Llamas and alpacas are adaptable to a wide climatic range and have been successfully raised in regions with winter temperatures as low as –20°C if reasonable wind shelter is provided. Heat stress is a significant problem if animals have moderate to heavy fiber coats and are subjected to high temperature and humidity. Shearing, leaving remaining fiber at least about 2 cm long to prevent sunburns, and providing access to shade and sufficient water will usually allow SAC to handle moderately high temperature and humidity. Air conditioning, misters, and damp sand pits are helpful to maintain heavy fiber coats in warm, humid climates. Llamas and alpacas can adapt well to damp climates as long as the temperature does not get too high, and few problems of either footrot or “rain scald” are encountered.
Llamas and alpacas can be housed with other species, including sheep, goats, and horses. Individual llamas (ideally geldings) have been successfully used as guard animals with sheep flocks. Llamas and alpacas are herd animals and do poorly if isolated from cohorts or other animals; ill animals should be housed with herdmates if appropriate. If sufficient space is available, large groups of males (or females) can be pastured together. In the presence of nonpregnant females, however, intact males and recently castrated geldings will commonly spend much of their time fighting, typically biting at the ears, neck, and scrotum. Llamas and alpacas generally do not destroy fences and can usually be confined behind a 1.5-m or 1.2-m fence, respectively. Barbed wire is not needed for containment, and electric fences have been successfully employed.
A somewhat unique behavioral characteristic of SAC is the use of communal dung piles. Animals urinate and defecate on the same pile, with favorite sites being in the depths of barns and other inconvenient locations. Normal feces are pelleted and firm. Unless forage becomes very limited, animals will not graze in areas around or downstream from dung piles. The urethral diameter in both males and females is relatively small, and the process of urination takes much longer than in other species of comparable size.
Llamas and alpacas are highly trainable and most animals can be easily taught to come into a barn or corral for food. An arm around the base of the neck and another arm holding the tail or flank region on the opposite side can restrain many animals. Halter-trained SAC can be easily led into a smaller area for examination and treatment. Specially designed llama chutes should be used for reproductive examinations and other potentially uncomfortable procedures. In contrast, alpacas respond better to most procedures if assistants, and not restraint chutes, are used to hold the animals. With both llamas and alpacas, it is particularly important to maintain control of the animal's head. The neck is very muscular and can move with amazing speed. Sedation is not needed for most procedures.
Feeding and Nutrition
Mature males, and most females during midgestation, will maintain appropriate body condition on 10–14% crude protein grass hay with total digestible nutrients (TDN) of 50–55%. Late gestation and heavily lactating females require a slightly higher percentage of crude protein and TDN of 60–65%. Under basal conditions, most camelids eat 1.8–2.0% of body wt/day on a dry-matter basis. Legumes are usually not needed and may contribute to obesity. Palpating the amount of tissue over the lumbar vertebrae and ribs can best assess body condition.
Seasonal vitamin D deficiency, characterized by diminished growth, angular limb deformities, kyphosis, and a reluctance to move, can be a problem in heavily fibered animals raised in regions with poor sun exposure during winter months. The problem is most severe in rapidly growing, fall-born crias. Serum phosphorus of <3.0 mg/dL, a calcium:phosphorus ratio of >3:1, and vitamin D concentrations of <15 nmol/L in crias <6 mo old are diagnostic. Normal phosphorus and vitamin D concentrations in this age group are 6.5–9.0 mg/dL and >50 nmol/L, respectively.
There are several options for sedation and anesthesia of camelids (see Llamas and Alpacas: Selected Drugs Used in Llamas and Alpacas). Generally alpacas require more drug than Ilamas to achieve the same results. For short procedures, it is usually not necessary to withhold food and water; however, when deemed necessary, both should be withheld at the same time.
Xylazine can be used for sedation without recumbency. Higher dosages will result in recumbency and provide a light plane of anesthesia for 20–30 min. Simultaneous administration of xylazine, ketamine, and butorphanol will usually provide 20–30 min of recumbent restraint. Butorphanol can provide sedation of short duration and is especially useful for dental procedures.
Llamas and alpacas tolerate general anesthesia well and usually do not require tranquilization before induction. Induction and maintenance of anesthesia are similar to that in other domestic species.
Hematology and clinical chemistries are similar to those in other species with a few significant differences. Camelid RBC are relatively small and may produce anomalous results when evaluated using an automated cell counter. Normal PCV is 27–45%, and normal RBC numbers are 10.1–17.3 × 106/μL. Normal WBC counts are 8,000–21,400/μL.
Basal glucose concentrations in llamas and alpacas are more typical of monogastric species than ruminants. Basal levels are 82–160 mg/dL, but glucose levels >300 mg/dL are common after stressful events. For additional hematologic and serum biochemical reference ranges, see Reference Guides: Hematologic Reference Ranges a and see Reference Guides: Serum Biochemical Reference Ranges a.
No drugs are currently approved for use in llamas and alpacas. Camelids have the potential to be food animals, making drug withdrawal time a consideration. see Llamas and Alpacas: Selected Drugs Used in Llamas and Alpacas for antibiotics that have been used for treatment of sensitive bacteria in SAC.
Last full review/revision July 2011 by LaRue W. Johnson, DVM, PhD