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(Editor’s note: Michael Westendorf with with the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences at Rutgers University.)
Llamas (Lama glama) and alpacas (Lamapacos) are members of the Camelid family, which also includes the vicuna (Lama vicuna) and guanaco (Lama guanicoe).
Their inclusion in this family is based upon their characteristic traits of being hornless, cud-chewing ruminants with an even number of toes and padded feet.
Their gentle disposition, need for minimal care, and ability to adapt to a variety of climates makes them an easy species for which to care.
Llamas and alpacas both have two toes on each foot, with a leathery pad on the bottom.
They are social creatures and do best when pastured together.
Llamas and alpacas are native to the Andes of South America.
It is believed that the llama is a descendent of the guanaco, while the alpaca was domesticated from the wild vicuna for fiber production.
Llamas are larger than alpacas, standing 40-45 inches at the withers and 5 1/2 to 6 feet at the head. They can weigh between 280 and 450 pounds and the average lifespan is 15 to 30 years.
Females usually begin breeding at 15-18 months and males at two and a half years.
A llama’s normal gestation is 350 days, giving birth to a single cria (pronounced creeah).
Crias are usually born during daylight hours and weigh between 20-35 pounds. Within an hour post-parturition, the cria is standing and nursing from its dam. Average weaning age is 4-6 months.
Alpacas weigh about 100 to 175 pounds and stand about three feet at the withers.
Their life span is about 15-25 years. A female alpaca is usually bred at 14-16 months and a male reaches full maturity in two to three years.
The average gestation is 335 days and a cria may weigh 15-19 pounds.
Alpacas generally have little trouble during parturition and the cria is usually found nursing after the first hour. Twins are rare and there is a low infant mortality rate.
There are a few differences between llamas and alpacas, including size, ear shape, hair, fleece, and back curvature.
The alpacas have shorter noses and more symmetrical, pear-shaped ears, while llamas’ ears are longer and banana shaped.
They both communicate through their posture and through ear and tail movements. Aggressive modes of communication are foot stamping, kicking, and spitting.
Both llamas and alpacas are induced ovulators, exhibiting no heat cycle. Ovulation occurs approximately 24-36 hours post-breeding, enabling them to be bred at any time during the year.
It is recommended that females not be bred until at least 12 months of age and when they have reached 60 percent of adult body weight.
They should not be bred during the hot summer months in North America when heat stress may be a problem. South American llamas are bred during cooler months for this reason.
Some llama and alpaca uses are packing, guarding, and wool production, the latter two of which predominate in North America.
The packing capacity or maximum weight which a llama can bare is 70-120 pounds, and its padded feet make it a good pack animal, leaving the ground virtually unharmed.
Llamas have been shown to be effective guard animals against coyotes and dogs. It is recommended that the animals used for this purpose be at least 18 months old and in good health.
All males should be gelded (neutered) after two years if they are going to be used as guards.
Early gelding may contribute to normal skeletal development. Females with or without crias have also been used successfully.
In general, camelid nutritional requirements are similar to those of sheep, and sheep data have been used to replace unknown requirements.
Llama and alpaca nutrition is divided into life stages. Animals over three years of age that are not working or females in the first two trimesters of pregnancy are fed to meet maintenance (maintain body condition and weight) needs only.
The growing stage is from birth until three years of age. Feed intake is equivalent to 1.8-2.0 percent of animal body weight in dry matter, and normal daily water intake is about four liters per hundred pounds of body weight.
Recommended maintenance protein levels for llamas and alpacas are 8-10 percent of the diet dry matter. Periods of pregnancy and lactation require 12-14 percent protein levels.
The growth stage has the highest protein requirement, 13-14 percent. Fiber is recommended at 20-30 percent of the diet dry matter, regardless of stage. Pasture and hay should comprise the bulk of the diet and fresh water is necessary.
Loose salt and minerals are easier for these animals to lick than in block form.
On dry lot, camelids may consume 3-5 pounds of hay a day. Llama and alpaca requirements are similar, but amounts vary between species due to body weight difference.
Check with your local county Extension agent if you have questions.Routine health practices include annual vaccinations, routine worming, toenail trimming, and shearing.
The specific vaccinations that you administer to your herd should be based on the diseases present in your area, as well as those that are effective in other small ruminants, such as sheep or goats. Presently there are no vaccines specifically approved for lamas or alpacas.
Work with your veterinarian to determine a vaccine protocol specific to your herd and area.
(Note: This article is adapted from New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station fact sheet FS917, “Llamas and Alpacas” at https://njaes.rutgers.edu/pubs/publication.php?pid=FS917)x
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