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

A Brief History of the Llama
(Courtesy of the International Llama Registry)
About 40 million years ago the ancestors of the llama roamed the central plains of North America. This ancient camel-like creature eventually migrated to Asia, Africa and South America. All members
of the camel, or camelid family, are descendants of this early ancestor. The one-humped dromedary camel evolved in North Africa and the Middle East, the two-humped Bactrian evolved in what is now Mongolia. The South American camelids - llama, alpaca, vicuna and guanaco - found their niche in the high plains of the Andes.

The wild relatives of the llama and alpaca are the vicuna and guanaco. Unlike the llamas and alpacas the vicuna and guanaco always have the same color pattern. They have a reddish brown body with light cream underbelly and gray face. Both are highly prized for their exquisite fiber. The vicuna is currently on the endangered species list nut is making a strong comeback. In the past few years some guanacos have been raised in semi-captive flocks and sheared once a year for fiber.

Domesticated more than 5,000 years ago, the llama and alpaca are among the earliest domesticated herd animals. For the native people of the South American Andes, the llama was a beast of burden and a source of fiber and meat. Even the pelleted manure was used as fuel in the harsh environment of the altiplano where no trees grow. The alpaca was bred primarily to produce fine fiber.

Many ancient rituals and traditions developed from the close bond between the native people of South America and their llamas. This close relationship has endured to the present time. A typical Andean family might own only a handful of llamas or alpacas but each animal is special to its owner. A visitor to a small rebano (herd) will find the llamas decorated with brightly decorated yarn sewn into their ears. The yarn tassels are used not only as decoration but also as a means of animal identification. It is not uncommon to see llamas owned by several different families grazing together. Typically, the wife and younger children take responsibility for the llamas' welfare and are present for herding and shearing.
 The Llama

People are becoming familiar with llamas throughout North America, but the most common question asked of llama owners is, "What are they used for?" If you become familiar with the llama characteristics, the many uses of llamas becomes more easily understood. Llamas are classed as domestic (not exotic) livestock by the USDA and are owned and raised for many purposes.

Llamas are very intelligent, independent, aloof, curious, gentle, relatively easy to train and they exhibit a lot of common sense. Once you own a llama you will no longer question their use, as you will have fallen in love with a very special friend.

Traditionally, llamas make superior pack animals for a picnic, a day trip or an extended camping expedition. Llamas have also been successfully trained to caddy on golf courses. A mature, trained pack llama can carry approximately 1/4 to 1/3 of its body weight (50-120 lb). It is not recommended that llamas be ridden, although some people do put small children on specially built llama saddles.

Llamas are sure-footed and are environmentally friendly. Their two-toed feet with nails and leathery bottoms, similar to a dog's pad, do less environmental damage than a hiking boot. They also require very little carried food on the trail in comparison with other pack animals. This and their tendency to browse rather than graze make their impact on natural forage minimal.

Many people own llamas as companion animals or pets because their calm nature, gentleness and intelligence make them a non demanding pleasure to be around and train. Llamas are especially good with children and there are many active 4-H programs for llamas throughout the US and Canada.

Llamas are fun for the entire family as a llama can be trained to walk in parades, pull a cart, be a daily jogging companion, visit schools, entertain at birthday parties, deliver Christmas gifts or a partner to share a relaxing afternoon.

There is a very active llama show association (ALSA) and many owners enjoy the competition of the show ring. Shows are held locally and regionally. There are also a number of non-competitive llama events, such as fairs, exploration hikes and other diverse functions to enjoy with your llama while sharing experiences and friendship with fellow owners.

Llamas are popular to raise for their beautiful, luxurious wool, which can be regularly brushed out or sheared. Llama wool does not contain lanolin, so many people who are allergic to sheep wool can wear llama wool. It is a hollow fiber which is warmer and lighter than sheep's wool. The wool is highly prized by spinners, knitters, felters and weavers as a superior fiber for sweaters, hats, stoles, vests and other garments.
Llamas are raised by many people as breeding stock, and the thrill of producing a baby is universal. Babies (crias) play together in the field and are a joy to watch cavorting. Serious breeders study bloodlines in order to produce better, more beautiful and genetically superior llamas. The market for llamas continues to expand as more people learn of the pleasure, lifestyle and financial advantage of owning llamas.
Llamas make excellent guard animals for effective predator management for flocks of sheep and goats and herds of cattle against coyotes and feral dogs. A neutered adult is recommended, with a single llama per herd, so that the llama identifies with the herd and protects it. This is the one exception to the recommendation not to have a single llama.

Llamas are being used more and more in animal-assisted therapy. Llamas are routinely taken into senior citizen centers, nursing homes, hospitals and mental health facilities to stimulate or soothe residents. A llama's sensitivity has been compared to that of dolphins and, as llamas are used more in this capacity, their value increases as a means to reach and enhance the lives of others, especially the disabled.
As you can see, there are many uses of llamas which are only limited by your imaginations. A warning should be placed here for what is known among llama owners as 'llama fever'. Llama fever is highly contagious, and there is no known cure ... except maybe owning more llamas. The symptoms vary, but include talking about your llama endlessly, visiting other llama farms at every opportunity, being totally smitten with your new friends and spending every possible moment with them.

 Physical Characteristics and Traits

 Body Type and Color: Llamas come in many different shapes and sizes. the color, length and texture of their wool may vary greatly. Wool may be white, cream, light brown, black, gray brown or silver gray. Body patterns may be solid, marked, spotted, shaded or pinto. Llamas are clean animals and have very little body odor.

 Care & Feeding: The harsh Andean environment made the llama a hardy, quick, athletic animal capable of self protection and remarkably disease resistant. They need basic shelter from wind, rain, cold and heat. Llamas, being very sophisticated, are communal dung heap users, which means that they all use the same manure pile, a habit that minimizes the human labor involved in caring for them. Llamas are browsers and eat grasses. Because of their efficient digestive systems, they are relatively economical to feed. Feed costs average 50 cents a day. They can be fed as much good grass hay and/or pasture as they want. Fresh water should be available at all times.

 Spitting: Although llamas do not normally spit at humans, they may do so if they feel threatened or if they have been mishandled or abused. Like all members of the camelid family, llamas spit to maintain their pecking order in the herd, to protect the best eating spot, to discipline a youngster or to reject unwanted advances from an amorous male. The green material is simply regurgitated cud and, while it does have an odor, it does no harm.

 Communication: A llama commonly makes three noises: a hum (called praying in Peru), a shrill alarm whinny (a warning of predators), and orgling (a loud gargle which males make when breeding). A llama also communicates with body language - the position of its tail, ears, neck and body posture.

 Adult Weight: 200-500 lbs.

 Adult Height: 5 to 6+ feet at the head.

 Life Span: 15 years in South America, but up to 20 to 30 years in the U.S., because of better nutrition and health care.

 Fiber: Llama fiber is hollow, so it is lighter and warmer than sheep wool. Since it does not contain lanolin, many people who are allergic to sheep wool can wear clothing made from llama wool.

 Reproduction: Females do not have a heat cycle but are induced ovulators (copulation causes ovulation), meaning that llamas can be bred and produce babies at any time of the year. Females may be bred at 12-24 months of age and males become fertile between 2-3 years of age. Average gestation is 350 days with a single baby delivered from a standing mother without assistance, usually during daylight hours. Successful twinning is rare. A newborn llama (cria) averages 20-35 pounds at birth and is weaned at about 5 months of age.

 Herd Animal: Llamas are highly social animals and need the companionship of other llamas. Some have been kept successfully with a companion goat, horse or donkey, but llamas are happiest with another of their kind.

 Price: Prices vary depending of the region of the country, quality, pedigree, and training. A wise buyer visits several farms or ranches before buying.

 Transportation: Llamas can be easily transported in a van or a covered pickup, as well as horse trailers. Llamas like to lie down during traveling and, therefore, should not be tied, as that could result in injury.

 Llama Ownership Continues to Grow

As a prospective owner, you are probably curious as to the growth of the number of llamas and owners in North America. The IRL registered 12,895 new llamas in 1999. This was a 9.5% increase in the total number of registered llamas. Many new llama owners have small farms consisting of between 1 and 5 llamas. In fact, 70% of all llama owners fit into that category. Another 23% of the IRL membership owns between 6 and 25 llamas.


Alpaca, partially domesticated South American mammal, Lama pacos, of the camel family. Genetic studies show that it is a descendant of the vicuña . Although the flesh is sometimes used for food, the animal is bred chiefly for its long, lustrous wool, which varies from black, through shades of brown, to white. Flocks of alpaca are kept by indigenous people in the highlands of Bolivia, Chile, and Peru. They feed on grasses growing close to the snow line, and they require a pure water supply.

The Incas had domesticated the alpaca and utilized its wool before the Spanish Conquest, but subsequently the alpaca and the llama were extensively hybridized, leading to a gradual reduction in the amount of high quality alpaca wool. Exporting of alpaca wool to
Europe began after Sir Titus Salt discovered (1836) a way of manufacturing alpaca cloth. Breeding alpacas is a small but growing industry in the United States, Canada, and some other non-Andean nations.

Alpacas are classified in the phylum
Chordata , subphylum Vertebrata, class Mammalia, order Artiodactyla, family Camelidae.

(Information obtained from the Animal Planet-Mammal Guide)

Vicuñas are the smallest members of the camel family, Camelid.

These social animals live in family groups of up to twenty-five individuals, which usually consist of one dominant male and his harem of females and their young.

The male is extremely protective of his harem. He has a specialized call to warn of potential predators and he fights with other males -bouts in which, among other things, the opponents may spit at each other.

Vicuñas descend from the hills during the day to feed on grasses and other vegetation, then return to the hills to sleep.

They are now rare, having been heavily exploited to obtain their coat, which is said to make the best wool in the world.

Despite legal protection and the establishment of captive populations, they are still being poached from the few reserves where they survive.

(Courtesy of Animal Plant - Mammal Guide)

Guanacos are usually found in small herds or loosely structured family groups.

When a member of the herd picks up the slightest hint of danger, it makes a high-pitched warning call, causing the other guanacos to flee swiftly and nimbly across the steep and uneven terrain.

Guanacos generally live at high elevations, grazing on grasses and browsing on leaves and buds.

They can get by without water for long periods of time, obtaining moisture from the plants they eat.

The young play and romp, but when confronted by an adult male they will lay their neck on the ground in submission.

The guanaco is one of the largest wild mammals in South America, and the puma is its only significant natural predator.

Classified as endangered in Chile and Peru, its numbers in Chile appear to be increasing.