Supplement (Grain). I recommend either Norm Evans’s llama supplement (a grain) sold under various labels, like Blue Seal, the formulation sold by Southern States, and another one sold by Mazuri. Llamas should be fed according to their sex, fiber needs, age, and breeding status, and phase of life. Many formulations are available in a maintenance blend for adults, gestation feed for late term dams, a grower blend for weanlings, and a specialty blend for suri fibered llamas. Llamas require a supplement year round to compensate for minerals lacking in the forage (hay and pasture, etc) and to provide extra nutrition for growing crias. This is strictly a supplement and should never be regarded as a primary food source.
The following daily amounts are recommended:
• Females: 1 lb of llama supplement and up to 1.5 lb for late gestation/lactating females. Be sure to feed initially bred females for a good 4 months after breeding.
• Males: .75 lb of llama supplement
I recommend boosting that supplement by .25 to .5 cup of oats when the temperature dips below freezing for any length of time. I also recommend adding .25 cup of cracked corn to females about 2 weeks before breeding to increase fertility (they can be rebred 3 weeks after delivery).
It is best to feed like-aged animals together to ensure everyone gets his fair share. The pecking order is strictly enforced at feeding time and lower ranking animals can be left out too frequently. It is during the graining of llamas that you are most likely to get spit on, or, more likely, caught in the crossfire of llamas spitting at one another. I have a creep-feed door that allows my youngsters access to grain where there are no moms to take it away from them. I also feed my animals their supplement in buckets hung on the lowest rung of my board fencing and about 8 feet apart. Feeding lower to the ground forces the llamas to raise their heads to swallow and reduces the chance of choking on the supplement. Feeding 8 feet apart reduces problems related to crowding where lower ranked animals may not get any.
I do not recommend feeding any other brand of formulated llama supplement at this time. Formulations available from The Tractor Supply Co and the Farmer’s Coops of Fauquier, Rappahannock, Culpeper, and Orange Counties are primarily corn and oats and do not supply any basic nutrients necessary to supplement camelids in this environment. Basically, these feeds are a waste of money and you might as well simply feed the animal straight corn and oats, which will get them quite fat. The Tractor Supply Co also carries its own brand of llama grain which may be under the Blue Seal brand, so you must be careful if you choose to order llama grain from the TSC; make sure it was formulated by Dr. Evans. Beware of breeders who create their own blends of llama grain. Unless they are also camelid nutritionists, and known to the camelid scientific community as camelid nutrition experts, I would question how they determined the ingredients for their grain formulations.
You really can’t get away with not graining pastured males and non-breeder females in the summer, unless you have tested that forage and it supplies all the nutrients needed for these animals. Llamas are adapted to the nutrients available on the puna and elsewhere in South America, not the fields of North America.
Do NOT withhold supplement from an obese animal. This is probably the worst thing you can do. Llamas die very quickly from liver problems (Hepatic Lipidosis) which can be caused by extreme diet changes or withholding supplement when reducing access to hay or forage to an obese animal. The best treatment for an obese animal is to increase its physical activity and to allow its cria to nurse longer. Never cut their supplement by more than 20%.
Hay. Orchard grass hay should be made available (free choice – depending upon the body condition of your animals) in the winter and less so when the grass is in growing stages. Fresh growing grass, especially in the spring, can be quite fattening to llamas however, containing protein contents of 15-20%. Certain fescues are suspect to cause lactation problems in breeding dams and should be avoided at all costs; KY 31 Fescue is one to seriously avoid. (It’s actually an endophyte (fungus) that is towards the root of the plant.) Avoid Ryegrass as these also contain endophytes. Alfalfa can be awfully fattening and may tie up the Calcium intake in animals causing crooked legs in your crias. You may need it to increase your protein levels, but understand what you are doing before you do it. Research and advice out of Ohio State University’s Camelid department and others has been changing on the use of alfalfa over the recent years. I am actually feeding every bit of 20% to my late term gestation and nursing moms. The thinking may be now that breeding girls require higher amounts of protein as they prepare for and produce milk. Hay should be tested to ensure proper balance of fiber and nutrients. Ideal protein levels in hay should be 9-12% and perhaps higher; the TDN (total digestible nutrients) of 58-60%: the Ca:Phos ratio of 1.2:1; Potassium at no more than 1.75%. Avoid too much clover in grass too. It can upset the tummy, cause ulcers and dust slobbers. It is your responsibility to know the nutrient requirements of your llamas and to ensure that what you are feeding them meets those requirements.
Let your hay cure for 6 weeks prior to feeding it to your llamas.
Below are some standards required by llamas is their TOTAL DIET. If hay or water contains too much or too little of these elements, you WILL have problems. Understand the meaning of “total diet”. Just because your test showed a certain level, realize your llama is also getting these elements from the water, hay, and supplement.
Zinc: 150-250 ppm total diet
Copper: 25 ppm total diet
Potassium: less than 1.5% total diet; greater than 2.85% ties up Ca, Phos, and Ma
Iron: 300-600 ppm; greater than 1000 ppm is toxic and causes tie-ups
As browsers, llamas love to forage and should be afforded the opportunity to do so. But it is also important to ensure their pasture is free of poisonous plants. Many ornamental plants are deadly to animals and most fruit trees are quite poisonous as well. Know your plants and test your hay, pasture, and water.
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Water: Drinking water should also be tested from time to time. This test is well worth the money. Make sure your levels of iron and sulfur are low, otherwise they will tie up mineral absorption and cause massive nutritional problems for your animals. Use a filter or work with your extension agent if your levels of these elements are too high.
Free Choice Minerals. You must use one specially formulated for camelids and make it available to them all the time. Salt blocks and mineral blocks are ineffective in providing necessary trace minerals to this species. Free choice minerals formulated for other animals do not contain sufficient amounts of critical trace minerals to keep your animals from developing all sorts of problems. Norm Evans carries a suitable llama mineral blend. I have only been able to purchase this locally from Southern States in Front Royal, VA. This comes in a 50# bucket and costs about $1/lb.
Vaccinations. See the thumbnail with the dosage chart. Always seek the advice of your veterinarian! Keep abreast of changing protocols by attending breeder conferences when offered by camelid think-tanks, such as Ohio State University, The University of Kansas, Penn State, or Cornell which offer breeder conferences from time to time. Local llama associations frequently host camelid experts to come talk at conferences as well. These protocols are evolving and have changed quite a bit in the years since I began raising llamas. If you can afford it, consider sending your vet to a veterinary camelid conference as well. OSU used to have one each spring.
2% of the crias of all pregnant females have been known to develop problems (abortions/birth defects) if the mom is vaccinated within 60 days after becoming pregnant or 60 days within her due date, although my vet advises that problem rate is irrespective of vaccinations within that 60 day period. You will have to weigh the risks and proceed accordingly.
Parasite Prevention. The best advice is to seek guidance from your veterinarian. Parasite prevention protocols are specific to each farm and your vet is your best source of information about what parasites are likely to be a problem for you. The advice from think-tanks is evolving as more is known about resistance to drugs and parasite life cycles. The advice below may have changed since this update, and it is your responsibility as an animal breeder or custodian to keep current on results of recent studies coming out of South America, Ohio State University, Universities of Iowa, Oregon and Kansas and other camelid think-tanks.
Meningeal Worm: Llamas are highly susceptible to the horrible neurological effects of meningeal worm infestations. In areas where white tailed deer are prevalent (the host of the meningeal worm) and where slugs and snails are found, meningeal worm is prevalent. 80% of infected animals that go “down” will die. This disease affects the central nervous system. It is transmitted to llamas from deer feces via microscopic snails and slugs which are found under a microscope on the grass that llamas eat. A majority of llamas that do go down and recover, will experience a relapse some two years later.
In this part of Virginia, we know to deworm with Dectomax, subcutaneously (SQ), every 4-6 weeks at a rate of 1 cc per 50 # body weight. This is strictly for meningeal worm prevention. Farms that dose in this manner generally do not see their animals go down with an infestation of meningeal worm. Ivermectin can be used in place of Dectomax, but it is only good for 28 days if administered subcutaneously and only good for 14 days if given orally. Oral administration is not recommended, however, due to the chance of the animal spitting it back, thus defeating the administration. Given SQ, it apparently does tend to sting more than Dectomax when administered and I have no idea how anyone figured that out. However, it is cheaper than Dectomax. Use a fresh needle and syringe with each animal to reduce the transmission between animals of blood-borne parasites, like Mycoplasma. I use an 18-gauge needle, 1 inch long, on youngsters and adults and a 20-gauge, half inch needle, on crias under 3 months.
You can only test for infestation by dissecting the central nervous system tissue, like the brain. This is done during a necropsy only. In other words, there is no test for living animals if you suspect meningeal worm infestation. However, when an animal appears “off” on his hind quarters (wobbly or acting a little “drunk”), it can mean an infestation. If caught in time, these animals can make a nice recovery.
All Other Parasite Infestations: The protocol has changed drastically for this since I got into llamas more than a decade ago. Animals have developed a resistance to drugs causing vets to now recommend only treating those animals that test positively for parasite loads that exceed a certain threshold. You should test your young and your geriatric llamas to get an understanding of your parasite loads. If those are high, you may want to test everyone and treat those with problems only. Understand that an “effective” wormer will only kill about 50% of the larvae. Quarantine all new animals for 2-4 weeks (do not allow nose-to-nose contact), and test their fecal matter twice before introducing them to the herd. I use to also test them for BVD, but this is a farm policy at my farm and is not necessarily something you might want to invest in.
Other common parasites are:
EMac: clinical signs are weight loss and lethargy. Fecal tests may take 6 weeks to find the oocysts on farms where eMac exist. If your vet finds even ONE egg, it is recommended that you treat that animal, per Norm Evans! I treat this with Marquis. eMac will kill your llama, so you have to pay attention to this nasty protozoa.
Mycoplasa (formerly called EPE): This is a blood parasite. Clinical signs are anemia, chronic weight loss, depression, lethargy. Suspected animals need blood work and the blood is usually shipped out to Oregon, so don't expect fast results. Treat with LA 200 at 4.5cc’s per 100# every other day for 5 treatments. 40% of the US herd is likely infected with this blood parasite. Your animal may be infected but not show any clinical signs. Clinical signs may not appear until something else starts going on. There is dissent regarding whether to treat when there are no clinical signs.
Tapes: We treat this with Safeguard for 3 days. Usually this parasite is the least of your worries. Many vets suggest you not treat for this at all.
Whipworms: your vet will provide the protocol (type of wormer and frequency) for battling these deadly parasites. I'd start with Fenbendazole.
Strongyles (Barber Pole worms, stomach worms): If the loads exceed 100 epg, we treat. Valbazon should do the trick. For horrendous loads, ie over 500 epg, I resort to Moxidectin.
Coccidia: Keep your loads under 100 eggs. If they exceed 200 epg they may have something else going on. Consider corid. Look for balled poop - can mean heavy coccidia loads.
Mites: These are funny things. When you suspect mites, be sure to spray between the toes no matter where the infestation manifests.
• Safeguard (Panacur/Fenbendazole): 1 cc per 10 pounds.
• Synathic (22%): 4cc/100 lb
• LA 200: 4.5cc’s per 100 lbs animal weight
• Marquis (Ponazuril) 20 mg/kg for 1-3 days (this stuff settles in the tube so you have to squeeze it all out,mix, and then measure)
• Corid: 1cc/18 lbs
• Albon: 1cc/18 lbs
Penicillin: 3.5 cc's per 100#
Moxidectin (gel: 1 cc per 100#) one dose only
Valbazon: 6 cc's per 100#, one dose only. Do not give to crias under 6 mos.
Oral drugs: I used to recommend a “dose” syringe, with oral extender. These work fairly well. Now I simply use a 20 cc syringe with a long neck. Be prepared to take a shower after dosing your llamas with oral wormers! I can vouch for your llama that liquid Safeguard is not very tasty. You may need to increase or repeat the dosage if you have a known spitter. Likewise, most protocols now require redosing over several days or weeks. Check with your vet.
Feces: It’s not a bad idea to test the fecal matter from time to time. I recommend using the “modified Stoll’s Technique” for parasite analysis; although any test that allows for release of the parasite’s eggs will work. Most tests that will reveal the truth about parasite loads will need 2-24 hours for the larvae to be “released” so that they can be counted under a microscope. Send your sample to a veterinary teaching hospital like Virginia Tech or Ohio State University if your veterinarian does not offer it. It is best to test your young animals and your elderly (over 10 to 12) as they are most susceptible to parasites. No farm is parasite-free. Your vet can advise on what a “normal” parasite load will be on your farm. The Modified Stoll’s is going cost about $15 a test. But it’s worth every cent.
Animals should be weighed every month to ensure proper dosage of medications and to check stability in weight. Digital scales are best, but are outrageously expensive. Livestock scales are available at your local farmer supply store. Learn to body score your animals. A body score of 5 is optimal.
Shelter. Llamas should be provided shelter from extremes of cold and heat and cold wind. In the spring, they should be shorn being particularly careful to allow ventilation around the underarms and groin areas. They must have free access to fresh water all year round and in the winter, a heater should be used so that the water does not get too cold. During the hottest days of the summer, electrolytes may be added to the drinking water. When the heat index (the temperature PLUS the humidity level) rises above 150, you will need to cool off your llamas by spraying their legs and bellies with cool water and you will need to watch for signs of heat stress. Fans are absolutely necessary on hot days; I use Sullivan high-velocity livestock fans and have 6 of these monsters mounted in my barn. Heat stress can be deadly to these creatures. Remember, they are native to the South American Andes which is an arid and cold climite!
Shearing: Shearing must be done. This is not an option. Try to get your shearing done by May. I barrel-cut my show animals and strip everyone else who is not light wool. I shear the light wooled animals every other year, especially once they get older and stop growing wool so quickly. Heat stress and a nasty death are guaranteed if you fail to shear your animals. Your suri llamas might not have the wool of your other llamas, but that fiber doesn’t breathe and those suri guys will truly suffer if you fail to shear them.
Foot Care. Llamas have 2 toes on each foot. Their feet are padded, similar to a dog’s feet. Toenails need clipping and I recommend a good pair of rose pruners to do the job properly. Once secured in a chute, most llamas that have been handled with respect do not resist having their toenails clipped. We recommend checking the nails every quarter during deworming. A llama that trusts you can probably be handled without the use of a chute. There are many techniques to facilitate toe clipping and once you learn to properly handle your llama, this should not likely be an issue for you. At any rate, toenail “emergencies” are rare! You can also install a concrete pathway over which your llamas must pass each day to wear down the toenails naturally and decrease the need for clipping. My older stud will simply pick his foot up and hold it for me when I ask him to lift it. I prefer clipping his nails to those of ANY of my dogs!