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.
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.
The fighting teeth are very sharp, dagger-like teeth, on the upper and lower jaw, developed by the male llama upon maturity. They are dangerous to all those around him, including humans. Both geldings and intact males will develop these teeth. They need to be removed at the gum line, which can be done by your veterinarian quite quickly using OB wire. The teeth may in time grow back, and the procedure needs to be repeated, so they should be checked for regrowth periodically. Occasionally, females will develop a significant set of fighting teeth that also should be cut, although this is not as common.
Male Ilamas have sharp-edged fighting teeth which may begin to erupt by two years of age. These teeth are along the side of the jaws about halfway back. There are two on the upper jaw and one on the lower jaw on each side of the mouth. Fighting teeth have very sharp points and cutting edges front and back and are curved like a crooked finger. Some Ilama owners choose to have tooth cut by their vet, but many feel that the procedure is simple enough to be considered a routine part of their herd management.
Cutting Fighting Teeth
The most commonly used technique for removal of fighting teeth is to cut them off at the gumline using a flexible braided cutting wire known as obstetrical or OB wire, available from your veterinarian and livestock supply stores. Special metal handles are available for gripping the ends of the OB wire, and if these are used a 24″ length of wire is adequate.
Restrain the animal in a chute. A large diameter lead rope can be inserted across the lower jaw to help to keep the mouth open while cutting the teeth.
Carefully retract the lips on one side and hook the wire behind the forward upper fang. The fighting teeth are slightly curved backward, so the wire will find its proper position at the gum line as you pull the ends of the wire forward. The OB wire is designed to cut only hard tissues like bone or tooth without cutting soft tissue, so once the wire is in place the animal may be allowed to close his lips around it.
Both ends of the wire should be directed forward out of the mouth, one end held in each hand. Draw the wire across the tooth by pulling first with one hand and then the other at a rate of about one stroke per second while maintaining a firm pull on the wire. Usually the fang will be cut off neatly at the gumline in about 15-20 seconds. There may be a little bleeding from abrasion of the gums, but this is no problem. Any sharp edges or points which remain can be smoothed with an ordinary metal file. Make sure that the sharp, severed crown of the tooth is out of the animal’s mouth before going on to the single lower fang on the same side, and then the rear upper fang. Repeat the process on the opposite side. After one use the wire will coil when tension is released. This makes placement on subsequent teeth a bit more difficult, but the same piece of wire can be used on all six teeth and even reused on additional animals if disinfected in Betadine solution prior to re-use.
Fighting teeth can be cut off as soon as they have erupted even 1/4″ and this is sound management policy. The teeth will continue to erupt until the animal is 4-5 years old, so put a reminder in your files to check the teeth of your males every 6 months and redo the procedure if necessary. Female Ilamas can get small fighting teeth. These erupt much later and usually are not removed.
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.
As a minimum, annual vaccinations for CD&T (Clostridium C&D and tetanus) are required. Your veterinarian may recommend 7-way or 8-way vaccines, depending on the incidence of other diseases in your locale. Rabies vaccine may also be administered if rabies is endemic in your area, as llamas have contracted rabies. The level effectiveness of the rabies vaccine is still in question, however.
Many vaccines are not safe to give within 60 to 90 days after breeding or before birthing. Consult with your veterinarian for safe scheduling of all medications.
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.