One of the most overlooked livestock animals for homesteaders is the llama. These graceful creatures have a wide variety of benefits for people cultivating a self-sustaining lifestyle. A single llama can provide large quantities of wool for spinning, matting for blanket and cushion fill, and even insulation. They breed easily and can be used for meat as well as milk.
If you like to hike for pleasure, or need to carry materials around the property, llamas are great beasts of burden and can carry a large amount of weight easily. Best of all, even a single llama will make a formidable guardian for other livestock and your property. Llamas can even be taught to drive and are excellent cart animals that require less care than horses kept for the same purpose.
Llamas are relatively easy to care for in spite of their large size. If you have a little bit of land, you can probably keep one or two llamas very easily. When a single llama is kept for a guardian, wool, and as a companion for other herd oriented livestock, a gelding is preferable. A gelding is a castrated male, and will be easier to deal with than an intact male or a female.
Llamas for Protection
If you have other livestock such as sheep, goats, horses, or even cows, they can be very vulnerable to predators. Even small coyotes will be a big danger to small livestock, and a pack of coyotes can take down horses and cows. Llamas are growing in popularity as guardian animals because they take less care and training than dogs and are less likely to jump a fence and roam. Best of all, a single llama can guard several hundred other animals, but are equally at home with one or two charges to guard.
Integrating a llama into an existing herd of sheep or goats can be done easily and quickly with a little temporary fencing. Put the new llama in an adjacent pen where the animals can see, hear, and smell each other. This adjustment period can take as little as a day to up to a week. Once both llama and its livestock charges are accustomed to each other, remove the separation fencing and let them share pasture and shed areas. Before introducing new animals to each other, always make sure they have been isolated long enough to ensure they are healthy.
Feeding llamas is as easy as feeding other grazing animals, and they require less grain. If enough pasture is available, llamas will do fine grazing. In colder climates where pasture is unavailable in winter months, grass hay can be substituted.
Llamas eat surprisingly little for their large size. An adult llama can do well on one or two flakes of hay per day or a small pasture area. For the best results in grazing, section off several small areas of grass and rotate your grazing animals around them so each has time to recover and grow. The size of each grazing lot will depend on how many animals are grazing on them. Like all livestock, llamas should always have access to fresh, clean water.
In general, llamas are very hardy. They are less prone to illness than most livestock, but will require routine care. Grooming will keep your llama looking good, and feet should be kept neat and trimmed to prevent lameness. They should also receive vaccinations to guard against tetanus and also vitamin C&D to reduce the tendency toward enterotoxaemia. Depending on your location, there may be other vaccinations your veterinarian will recommend to keep your animals in good health.
Housing for Llamas
A barn or other formal building is not necessary to house llamas. Their dense wool keeps llamas very comfortable in all types of weather. They do well even in the coldest climate, and the thick wool provides insulation from heat and sun as well. Drafts are more dangerous than temperature variations, so llamas should have the same type of shelter provided sheep in the pasture. A wind block will do, and a run-in type of shed that lets them get out of heavy rain or blowing winds is even better.
Guarding Against Human Predators
We often think about the natural predators animals have and then protect against coyotes and other wildlife. However, a llama will provide ample protection from strangers as well. They will get to know “their” people and present a formidable foe to anyone who doesn’t belong on the property. Make no mistake: a llama is an impressive discouragement. Dogs are popular guardians for property, but they can present legal problems for their owners. Whether it is right or not, you can be liable for the injuries your dog causes. Llamas do their job, in most cases, without actually hurting the intruder. Their size and the tendency to spit at and chase strangers is a non-violent deterrent to any intruder.
To keep a llama in the best condition, their wool needs to be clipped at least once a year. The produce from the clipping has many excellent uses and can even be sold or bartered to other homesteaders for goods, services, or money. Keep in mind that if you do choose a llama to guard property or for other uses and do not have other livestock, they are herd animals and need the company of at least one other llama or other animal to be well adjusted.
Llamas vs. Alpacas
A cousin of the llama is the alpaca. Homesteaders can choose alpacas for the more luxurious fleece received when clipping. The fleece of the alpaca is soft and coveted amongst spinners. Alpacas, like llamas, are easy to care for and will guard property and other animals much the same as the llama. They are a lot less intimidating to some animals and other humans, however. They are a little smaller than llamas and have soft eyes that do not instill the same level of fear. However, they do a good job with small predators like coyotes, hawks, possums, skunks, and weasels.