So You Want to Buy a Llama?
By Carol Reigh, owner Buck Hollow Llamas, Inc.
Llamas seem to be the rage right now. And why not? They are intelligent, beautiful, easily maintained, and versatile. As a breeder, the public interest in llamas is a wonderful thing, but some problems can and will occur for the new owner and the industry if education and ethical practices are not observed. Whenever an animal becomes a fad, the long term consequences of impulsive buying only comes back to haunt the buyer and the industry. For me the most important thing is to educate the perspective buyer regarding llama ownership and animal husbandry. Now, I must say that compared to other livestock, these animals are easy keepers; however, they are still livestock and have certain needs. So, if you are considering purchasing llamas, I would recommend the following:1. Educate yourself as much as possible as to the needs of these animals. You must be able to meet those needs. I'll mention a few for you to consider. Do you have at least 1 acre to house a minimum of two animals? They are herd animals and should not be alone. They absolutely need the companionship of another of its kind. (Unless they are being used as guard animals) Do you have, at minimum, a three-sided shelter for protection against bad weather and extreme heat? Can you or do you have someone who will shear them for you? These are the major issues but let me refer you to two very fine resources on owning llamas. A Guide to Raising Llamas by Gale Birutta (ISBN 088266-954-0) and Caring for Llamas and Alpacas by Clare Hoffman DVM and Ingrid Asmus (ISBN 0-9622768-2-0).
2.Take a self inventory. After you have done the preliminary work and determined that you certainly can't live without these magnificent creatures, it is important to answer a few questions. This self-inventory will aid you in determining the type of animals you want to be looking to buy.
- Do I like big, medium, or small animals?
- Do I want light, medium, or heavy fiber on my animals?
- How much money am I willing to invest in this venture?
- How much time do I have to care for these creatures? How many can I house?
- Which is more important to me, disposition, fiber, or appearance?
- What do I want to do with these animals?
*Do I want a L.M. or L.O. (lawn mower/lawn ornament)? I want them because they are pretty to look at and nice to have mow the lawn. Don't have much time for personal contact but like having these elegant creatures grace my pastures.
*Do I want a companion animal? I want to take a hike in the woods or the fields but with a companion that will not disrupt my solitude. I would enjoy coming home from a stress filled day and look at those long lovely eyelashes with that soft nose giving me a reassuring kiss that life really isn't so hectic. *Do I want a pack animal? I love to go back packing but hate to carry all that gear. I need a llama. (They will lie down in the back of a minivan for transport)
*Do I want to do pet therapy? I would enjoy taking llamas to nursing homes and schools to share everything I know about these interesting creatures. I'm really just a big kid who misses Show and Tell. OR I have too much stress in my life. I need a llama to slow me down and help me to "smell the roses" once in a while.
*Do I want to do cart driving? Why walk when you can ride? Cart driving llamas are for me. My kids and friends will love it.
*Do I want to show? I love the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. I want the world to know that I have great llamas. I also want the world to know how creative I am, and how tolerant my animal is--costume class is for my kids and me. Or I love challenging the trust I've built with the animals and want to show it off in an obstacle class. Showing can be a real family affair.
*Do I want a fiber producer? I love to spin, weave, knit, and felt; and I need my supply of fantastic fiber. With my own llamas, I'll have all the fiber I need.
*Do I simply want a pet? I'm tired of the normal dog or cat. I need some excitement in my life. Besides, llamas are probably cheaper to feed than a dog or cat. (About $350.00 a year for two animals)
*Do I need a guard animal? I need something to guard my sheep or goats. One llama per herd has been known to completely reduce losses from predators.
*Do I want to breed? I've always wanted to raise and sell livestock. These are the animals for me.
Determining what you want to do with the animal will help to determine the cost and type. If you simply want a pet, you do not need to be as concerned about conformation as a person wanting to get into breeding or showing. If you want a packer or animal to pull a cart, you probably want to stay with short or medium fibered animals with strong conformation. Having said that, the animal can be shorn naked to maanage the fiber aspect.
3. Visit as many different farms as possible and observe…how do they treat their animals, how do their animals respond to them, what kind of vaccination program are they on, do the animals look healthy? Ask if you can see them halter an animal and pick up its feet. Ask if you can take it for a walk. Ask to see the anima’ls health records. See how the animal responds to a lead. What kind of service after the sale do they provide? Any guarantees? What is included in the sale--halter, lead, breed back, delivery, follow up? Will they provide a contract?
4. Things to look for or be aware of...
*The animal should not follow you around or be too friendly. Although we all are drawn to this kind of behavior, when the animal gets to be about 3 years old it can start to become very mean. Remember these animals are livestock; they should not follow you around like a dog. If they do, they have bonded inappropriately to humans and that spells danger.
*I would avoid a baby that has been bottle-fed. There are right and wrong ways to bottle feed a little cria. If done incorrectly you could have an animal that thinks it is a human, and that will be trouble when he/she turns three years old.
*If you plan to breed a female ask if her parents were good milkers or mothers. A good mother is worth her weight in gold. Light milkers can mean a lot of work for you. Also, ask if there are any genetic problems in the bloodline and avoid it.
*Be sure that any animal you buy, if you plan to even breed once, is registered with the International Lama Registry. A reputable breeder will have all animals registered.
*Be sure that the animal was not weaned before 5 months of age. Six is the ideal but sometimes situations warrant a 5 month weaning.
*You may want to make sure that the breeder is a member of the local and national lama associations. That question can tell you much about the breeder.
*Have a vet do a pre-purchase exam, especially if you are a first time buyer.
*Beware of auctions unless you know what you are doing.
*Ask the breeder about the personality, strengths, and weaknesses of each animal. A breeder that spends time with his/her animals will know that. Be skeptical if an animal is perfect. No animal is perfect; you need to determine which flaw(s) you can live with.
*Ask the breeder if he/she will sell you a single llama knowing that you have no others. IF he says "yes" turn and walk away and never return. A llama should never live by itself unless it is in the position of guarding sheep. A lonely llama can turn into a mean llama.
*Buying off the internet might work if you get lucky. It is imperative to touch, walk, and halter a potential animal to purchase. If you do buy off the internet, is there a return policy if the animals does not suit?
The best advice that I can give a new owner is to know what you want. Go see many animals and breeders and eventually you will find an animal that you cannot live without, and you will find a breeder with whom you will feel comfortable. Oftentimes when you buy a llama you have also invested in a valuable, ongoing relationship. Buying an older animal proves to be less risky and very prudent. At an older age (say 3), what you see is what you get. Her face, personality, and conformation are pretty well established. She should have some breeding history to her, and you should be able to see what she passes onto her offspring. However, if you are not interested in breeding and simply want a companion animal, you will probably want to invest in nice geldings. You will discover many things as you do your homework. Time is on your side, so do not rush into anything. If you educate yourself and decide that llamas are for you, I doubt that you will ever regret that decision. I know that I haven't. Happy llama hunting. IF you have any questions, I will be happy to answer them. Feel free to call 610 582-9051 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit our farm near Reading, Pennsylvania.