Female llamas are induced ovulators, meaning that release of a mature ovum for fertilization is induced by copulation. They do not have an estrus, or heat, cycle. Llamas can be breed any time of year, although breeders prefer to avoid births occurring during the extreme heat and humidity of summer, or during the severe winter months.When the male llama approaches an open female, she may initially resist his advances, but then she will lie down in a kushed position for him to mount her.Actually breeding can last from 5 minutes to over an hour, with 20 minutes about typical. The male will release semen slowly during the course of the breeding. Approximately 7 days after successful impregnation, the female will resist the advances of the male, often to the point of “spitting-off.” Occasionally open females will spit-off a male, and pregnant females may lie down and allow the male to mate. Due to this variability, behavior is not always a conclusive indicator of pregnancy. Breeders can take advantage of progesterone level testing and ultrasounds to reliably determine pregnancy or the source of breeding problems.
A llama’s gestation period is 11 1/2 months (350 days), with variations of plus or minus 2 weeks not uncommon. Normal labor generally lasts about 2 hours, with the baby presented front feet first, followed by the nose, head, body and rear legs. Dystocias (difficult births) are seen, but are not common. The mother usually delivers the baby from a standing position, where gravity will assist in delivery.When the baby, called a cria, is born, it is not surrounded by a sack. It is wet and covered with a membrane that may need to be cleared from the nose and mouth to allow breathing. The mother will not lick the baby dry. Normal crias, supported on legs that are still wobbly, will be up and nursing within an hour or so after birth. The attentive owner will make sure the mother has delivered a complete placenta within an hour or two after birth. Dipping the cria’s navel in mild iodine or Novasan is recommended to prevent infection. Normal birth weights are from 18 to 35 pounds, and the breeder will monitor nursing and weight gain daily. A cria often looses as much as a pound of weight the first day, and then should steadily gain 1/2 to 1 1/2 pounds a day thereafter. Routine IgG levels can also be run to ascertain adequate immunity through passive transfer.
A newborn needs to take of mother’s first milk soon after birth. This thick colostrum contains important immune antibodies from the mother that can only be absorbed through the cria’s stomach during the first 24 hours after birth. If sufficient absorption has not occurred, the cria’s immunity is compromised, with potentially fatal results.In cases where the cria will not–or cannot–nurse, llama, goat, or cow colostrum can be given during the first 24 hours. An IgG level can be taken by drawing a blood sample to determine the extent of passive transfer. Llama plasma transfers can be done after the first 24 hours to improve immunity. Breeders should consult with their veterinarians for assistance in feeding, IgG’s, and plasma transfers. Further information on IgG’s and plasma transfers, as well as hyper-immune llama plasma is available from Triple J Farms: Plasma, IgG Testing IgG testing can be done by M&M Veterinary Laboratory.
We feel that breeders should remove stock from the gene pool that have a genetic predisposition to birthing, milking, or immunity transfer problems. New owners, in particular, should ask questions and be waryof animals sold with little or no known previous medical history.