Well, at least up to two!
5 years ago we had fat llamas, a common affliction of llamas in the United States. You see, llamas originated in the Alto Plano of South America where vegetation is sparse.
By necessity, they evolved to have a highly efficient digestive system and a genetically induced compulsion to eat whenever they see food. Then—bring them to the Southeast United States where grass grows an inch a day, and what to you get?—Fat llamas.
It does seem contrary to common logic that an animal can get fat on grass. After all, when we go on a diet, what do we eat? Salad!
So after having llamas for 5 years and allowing them to free graze on our lush pastures day in and day out, we finally realized that we had a problem and needed to take action. The average ideal weight for our llamas is about 325 pounds. They were as much as 100 pounds overweight. That’s 30% too much. Think of a 120 pound woman that gains 30% of her weight. She now weighs 160 pounds. Not a pretty sight, and more importantly, not healthy.
So our solution was to fence in a ½ acre paddock beside the barn that was wooded and had no grass. There, we could control their feed; measure out their hay and monitor their weight. We named the paddock “The South Beach”, for the popular diet craze of the time. For one full year, the llamas lived in the barn and South Beach. Each week we would weigh them and adjust their hay portions so that they maintained a weight loss of 3-4 pounds a week. Finally, success! We had fit llamas rather than fat llamas. They looked healthier and felt better. They frisked on the fields, and trotted on the trails.
But the hardest part of any diet is the afterglow; that time when your goal has been met and the diet is done. How to keep the weight off? We couldn’t just throw them back out on the pastures. In no time, they would blow up again. So we devised a maintenance plan to rotate llamas on and off the grass and limit their time on the pasture depending on their needs. As with people, llamas have different metabolisms. We have a couple of llamas that are high energy and don’t tend to gain weight, and then we have a couple that can gain weight eating air.
So the pattern soon emerged that I would let two llamas out on the grass each morning and bring them in late afternoon. The pairing changes daily and I am now quite adept at cutting out the llamas that I want to go out. I bring the llamas into the barn to eat their grain while I scatter out their measured hay in the paddock. The side door of the barn leads to the South Beach, and the front door opens to the greener pastures. I open the side door to the South Beach, and as the llamas are jockeying for position to get out the door, I use hand signals to guide a llama to the front door and release him.
This is a photo of our October snow from last week. You can see the Southbeach to the right of the barn.
The llama, currently known as Prince, has figured out how to play the system. While all the other llamas dash out to the South Beach to claim a pile of hay, Prince hangs back, eternally hopeful that today will be his day. He used to hang back until he was the last llama in the barn and I had to shoo him out, but I have noticed lately that he has started counting. He knows that I am only going to let two llamas out, and he hangs behind until I have released the second llama out the front door. As soon as he sees the 2nd llama go out the front door to the pasture, he knows that’s it, and he quickly dashes into the fray so as not to be the last llama out the door to the South Beach to claim a pile of hay.