September 3, 2010

What I'm Learning About Llamas

When Dan and I first discussed protection for the goats, we talked about getting a livestock guardian dog (LGD). The first I considered a llama, was when I found a breeder wanting to sell off her bumper crop of weanlings at a price we could afford. Even though a llama costs a little more up front, they are actually more economical to keep than dogs as their vaccinations are fewer and they eat less. In summer they feed themselves on grass and browse, but even in the winter, they eat less hay than a cow or horse, and require very little grain. As a handspinner, the added bonus for me of course, is the fiber.

I have to admit that when I got Charlie, I knew less about llamas than I realized. I knew they are herd animals that produce fiber and can be used as pack animals or livestock guardians. I knew very little about their temperaments, personalities, preferences, and natural instincts. I'm learning.

Llamas truly are elegantly beautiful, graceful creatures, with an aristocratic countenance. Their fiber is gorgeous, soft, and oh so huggable. Right? Well, only if it's not on the llama.

Llamas are not like dogs, or cats, or even goats. Dogs, cats, and goats are friendly and affectionate. They love petting and getting a good scratch. They make good pets. Llamas, on the other hand, are not pets, and they don't like being petted. They are companionable, but not affectionate.  They are inquisitive but aloof. They are curious but cautious. They are intelligent, but like to keep their distance. Even mama llamas don't nuzzle and groom their crias like the most other animals do. In spite of all that, llamas are also very trainable.

As herd animals, llamas don't do well if kept alone. Of course they prefer the company of other llamas, but when kept with sheep or goats, they bond and become naturally protective of them.  That's why they make good guard animals.

It took Charlie several weeks to start hanging out with the goats. Gradually I saw him grazing with them more and more. Eventually he started spending the night in the "barn" with them, instead of under the maple tree where he'd created a lovely flat spot for rolling in the dirt.

When we got Jasmine (pictured below with Charlie), he quickly sided with Surprise and Baby, as I described in my Goat Tales post. I knew he had accepted her though, on the day she didn't go out with the other goats. She just moped around the goat stall, and I knew something was wrong.

Goats are gregarious and a goat choosing isolation is not a good sign. The only symptoms I had were teeth grinding (often a sign of pain), and depression. At least she seemed depressed to me. She had been talkative and friendly when she first got here, but on that day, Jasmine wasn't saying much and wasn't interested in going anywhere. Her appetite was still good though, and in looking her over I couldn't find any injury.

The interesting thing was that Charlie stuck to her like glue. For the rest of that day and part of the next, he didn't leave her side. That night, he slept with her and I found them "cuddled" together in the morning. By afternoon, I had talked with the vet and gone to pick up an antibiotic and pain killer. Charlie hung around until after I had given her the injections, and then went off to graze. The next morning he was out and about before the goats, and Jasmine went out with the other goats, obviously feeling better.

Charlie's first month here was spent in study time for me, and trust training for him. To do that, I started by seeking him out to talk to him several times a day. After brushing "the girls" in the morning, we would all head out to find him. I developed a sing-song "llama, llama" call, adding "Charlie llama," when I found him. All my movements are relaxed and slow. I respected his "humans not allowed to touch" preference and keep my respectful distance of at least one arms length from him while I talked to him.

I let him watch me petting and grooming the goats. In the evening, the girls get their goat chow. When Charlie started showing up then too, I started giving him a teeny bit of sweet feed from an old white enamel sauce pan.  I'd talk to him and he's always give my hand a good sniff (sometimes making contact) when he was done. Then I started working on touching him. I told him "touch" and would slowly move my hand toward his neck.  We gradually got to where he would let me briefly touch him, and then I figured it was time to start some regular training.

At the very least, Charlie needs to learn to be caught and  haltered, led and loaded into a trailer, and to stand for grooming, shearing, and toenail trimming. After that, llamas can be taught to pack, to pull a cart, they can even learn to do tricks.

Our progress? Well, currently he lets me catch and halter him. That in itself is huge because llamas don't like to be caught. Fortunately he was already broken to halter, so he accepts that readily. It took one session to teach him to lead. Now he follows fairly willingly and I take him out on walks. We're working on following until I'm ready to stop, as opposed to stopping and eating when he feels like it. Llamas love new things to observe, so we often take a new route. He is still uncertain in new situations and will sometimes break his own no-touch rule by standing right up against me as we stop to take in something new. If he gets skittish, we stop to examine whatever he was concerned about, and then repeat passing the object or area several more times.

We still have a lot to work on, but I figure it's one step at a time.

Lastly, for my spinning friends (or if you're just interested in llama fiber), click here.  I put a separate post about it on my sadly neglected Fiber Journal.

© 3 Sept. 2010 by Leigh at


Anonymous said...

You have a beautiful blog! It is a joy to read! Hubby and I have three pygmy goats....just about 6 much fun!

Enjoy your day!

Nina said...

all the time you spend taming Charlie will pay off well in the future. Not having to fight with a beast for shearing and health care or in an emergency, is a blessing. That you'll have a lovely fibre as well is a bonus, especially if it is one with few guard hairs. He's a pretty colour.
The only llamas's I've ever had contact with were mean; biting, kicking and charging anyone, even their owners. Certainly not an experience to make you appreciate an animal. It's good to hear of one who is cautiously friendly.

Razzberry Corner said...

You are spending alot of time on training Charlie, and that's time well worth the effort. He will develop into an ever better protector for the goats, and it sounds like he's already bonded with you! I'd love to see if he ever learns to pack or pull a cart! Wouldn't that be so cute and helpful?!


Leigh said...

Hi Pam, thanks for the visit and comment! Interesting that you have pygmy goats. We are currently trying to track down a registered pygmy buck to breed with our Nubian does. The goal is to raise our own kinders.

Nina, there is something called Aberrant Behavior Syndrome (ABS) that is a problem with llamas that are handled too much when young. These have typically been bottle fed and treated like little pets. Something happens when they reach maturity, as though a switch is flipped, and they become aggressive and hostile toward humans. It's only associated with early human contact and it is believed that the adult llama sees humans as competitors. For the buyer, the red flag is a very young llama that is overly friendly toward people. I was fortunate to buy from breeders who handled their llamas properly from the start.

Lynn, I certainly hope so. Llamas are fairly slow growing, so he won't be able to carry or pull much weight until he's older, around three years or so, if I'm recalling correctly. In the meantime, we'll keep going on those walks. Once we get a proper trailer, I'd love to take him out on hikes in the mountains.

Anonymous said...

Leigh! Hello and thank you for stopping by! Kinders are SO cute! Hope you find one soon! We have had nubbies before also, really all kinds of those critters! We are in Ohio, if I may ask where are you guy's located!



What a curious animal with very distinct characteristics, totally interesting. Your patience in training will payoff in the end, he'll be an animal you can manage and enjoy for years to come.

Danni said...

I enjoyed reading this post because I have gone through a very similar journey with my llama, Kai, over the last few months. It's fascinating to watch them, isn't it? They are like no other animal I've ever spent time with.
What I've found especially interesting is that my Kai actually appears happier spending time with "her" goats than she ever did hanging with her mom and sister llamas. They spent so much time spitting and posturing at each other, it was comical. When Dolly and Toni llama went to live with my friend in Washington, Kai's personality really began to emerge. She became very protective of our entire property and much more friendly and curious with her human caretakers. I still respect her "pls don't touch me" request, except for haltering and applying fly spray, and I love that we've created a trusting relationship where she will trot over to me for carrot treats.
Charlie is very handsome! :-)

Anonymous said...

Wow, who knew all that stuff about llamas? I certainly didn't!

Around here, the favorite protective guard animal out with cows is donkeys. Again, who knew that a donkey would bond with a herd of cattle and protect them from coyotes? Apparently, farmers did LOL. I've seen donkeys advertised in the sales paper as "certified coyote killer".

How will you get the fur off of Charlie? Brushing? Clipping?

Leigh said...

Pam, we're in South Carolina, in the foothills of the Blue Ridge. I've never actually seen a real live Kinder. Only pix and videos. Very cute videos. :)

Bety, he is curious, isn't he. He still amazes me as I watch him. I hope I can learn to read his facial expressions and ears (and tail) soon so I know better what he's thinking. Very different from any animal we've had before.

Farmgirl, thank you so much for your informative comment. It is really interesting and of course I had to click on over to your blog to read all about Kai. I didn't get to observe Charlie with other llamas, so all I know about him has been how he's adjusted and gotten along here. Llamas are a challenge, aren't they? And yet oh so worth it.

Paula, who knew? Certainly not me! It's been interesting to learn. I have heard that about donkeys and at one point, Dan was talking about getting one. That's still on the future "maybe" list. :)

Laura said...

If Charlie isn't gelded yet, you should consider doing it soon... If you get sheep, intact camelids will mount them, with potentially fatal results.

Ok, now that the gloom and doom is over! He's lovely, and you're doing a wonderful job with him. I have 4 alpacas, and they are a little easier to handle than full grown llamas, but more interactive (which is really a hoot). Their favorite thing in the whole world is dust baths, which of course, makes their fiber look hideous...

Have fun with him!

Helen said...

Wow Leigh- your patience is phenomenal. I am sure it will pay off.
I loved seeing the picture so him rolling.

Anonymous said...

Just wanted to make sure you received this info.:


Hubby and I thought you were in! I know of a girl that is big time into pygmy's....her name is: Jana Irwin and her number is 1-419-560-8088. We have dealt with her plenty of time, she does the 4H thing and breeds every year. So she would know of someone I'm sure. Just tell her that you got her number from Pam Striker. We are in Iberia and Jana is in Mt. Gilead....9 miles south of us. She used to feed our young'ns when we would go away.

Hope this helps and good luck!



Leigh said...

Laura, I inquired about gelding him and was told it is usually done around 12 to 15 months of age. He'll be a year old in February, so that will be something we'll have done around then. Fortunately, I have found a vet who specializes in camalids and caprines. That was a big relief!

And Helen, he loves to roll! Not only in the dust, but in the grass, in the weeds, in the brambles. On some days he looks like a huge pincushion!

Pam, thank you! Every lead helps. I especially appreciate recommendations rather than just a name on a list. Next time DH is scheduled to go up that way, we'll try to give her a call.

Life Looms Large said...

Seeing the patches where Charlie likes to roll, I think he definitely has that in common with the bison in Yellowstone. There were patches of dirt/dust like that in the fields where they liked to hang out.

Interesting about all the training. Some day I hope to try llama trekking. We had it on our list on vacation, but had so many hikes we wanted to do that we didn't have time for the llamas!

Your post makes me want my own llama. (My husband would say it's a good thing our zoning doesn't allow that!)


Dorothy said...

I've enjoyed learning more about Charlie and Llamas, and reading about your goats and admiring the vegetables. Thanks for writing about them all.

Leigh said...

Paula, I forgot to answer your question about Charlie's fleece. We'll clip him. It would be nice to have him clipped, but I suspect one of us is going to have to learn how to do it ourselves. :)

Sue, llama trekking sounds like so much fun. I'm hoping we can eventually take Charlie on some longer hikes, maybe even to carry panniers. I wonder though if that would go well with his long coat. Something we'll have to see about.

Dorothy, so nice to have you comment! I know how busy you've been with YarnMaker. You'll be pleased to know that the kitties, llama, and goats are all getting along pretty well too.

Theresa said...

Leigh, I don't know about llamas, but with horses we try to geld when the flies are low or non-existent, oh and its not too muddy or rainy. Makes it hard to time actually. I'm wondering if llamas respond to clicker training? It can be a very helpful tool.

Leigh said...

Theresa, that would explain why I was told that cool/cold weather was the best time to geld. Since Charlie was a February cria, I didn't think about the reasoning, but that makes sense.

I understand that llamas respond very well to clicker training. Someone has a DVD on it, but I can't remember who at the moment. I started out with Bobra Goldsmith's training video, but will probably add more to my library. I figure I can't learn too much about llamas.

Jo said...

Great post about Llamas. I don't think I'll ever get one, but it's fun to learn more about them. Thanks!

Janet said...

A most interesting post. I wish we had lots of land and animals but no we are still urban dwellers. Our neighbours have chickens but I don't think we'll even go that far. The next step for us is to find a cat.

Leigh said...

Jo, thank you. I have to admit that I never dreamed we'd ever have a llama. You never know!

Thank you Janet! Kitties, oh yes. Must have a cat at the very least. :)

Benita said...

How wonderful to gain an animal like Charlie's trust, then be able to work with him. How rewarding this must be for you.

Just think - a couple of years ago, you wouldn't have dreamed of this chance.

Ken and Mary of Fancy Fibers Farm said...

A very handsome llama indeed and I'm glad he's working out so well for y'all. I've only been around llamas once, but we currently have 14 suri alpacas on the farm and they're similar, if just smaller. I can totally agree with everything you mentioned about their characteristics. They've always seemed somewhat regal to me and oh so very curious. However, I've always been less enthusiastic at their livestock guarding capabilities. I've been told they're great at giving the alarm, but I'm not sure they're much on holding off some stray dogs or coyotes. In this regard, we're totally sold on our LGDs, our BWD (big white dogs). 4X100 pounds of angry barking Pyr is enough to warn off those old coyotes. Recently, we visited a huge ranch that breeds/uses Anatolians and talk about dedicated to their goats! The young does were guarded by a female dog who in no uncertain terms let us know that she didn't know us and we weren't welcome in her area, but her owners walked right in-no problems and they had a 160 pound all muscle old guy in with the bucks and he was certainly impressive. I was much touched when reading about Charlie staying with the sick goatie - good on him. Continued good luck.

Leigh said...

Benita, you're right, it is extremely rewarding. And even several months ago I wouldn't have guessed we had a llama in our future!

Ken and Mary, I would have certainly gotten an Anatolian if I could have found one! Around here, there are lots of Great Pyrenees, which we weren't as keen on due to their suze and all that fur. I've read really good things about Anatolians, but we never saw pups for sale. Then llamas came up and, well, you read the rest.

Interesting about your alpacas. I read somewhere that they don't have the guarding instinct like llamas do. Charlie certainly sees the goats as a family of sorts, but I don't know at what age the guarding qualities come out. Fortunately, there hasn't been a need for that yet.

Kathy said...

It's funny, Leigh...I have had people offer free alpacas to me this past year, but I'm holding out for a llama. They actually do protect sheep (and goats) so earn their place here as far as I'm concerned. Alpacas, as I understand it, do none of that and only produce fiber.
BTW, I beautiful fiber to blend with alpaca or llama is Shetland.
Hmm...Shetland sheep next, I hope?
(heeheehee...yes, I'm an enabler)

Leigh said...

Kathy, wow, free alpacas? I remember about 5 years ago a cheap one was $5000. I admit that they were what I first thought I wanted. Somehow though, when I saw the craigslist ad for the llamas, getting one just seemed the right thing to do.

Charlie's young yet, so I'm not entirely sure when the instinct to guard develops. Yesterday though, he and I were out for one of our walks. The goats started hollering (they're Nubians so they holler all the time), and he stopped and turned his head, ears like radar.

Shetlands in my future? You never know! ;)

Madness, Trouble, Squish and Milkbone said...

Charlie is so adorable. I didn't know they liked to roll around on the ground.

Robin said...

How interesting! I know nothing about Llamas but I see a lot of them around here.