Hyperthermia: A Llama’s Achilles Heel


Bred from the hardy guanacos, llamas are resilient animals.  They only need a three-sided shelter as a windbreak in the winter.  When it’s raining, our goats hide in the barn, but the llamas stay outside, grazing contentedly in the pasture while the ducks wander around them.  But they do have a kryptonite. High heat and humidity will send our llamas into the barn for the day.  Llamas do not tolerate heat well and can even die from heat stress.

You’d think being related to the camel they could deal with heat better, but the temperature in their natural habitat ranges from 15-60 degrees Fahrenheit, and that’s what they have adapted to.

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Llamas and alpacas are completely domesticated animals. Starting around 4000 BC the Incas in the higher Andes Mountains began using the ancestors of today’s modern llamas and alpacas for their fiber, meat and dung; as well as their packing abilities.  The Incas maintained highly controlled breeding programs, breeding out alpacas for fiber (the finest fiber was reserved for nobility) and llamas as beasts of burden.

Today, you won’t find any llamas or alpacas in the wild.  However, their wild cousins, the guanacos and vicuña still thrive in South America.  Guanacos are believed to be the forebears of llamas.

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Llama Fiber, Fleece or Wool?

llama fiber

Ever since I got my llamas and starting hanging out with a knitting crowd, there has been a question burning deep inside me.  I think we can all agree that wool comes from sheep, but what do you call the hairy product that you get from llamas?  My knitting buddies tell me to call it fiber, but I’ve also seen it referred to as fleece.

Do you know the difference?  Turns out it can be quite confusing.

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Early Embryonic Death

early embryonic death

LLamas have it tough when it comes to pregnancy.  Not only do they have to carry those crias for 11 months, they also have one of the highest rates of pregnancy failure.  Some estimates are that 57% of all pregnancies are lost, usually within the first 45 days of pregnancy.  While fertilization rates are usually high (>85%) many female llamas become receptive to breeding again within a month, indicating early embryonic death.  Repeat breeders and older females are more likely to experience early loss of pregnancy.

What could be causing early embryonic death?

Although all the reasons aren’t known, here are some of the more common ones (in no particular order):

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Hey Ho, The Donkey Must Go!

donkey must go

My two spoiled llamas, Edie and Widget, have been in full protest for two days.  When Geronimo the donkey first arrived, they looked at him with an air of disgust and kept their distance.  When he brayed for the first time, they galloped away to the back of the pasture.  I really can’t blame them, it was an astonishing sound (sorry neighbors).

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