Things to Consider When Buying a Llama
o Guard llamas. Low maintenance animals are best suited for guardians and it’s a good way to use large, castrated males that are not suitable for breeding. And, because these animals are not likely to get a lot of handling, I’ve found it’s better to use light wooled animals as guards. This is because they don’t grow a lot of wool and if the owner didn’t shear one year, the animal wouldn’t really suffer. Also, the light wool means no briars. I’ve also found that many people looking for guardians are not very likely to offer fans in the summer to their animals and a light wooled llama is far less likely to suffer heat stress.
o Fiber animals. If you are a fiber enthusiast, you would want an animal with the color and quality fiber suited to your goals.
o Show llamas and specialty breeds These are the most expensive. Halter show llamas have relatively perfect conformation, see ILR standards. These animals will be registered or registerable. Specialty breeds are just emerging. Miniatures and “Argentines” are an example. Don't buy a show animal until you have had the animal physically inspected. There are so many things that are easy to hide on online sales: crooked tailsets, legs that are too close together, size, and tracking are all things that really need to be viewed in person.
o Breeding animals.
Males: These guys are not fertile until about 3 years of age, although 7 month olds have been known to get females pregnant! Don’t buy one unless and until you can house him separately from your girls and you have some companionship for him. Intact males do not always get along with other males, at least not right away or not with males they didn't grow up with. Get the fighting teeth cut on all your males, especially any housed with the herd sire, or you run the risk of someone castrating him for you. For your stud, you want to buy the best quality you can afford. Don’t buy a male you intend to breed that isn’t blood typed so there are no surprises in his bloodlines. Don’t breed for the sake of breeding. Know what you are breeding for and target your intended use/customer.
Females: Don’t buy an animal intending to breed it until you are set up for breeding and care of newborns. Make sure your pastures do not have fescue or your dams may be poor milk producers. Make sure the dam isn’t too old to continue having crias or isn’t too young to breed. If the dam is already bred, make sure she isn’t due in the heat of summer as that dramatically increases the risk to both dam and cria. And get some history on the dam…how many crias, how many survived, etc. What's been registered under her in the ILR?
o Performance (pack, cart, obstacle, public relations, 4H). These animals are large, sturdy, and are used for work and pleasure.
o Pets. If you are buying a pet, make sure it is comfortable being handled. Most llamas just don’t like being petted or kissed. Some llamas have boundary problems and don’t seem to know when to back off. Not every llama, just like not every dog, makes a good pet.
o Companion. These are generally the lowest quality animals, used primarily to keep other llamas company. These are NOT breeding quality. The males should be gelded by age two to three.
o Color. Dominant colors are red or black. I breed for grey llamas. White fiber can be dyed. Black fiber is highly sought after, as is grey.
• Join a llama organization; befriend a llama breeder; take a clinic on handling llamas; or start visiting local llama shows or other events. You’ll learn more than you can imagine. By immersing yourself in the community, you’ll get a better feel for what you want. It’s a great way to orient yourself. Be prepared to change your goals as your knowledge base expands. Many breeders will automatically enroll you in their llama membership if you buy a llama from them and you live within the area serviced by the organization.
• Costs – depends upon what you’re willing to spend and what you want. Can range from a few hundred dollars to tens of thousands. Find out if the breeder will finance the purchase; many will.
• Selecting your animal:
o Sources: Breeder/Livestock Auction/Rescue Organization/Production Sale. I highly recommend buying an animal from an established breeder and NOT going to a livestock auction or a rescue organization for your very first llama. This is because a reputable breeder is less likely to sell you an animal with behavioral problems or one with medical issues. Remember, however, there is no guarantee that you won’t be taken advantage of by an otherwise “reputable” breeder, or get a llama with unknown medical problems. Llamas sold at livestock auction are frequently “problem” animals or owned by people who had NO idea what they were doing. That is a generalization, of course, because if you know what you are doing, you can get a great animal that way too. But here in VA, where the llama population is relatively small, I would venture that most llamas at our livestock auctions are those owned by people who just really don’t know what they are doing. The llamas are wormy, sickly, malnourished, have behavior problems, throw defective babies, moms don’t milk, the intact males are sex starved and aggressive, the females mistreated as reproducers, etc.
o Be prepared to shop around. Prices vary considerably from breeder to breeder. This is because of an evolving market that started about 25 years ago (when llamas were prohibitively expensive) to the current day where specialty niches “du jour” are emerging. Prices can reflect show standings, fiber quality, or ignorance on the part of the breeder. Buyer Beware! An unregisterable llama should only run a couple of hundred dollars. A bred llama offered to the first time buyer should not be due in the heat of summer. A true show quality llama should be competitive at a national level. If the breeder touts a great show record as justification for a higher than average price, question them on the animal’s show record. Local shows can be relatively small. The most expensive animals are those that are doing well at the largest shows in the country and have proven bloodlines. And realize that if your goal is to continue showing that animal, unless you know what you are doing, it is unlikely that you too will do as well in the show ring with your show-quality llama. An intact male should not be offered as a guard llama. In fact, a reputable breeder should not recommend that you buy an intact male at all until you know what you are doing. A breeding dam should be sound and should not have a history of problem births.
o Do your homework! Check the ILR and look to see what the parentage is on both sides. If you have too many of the same sires or dams back generations on either side, you may be asking for genetic abnormalities. You will have to check into the parentages of the animals in the history of the llama you are investigating as well; you can’t just stop at that animal’s pedigree.
• Livestock insurance. Don’t complete the sale, particularly when purchasing an expensive animal, without first obtaining some insurance. You may need a veterinary inspection to satisfy the insurance company. A good practice is to ensure any expensive animal for at least the first year you own it.
• Checking out the animal.
o Similar to the above bullet, get a vet, or someone you trust who is knowledgable about llamas to check the animal out.
o Get a parasite test at a minimum. You never know what you could be bringing home to infect your other animals with. Consider blood work for mycoplasma.
o Get a DNA test for any male you plan to use for stud. Is he who his pedigree says he is?
o Check the testicles on breeding males. Are both of them visible?
o Consider a BVD guarantee. I think BVD may infect 1% of the US herd.
o Do a body score. Make sure that animal has a body score of about 5.
o If color is important to you, ask for what colors this male will likely throw and ask the owner for information on what throws what. Some breeders will offer color guarantees.
o Inspect the animal’s medical records. When was it last dewormed. What is the deworming schedule. How has its weight fluctuated over the past few months? When were vaccinations given?
o Can you handle the animal? Don’t buy one that you can’t halter. Watch the owner halter his animal. Beware if the animal is haltered before you get to the farm. Ask the owner to show you the foot pads of the llama. If the owner can’t pick up the llama’s legs, how will you?
• Check out the environment where the animal is living. If the drinking water is filthy, the barn is filthy, the hay is moldy, something is wrong and you’re less likely to get a healthy animal. Look at the other animals. Do they look healthy to you? Do they have adequate shelter? If it’s the summer, are fans going in the barn?
• Transporting your llama. The easiest way to transport a llama is in a livestock trailer (horse or stock). Llamas won’t kick out the sides of one like a horse can, so you can go with a lower quality trailer. But they do need more air circulation than a horse does and so stock trailers are better suited for transporting llamas. However, many will easily load in the back of your van. For the first-time llama buyer, see if the seller won’t deliver your animal for you. Get a transport agreement if someone other than you transports your llama. Eventually, you will need a trailer, if only to get your animal to the hospital in an emergency that your vet can’t handle. You can spend $20,000 on a fancy trailer, or you can buy a cheap one second-hand. My first stock trailer cost $3,500 new. Make sure your truck can haul! Not every vehicle is designed for pulling and hauling (2 separate things). You’ll need to know the weight of the trailer, loaded with animals, and check your truck’s ratings. Some people prefer gooseneck trailers (are easier to turn and maneuver).
• Veterinarians. You will need one. Many horse doctors won’t treat llamas. They get more money from horse owners and for some vets, llamas aren’t worth their time. You’ll have to find a vet that will treat large animals, and is willing to learn about llamas. Any llama association can help you find a suitable vet if you have any trouble finding one yourself. Realize that large animal vets do most of their work on your farm. This involves a farm visit fee, usually around $35. Until you feel comfortable with giving vaccinations yourself, you’ll probably need your vet to come out and vaccinate your animals for you.
• Handling. You will need to be able to halter, retrain, shear, administer oral meds, give shots, cut toenails, load, and simply walk your llama. If you have NO experience doing any of these things, I can reassure you that every one of these tasks can be accomplished without too much effort. It may seem overwhelming at first, but in a few years, you’ll wonder what all the fuss was about. SIgn yourself up for a Marty McGee Bennett clinic!