18 Guidelines for raising healthy and safe llamas

The following article by Paige McGrath was written in 1996. However, as I re-read it this morning from a perspective of 15 years raising llamas I have to admit that when I first read the article I did not appreciate the wisdom and experience that Paige had wrapped up in this short set of guidelines. Thank you Paige.

About the Author

Paige McGrath has bred llamas at Lower Sherwood Farm in Charlottesville, VA since 1986. She is the publisher of Llama Life II, and contributes to the lama show world by providing the Virginia Classic Llama and Alpaca Show each spring. Email Paige or visit her website for more info!

Originally published in Llama Life II, Fall 1996 – Issue #39

We relinquish copyright protection on the following for the purpose of allowing those, who do not have their own written standards and who sell to those who have little understanding of camelid care, a comparatively concise outline that may be reproduced and distributed or given to new owners. The byline may be removed and additions, modifications and alterations to suit individual circumstances may be made.

1. Don’t buy babies younger than 4 or 5 months

Unweaned crias (baby llamas) are not suitable pets. If you have inadvertently obtained one, bottle feed it 20 percent of its weight daily with plain homogenized Vitamin D milk (reinforced with nutrients if it doesn’t gain daily) and don’t cuddle it. Offer it a coarse sweet feed and free choice quality hay at an early age. It will start to nibble when it is ready. Naturally raised crias, not normally weaned until six months, should gain a half to a full pound daily. Provide it with another animal for company – preferably a llama – but keep physical human contact to a minimum. An adult llama bonded to a human from near-birth without proper herd socialization can be a danger when the animal treats the human as another llama. Seek information from knowledgeable reputable breeders or veterinarians. A reputable breeder will not sell you a cria under four or five months of age.

2. Llamas left haltered are in peril

Because many owners don’t train their animals to haltering, or provide a catch pen or stall for doing so, they leave the halters on all the time. This results in abscesses, ulcers, unsightly calluses….and, if the halter is caught on something, a broken neck. And because haltering has not been mastered, some owners leave the SAME halter on a growing animal. Some have been found with the flesh growing around the noseband or with malformation of the nasal passages.
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Preparing fleeces for the wool mill

The following article written by Jenny Deters was written several years ago when there was an active llama wool pool in Indiana. The wool pool no longer exists, but these guidelines are still valuable to those preparing your own fiber to be sent to a mill.

About the Author

Jenny Deters has bred llamas at Deter’s Hickory Hollow Llamas in Evansville, IN since 1988. She has been active with fiber arts and spinning for several years, creating many handmade items from luxury fibers such as llama. She established and operated the Midwest Wool Pool from 1997 to 1999, holding fiber seminars and training others to carry on the wool pool’s fine tradition. She is also a certified ALSA fleece judge.


Llama Fleece Areas

I am not going to start exactly from the beginning on getting your fleeces ready for shipment to the wool pool, but I will say that the cleaner you keep your llamas through the winter, by good pasture management and feeding practices, the less work you will need to do in grooming your llamas before shearing. I will explain how we prepare our llamas at shearing time.
We use a chute, because we’ll also trim nails and do routine wormings at this time. Since most of our llamas have been sheared before, in one style or another, the blanket area is easy to groom, with a quick once over with the brush and then the blower to remove a majority of the dust. For those who haven’t been sheared, we’ll blow first, to hopefully remove some of the debris, then we’ll brush (two of us – one on each side) for a few minutes, then use the blower to get out the loose debris. If you simply can’t remove most of the debris this way, then the fleece may be too dirty to consider for the pool. (We do not expect perfectly clean fleeces, but the mill can’t process out all the debris and we do want yarns that can sell.) I’d like to add here, that we shear all our llamas, including the spring babies. Yep; even 2-3 months old.To shear, we use small electric clippers. We did use scissors for several years, but with a large number of llamas to shear, the electric clippers are faster. Some people use sheep shears – although we did have the large ones, we feel the chute to be too close quarters for the shears to be safe from cutting the llama, so we sold ours (we used to have angora goats.) Use whatever is comfortable.If on concrete, make sure the area is swept and clean. If on dirt, gravel, sand or whatever, put down a tarp or make sure the fleece doesn’t touch the ground. Keep the fleece clean. Sort out as you go by either shearing and removing the blanket area first (this is the best fiber) or shirt off the belly fiber as you go. The belly fiber is courser than the blanket – it is scratchy and definitely not sweater quality – don’t send this to the pool. As for the neck and leg portions, it depends on the llama as to the quality, so put this is a separate bag if you decide to send it, but remember it needs to be over 3″ long.

Fleeces that will not be accepted are: Fiber that is matted and can’t be easily pulled apart, fiber too short – the down, which are the finer hairs, needs to be at least 3″ long, fiber too long – do not send anything over 10″, preference is 6″, and fiber that contains rocks, pine cones, burrs, lice, moths or mold – don’t send.

Also for the ’99 shipment we ask that each of your fleeces be packaged separately. This can also be done by putting each fleece in its own plastic bag. (Please make sure the fleeces are dry before shipping or they will mold, therefore becoming worthless.) The length is very important, because if it is too long, say over 10″, the fiber will damage the mill’s equipment and if it is too short, the fiber will clump on the drums, keeping the yarns from being smooth and consistent.

We all want high quality yarns, but for the most part, it is the guard hair that keeps it from being the high quality. If you want to spend the time to get the high quality, you can pull out the guard hairs by hand (as of now, there aren’t any mills in the U.S. that can dehair our small amounts at a reasonable rate.) Our blends did improve the quality of the yarns, but the biggest drawback is the cost of these fine fibers. Eveyone seemed quite happy with the blends, so we will probably purchase them again in the ’99 pool.

What the future of our pool holds, we don’t know. Frankly, it is up to you. You could have items made with the fiber such as blankets, fabric, scarves, comforters, etc. But keep in mind, at this point we are only volunteers and we’d need to hire someone to handle the financial aspects of this type of endeavor. Our goal is to combine with the other pools in the U.S. to increase our poundage, someday tonage and we hope for an eventual Co-op, where our fiber can be sold. It all takes time, patience, and participation, but we’ve got to start somewhere. Be part of that start!


Llamas benefit from regular, short grooming sessions to remove debris and dead wool. If wool is allowed to matte, air circulation is hindered, and the llama is more susceptible to heat stress. This is true of short and long wooled llamas, although the long-wooled varieties will naturally have more of a problem. Regular sessions desensitize and train your llama, and also make it better prepared for final grooming required for show preparation. Long sessions of monotonous, often painful hair-pulling should be avoided. Start grooming your llama well before show season, and keep it reasonably groomed with regular attention.

There are probably as many different grooming tools and preparations as there are llama owners. The types of tools you will need to groom your llama will depend on the character of your llamas wool. A good source of grooming supplies is Quality Llama Products


Llamas do well on grass pasture, although a fescue grass may contain an endophyte that can contribute to abortions and should be avoided if possible. Good quality grass hay can supplement pasture, and be used for the bulk of winter feeding. The hay should be ideally 10% to 12% protein of maintenance of adult llamas. Alfalfa in large quantities should be avoided; it generally has too high a protein content, can contribute to obesity, cause urine scald, and can upset the calcium/phosphorous balance in the blood.Most breeders provide a llama supplement, or llama chow, containing vitamins and minerals. This is usually given at the rate of about one pound per day per llama. Several commercial mixtures are available, and can usually be obtained from your local feed mill.

Loose salt is also provided free choice. Commercial mixes and salt blocks designed for other livestock are not formulated for llamas; they may contain minerals and contaminants not appropriate and even harmful to llamas. For example, your locale may be deficient in selenium. However, too much selenium is also harmful. Consult with your veterinarian on a source of salt designed for llamas in your area.

Heat Stress

Heat stress claims the lives of many llamas every year. Proper grooming, including shearing, is required especially of long-wooled llamas. Shade and ventilation, including the use of fans to circulate air around the llamas can prevent the occurance of heat stress in all but extreme conditions. When the temperature and/or humidity are high, llamas should not be stressed, which can include transporting, showing, herding/running the animals, packing, or breeding. They should have access to shade, air flow, and fresh, cool water. Some breeders add electrolytes to the water source.Pools of water such as kids plastic wading pools are sometimes used by the llamas, as are natural ponds and streams. Wetting down a sand pile in a shady area can provide a cool place for llamas. Hosing down the llamas legs and under the belly can help. However, be careful not to wet the llamas body wool, as this will create an insulating wet blanket and make the heat rejection more difficult.

Symptoms of heat stress include high respiration rate, open-mouth panting, foaming at the mouth, staggering or walking stiff-legged, inability to rise, and collapse. A rectal temperature over 102 degf for an adult is indicative of heat stress. Animals exhibiting symptoms should be treated immediately to bring down the temperature.

Complete shearing, wetting, soaking in cold cloths, ice or alcohol packs applied under the belly and to the back of the head can help bring down internal temperatures. A cooling enema can also help. A collapsed animal is in critical condition, and your vet should be consulted immediately. Complete recovery from severe heat stress can takes weeks, or longer; if the patient survives.


Llamas should be sheared of their burden of wool for the summer months. A complete shearing, head to toe, on longer-wooled llamas, especially those that have developed matted wool due to lack of regular grooming, can be a heaven-sent gift to your llama! Other shearing styles are popular that do not remove as much wool. Belly, or barrel cuts, with attention paid to opening up “breathing space” in the arm pits, in front of the rear legs, and under the tail, are often used on show llamas.


Got My Vote Showing off his Summer Haircut

It is dangerous to leave a  llama unsheared, or to not shear enough wool to provide adequate cooling just to make the llama more attractive at a show. In the past several years, the majority of llamas participating in shows in the warmer season are shorn.

Any animal developing heat stress symptoms that has not been sheared should be sheared immediately.

We typically shear all llamas over a year old, although we have sheared younger animals with particularly heavy wool sooner. We also shear our short-wooled llamas. Leaving about 1 inch of wool will keep the llama from sunburning. Regular sheep shears or Fiscar Scissors can be used. Shearing should be performed before hot weather starts, which will also give time to grow back a significant coat for winter protection.



Lister Sheers

Many different tools can be used to shear your llamas. If you only have a few llamas a large pair of Fiscar scissors can be used to shear your llama. Scissors give a nice mottled or contour look. If you have more than just a few llamas you may want to invest in a set of electric shears and one or more sets of extra blades (1 set for every 3 to 4 llamas). The extra blades enable you to work your way through the entire herd before you have to send your blades back to be sharpened. Our favorite set of electric shears are the Lister Lasers (Orange). They are a little heavier than the Lister yellow handle shears but are much more powerful and enable you to get more shearings with a set of blades. We have had very good success sending our blades back to http://www.premier1supplies.com/. They have very quick turnaround and do an excellent job of returning your blades in like new condition.

I would caution against sending your expensive blades to your local sharpening service because it takes special centerless grinders to grind the correct curvature into the surface of the blades. If the blades are ground flat they can overheat and loose their temper.

Nail Trimming


Toe Nail Trimming

The two toenails on a llama’s feet need to be kept trimmed flush with the bottom of the foot. Rate of growth varies, and the nail can be worn down naturally if the llama walks on hard surfaces regularly. Some breeders install a concrete pad near waterers, feeders, or barn entrances to wear the nails, and reduce the frequency of trimming. Trimming may be needed anywhere from monthly to annually, depending on conditions. Trimmers made for this purpose are the best choice, and a well-trained llama who has had his legs and feet desensitized can make the chore easy. The use of a llama chute or other restraint is helpful for untrained llamas.


Common wormers are Ivomec, Panacur, Strongid, and Valbazen. Analysis of fecal samples can help determine the parasites present, and what wormer to recommend. Wormers are usually a given orally as a paste, or an injection, either of which can be administered by the owner after training by their veterinarian. Owners should consult with their vets on worming, and anticipate worming anywhere from seasonally to monthly, depending on the locale, season, infestation levels, and llama population per acre. Regular cleanup and disposal of dung piles is practiced by most breeders as a practical method of limiting worm re-infestation and also controlling fly populations.

Most wormers are not safe to give to llamas within 60 to 90 days after breeding and before birthing. Be sure to consult with your veterinarian on a safe worming schedule.