be removed. The teeth may continue to grow some and possibly a second removal will be necessary at a later time, but they will have only a blunt top and cannot cause much injury. See more about removing the fighting teeth here.

 

At what age do males start to breed?

A lot of males will "practice breeding" from the time they are very young. However, most males first are able to first settle a female at around the two years of age. Some as early as 18 months and some as late as over 3 years old.

Their breeding procedure is to chase the female and jump on her, and possibly bite at her legs, to get her to lay down. When the female is down in a kushed position, he mounts her from the rear. As he breeds her, his front legs caress the female's shoulders as he makes a type of gargling sound in his throat called an orgle. The breeding process commonly lasts from 30 to 45 minutes.

When breeding, it is recommended to wrap the female's tail with vet wrap so the male's penis does not get caught in the wool. Many unfortunate male injuries (sometimes permanent) have occurred due to getting entangled in the wool.

 

Are adult males aggressive and dangerous?

Males will start to demonstrate some aggressive behavior at around two years of age when their male hormones are maturing. At this time, they need to be taught proper manners and be disciplined when on a halter and lead. An adult intact male can be just about as handable as an adult female when taught the proper respect, manners, and given discipline. More awareness is required when adult males are taken around female llamas, but they definitely can be taught manners and are not dangerous.

 

What is Berserk Male Syndrome?  Or ABS Behavior?

A term that has been attached to overly aggressive behavior. Unfortunately, this behavior is not a fault of the animal but instead caused by incorrect handling of the animal by humans. Males that have been overly handled, cuddled, taken away from their moms, or bottle fed when they were young are prime candidates to demonstrate this dangerous aggressive behavior when they reach breeding age, about 18 mo. to 2 yrs. and become territorial. As an adult, they can be extremely dangerous and may suddenly charge, spitting and screaming, rear up or try to stomp their unsuspecting human victim.

Is there such a thing as a  Berserk FEMALE???
Apparently there is!!  In January 2010 I receive the e-mail below from a lady Down under sharing such an experience.  She has given me permission to share this with you all on our website.

Hi Mary
 
I came across your articles and wanted to let you know of something that happened to me a year ago.
 
I have been breeding llamas for about 8 years, and was in the paddock with my 6 females when one of my girls jumped on me from behind and jumped up and down a few times while I was under her ?not jumped but more like mating behavior.
 
I had dreadful injuries including a broken back, all ribs broken in multiple places, to name a few.
 
This was a llama who was perfectly OK till one day she started rearing up at me at feed time if I came anywhere near her, and she spat at me suddenly for no reason.  I ignored it, thinking she would get over this behavior.  She was about 4 years old (had had a dead baby 18 months earlier) and I could not get her to accept a male after that.
 
I mentioned this to my vet who said it must be hormonal but did not know what to do.
I had noticed her mounting a particular female several times in the paddock.
 
On having read more now, I think perhaps she had a tumour however this is unknown as she was put down while I was in hospital.
 
Just thought it might be of interest to you, to possibly warn other owners that if a FEMALE displays male behavior, or aggressive behavior, to be very careful!
 
Best regards
 
Ruth
CHELLROO LLAMAS
WESTERN AUSTRALIA