Posts Tagged ‘llama care’

The second most frequently asked question we get, after “do llamas spit?”, is “What is the difference between a llama and an alpaca?” I’ll admit, to the untrained eye, it can be difficult to tell, but the number one giveaway is the ears. Llamas have very long, “banana shaped” ears, and alpacas have shorter, spear shaped ears, similar to a fox.

llama vs alpaca. jpg

The second giveaway is the size, but unless you see them side by side, it may not be so obvious to the newbie. Llamas are almost twice the size of an alpaca, averaging around 6 feet tall at the ears, whereas alpacas come in at about 5 feet. And llamas weigh between 250-350 pounds, with alpacas weighing in at only 100 – 175 pounds.

Other differences that you will notice are in the body shape. Llamas have a flat back or “top line” which makes them very good for carrying a pack. Their tails are set right off the end of their backs, whereas alpacas’ tails are sloped down from their backs. From the side, the llama has a longer face, a very noble profile, where the alpaca’s nose is very short and compact.

Llamas generally don’t have a lot of hair on their faces, but alpacas have a puffball face, much like a dandelion ball. The llama has a very coarse outer coat over a softer inner coat – as opposed to the alpaca, which has a very fine, single coated fleece.

As far as personality goes, there is a big difference of opinion. Llama owners say that llamas have the best personality, and alpaca owners think that alpacas are the best. But most are in general agreement that llamas are more independent and confident, making them easy to bond with. Whereas alpacas are shy and timid. Alpacas are very much herd animals and like to be with their herdmates.

But it is undeniable that both llamas and alpacas are very intelligent, easily trained, gentle and curious.

So to sum it up


So now you know the difference and you won’t embarrass yourself by yelling out “look there’s an alpaca” the next time you see a llama.

And for those of you who have asked us if our llamas are emus, you should be embarrassed. Please see below. ‘Nuff said.

emu vs llama


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The number one most often asked question about llamas is “Do they really spit?” For the answer, we went directly to the source. So, from the llama’s mouth, this is an excerpt from our popular llama advice column.

Dear Domino

Dear Domino, Do llamas spit?

You know, everyone always asks me this question. I’m starting to fear we llamas are getting a bad reputation. Yes, llamas do spit. It’s perfectly natural. It’s how we establish rank within the herd, meaning who gets to the food dish first. Lady llamas often spit to ward off an unwanted suitor. Spitting is also a very effective way to discipline our crias (baby llamas), and we spit to express fear or discomfort.

Spitting is how we communicate with one another. “So what are you trying to say” you might ask. Some examples are:

“Move over, you’re in my space.”
“Hey, that’s my food, back off.”
“I rank higher than you do.”
“Quit sniffing my tail”
“Quit flirting with me, I’m not interested in your advances.”
“Oww! That lady just gave me a shot. I can’t spit at her, so I’ll spit at you instead.”

Llamas do not usually spit at humans. Some of us, unfortunately, have been raised in petting zoos, where we are only around humans all day. These llamas view people as other llamas and may spit at a person that invades their space.

We llamas usually give some kind of warning before we spit. First we’ll lay back our ears. If this doesn’t make the point, we’ll pin back our ears very tightly and point our noses straight up in the air. As a final warning, we will spit in the air. Finally, we will spit directly at the llama or person that’s offending us.

There are several kinds of spit. First, there is the grain spit. This is usually used to settle arguments over food. We just spit what we have in our mouths—usually dry grain. Then there is the saliva spit which is often a warning before the big green spit. The really serious spit is when we bring up the contents of our stomach and spit a foul smelling green spray.

The smell is offensive both to the spitter as well as the spittee, after which both will hang their mouths open for several minutes in order to air out the taste and odor. A llama can spit with dead aim for a distance of 10 to 15 feet. This is my buddy, Santiago, reminding us that he gets first pick of the food dishes.


I’ll be the first to admit that spitting isn’t one of the most endearing behaviors of llamas to people, but on the other hand, it’s a pretty cool way to settle disputes. No biting, kicking, or punches to the face. Don’t you agree? After being spit on by a llama, you won’t need a bandage, but you might need a bath.

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Days and days of single digit temperatures can be very taxing on all of us, but especially those of us who have animals and livestock that depend on us for their care, comfort, and wellbeing. We’ve raised llamas for over 13 years now and have never had a winter like this one. We thought we had planned well for the vagaries of a Virginia winter, but Mother Nature is a scamp and likes to keep us on our toes by throwing new challenges our way.

Our first winter with the llamas we had a 36 inch snow. It was up to the llamas’ bellies and they would not venture out of the barn. Well, think about it…..would you? We had a 6 foot snow blower that fit onto the PTO of our tractor, so ‘Road Warrior’ cleared a loop around the pasture so the llamas had a place to walk. It took about a month for that snow to melt, and for weeks, the llamas walked in endless circles around the llama loop.

Llama Loop

Then there was the winter that we had a 30 inch blizzard and lost power for 5 days. Of course, our portable generator went belly up and when you’re on a well, no power means no water. Not to mention, no heat. We had the fireplace and a Kerosun heater that we carried from room to room. For water for the llamas, we melted snow in a stew pot on top of the Kerosun. And this isn’t Murphy’s Law, it is THE LAW OF LIFE. If you wait to buy something until you really need it, it will be sold out. No generators, No portable heaters, No bottled water, No lamp oil, No batteries. It got so chilly in the kitchen that we opened the fridge door to keep the food cold.


This year has been COLD. POLAR COLD. We had a burst pipe in the garage, but no major damage. Remember THE LAW OF LIFE? When you really need a plumber, they will be busy. Luckily we have a regular plumber and he squoze in a minute to come put a temporary cap on the pipe so we could have our water back.

It has been so consistently COLD that our freezeless self-draining barn hydrant froze. We went to Lowes to get some electrical heat tape, but there was that old LAW OF LIFE again. They couldn’t get it in and no one had any for miles around. So we took stock of what we had on hand and came up with this ingenious solution.

hydrant heater

Within an hour the pipe was clear and we had water once again.

They are predicting another Arctic blast for the next three days, so today I have been searching for outdoor weatherproof heaters in the hopes of keeping our sweet peacock, Farina, warm. But needless to say……..

Farina on rail

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snow painting

Sometimes you find treasures where you least expect them. Yesterday, as I was sitting in front of the fire, cuddled in my new comfy Christmas throw, and sipping a cup of hot spiced tea, I was just finishing the last few pages of my other Christmas present, the latest Stephen King novel, “Doctor Sleep”.

I was attempting to obliterate the view from the front window: the remains of the weekend’s snow, melting with the help of a steady drizzle and a bone chilling wind…and postponing the inevitable slog down to the barn to feed the llamas. With breathless anticipation, I was ravenously devouring the last few chapters.

And in the midst of all the ghosts and gore and nail biting imageries of the ultimate battle between good and evil I found this little gem, sitting right in the middle of a page. Stephen King attributes this to the poet Ezra Pound.

“Raineth drop and staineth slop,
and how the wind doth ram!
Skiddeth bus and sloppest us,
damn you, sing goddam.”

The suspense was broken, I was laughing out loud. What a perfect antidote for a perfectly miserable day.

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What can be more tedious than the parent or grandparent that constantly boasts about the achievements and genius of their progeny? Perhaps someone that talks incessantly about the brilliance and accomplishments of their dog. However, I DO have the cutest and most intelligent puppy on earth, so I am completely vindicated.

Bayley turns 6 months old today. I won’t go into all of her amazing accomplishments here. Just suffice it to say, that after completing basic Puppy obedience Levels 1 and 2, her instructor exempted her from Adult Level 1 and promoted her directly to Adult Level 2. Bayley is always selected to be the demo dog when the teacher wants to demonstrate a behavior.

At 6 months, she’s entering puppy adolescence, the equivalent of the human teen years. I’ve been warned that she may start to get hard headed: not coming when called, not doing what she is told. She may not want to be seen walking next to us and will probably start playing virtual Frisbee on the Xbox.

She’s already changed the spelling of her name. We thought we had chosen a rather unique name for her and originally spelled it Baylie. It must be the season for the name regardless of the spelling: Bailey, Bailie, Bailee, Balie, Bayleigh…. There are several dogs we have met with that name. In fact, a male lab puppy in her obedience class was named Bailey. She wanted to be distinctive, so she decided to spell her name Bayley. So typical of young girls at that age.

It’s amazing what dogs learn from one another, both good and bad. Bayley has a 7 year old Bearded Collie sister who is remarkably calm and well behaved.

Bayley thinks that Mayzie hung the moon. From her, Bayley has learned much more about what is expected of a good dog in this household than I could have ever taught her. On the other hand, Mayzie has also taught Bayley that the vacuum cleaner is a fearsome fire breathing dragon, and to hide in a corner whenever it starts to roar.

In the four months that Bayley has lived with us, our daily barn ritual is a constant. Twice a day, I walk down the road with both dogs to the barn to take care of the llamas.

Mayzie will come inside the pasture fence and lie down by the gate and wait for me to do my chores. Bayley, my little shadow, will follow me around as I put out the hay, fill water buckets, and rake up poop, which takes me about a half hour. All the while, Mayzie waits patiently by the gate.

Last week, after obedience class, I returned home with Bayley in the car at llama feeding time. We drove straight down to the barn, leaving Mayzie in the house. Bayley initially didn’t want to get out of the car because Mayzie wasn’t along, and this is a team effort. I left the car door open and went about my work. A few minutes later I looked around to see if Bayley had gotten out of the car. Scanning around, I spied her lying by the gate right in Mayzie’s spot. I imagine she was thinking that guarding that gate was an important job, and since Mayzie wasn’t there to do it, she would have to step up to the task. Oh, to spend a day in my dog’s head.

Bayley's Brain

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We got the llamas sheared, finally. It is always a daunting task cause it’s dirty and tiring work. It takes up about 1 ½ hours per llama to blow, brush and style and we have 8 llamas. It has been a strange spring. Early March we had 80 degree days, so we scheduled our first shearing day for the first weekend in April. That week the temps plummeted to below freezing at night, and we were afraid some of the lighter coated boys would get chilly. So we did four of the heavy wool guys first, and yesterday, finished up with the other four. Here are a couple of before and after shots of the llamas.

I think they look pretty good, if I do say so myself.

Before and After Shearing

We counted up the years, and were astounded that we have now sheared the llamas for the 10th year. Hard to believe how the years zoom by. The llamas get an annual body cut to cool them down in the summer. I cut them with Fiskers spring loaded scissors. I’ve never used an electric clipper as I don’t like the close cut and the furrowed look. The scissors take longer, but give me more control and finesse.

You’d think that with all the hours I have under my belt shearing llamas, I would have more confidence to jump in and start shearing my new goldendoodle puppy, Bayley.  Bayley has just turned 5 months. I’m not sure when to start the clipping. So far, she is brushing out with no mats, and her hair is about 3 inches. I’m thinking I’ll wait until she becomes too difficult to brush and just let it grow in the meantime. It’s gotten cooler here in the last couple of weeks, back to more normal temps in the 50s and 60s. If she looks like she’s too hot, I’ll have to jump on in.

I’d like to do the clipping myself, rather than risk being totally dissatisfied with what the groomer may do. But I know nothing of electric shears, and I’m planning to do her with scissors. I just start to hyperventilate whenever I think about putting scissors to her hair.  But, I’ve always heard that the difference between a bad haircut and a good haircut is about 2 weeks.

Bayley at 5 1/2 months old

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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.

Llamas on the Alto Plano
Photo courtesy of dreamstime.com

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.

Barn and the Southbeach

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.

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