So You Want to be a Mama Llama
Notes on Reproduction, Birthing & Care of the
Association Educational Brochure # 8
Raising llamas is fun.
These unique animals are rewarding spiritually and financially. Whether they
began raising llamas as a business or a hobby, many people have had their lives
and lifestyles totally changed by these lovable, easy-to-care-for creatures.
One can quickly become a member of the growing ranks
of Ilamaphiles. No matter how long you own llamas you can learn something from or about
them every day. They are kind, clean, quiet, peaceful, stoic, cute, uncomplaining and beautiful.
This paper covers basic information on breeding,
birthing and common problems and procedures for care of mother and
baby. Welcome to the wonderful world
(Shearing both males and females before breeding
makes the whole procedure cleaner and healthier.) When is your llama
old enough to breed? Males become
fertile between 10 and 36 months of age, with the average being 24 months.
In fact, from several
months of age on, young males will mimic adult breeding males. These
youngsters are often seen playing by piling on top of
each other, a female in
prone position or a male in the act of copulation.
The female is normally ready to be placed in the
breeding herd between 15 and 20 months of age, or when she has reached
approximately 60% of her adult
weight. A female may conceive as young as four months, but this is extremely
rare. Pregnancy at an
early age can endanger not only your Ilama's life, but her health and
physical development as well. If a mature breeding male is living
in the same field as females with
babies, the young females should be weaned and removed at 4-6 months of age
their size and condition), or they and their mothers
should be separated from the breeding male.
Since Ilamas do not exhibit common outward signs of
estrus or heat (as cattle or horses do), it is difficult to ascertain the
day a female might be receptive to a
male unless you actually see them breeding, or can "handtease" the female by
breeding male to an isolated female to detect receptivity. You will not
always see your female being bred because copulation often
occurs at night as well as during
the day. Llamas, like other camelids, are induced ovulators, which means
that the act of copulation
will set into gear the mechanism initiating ovulation.
During copulation, both the female and male are in prone, sternal position
minutes. A non-stop array of sounds from humming to grunt-chortling and
orgling may be heard.
Females probably begin a follicular wave pattern
about three days post partum. Normally the female remains receptive to
the male until she has been bred and
ovulated, although spontaneous ovulation can occur. Because it takes about
21 days for the uterus
to totally involute and clean up, we recommend waiting this period of time
until breeding. Your female should be checked for
any outwards signs of discharge
before being put in for breeding. Having your veterinarian do a vaginal
check with a speculum 14-21
days post partum is highly recommended.
Because ovulation is induced, Ilamas may breed and
conceive any month of the year and produce healthy babies. As a
result, you may want to regulate the
length of the breeding season according to your climate and conditions by
removing the breeding male at specific times of the year. Where winters are
severe, hypothermia, frostbite and exposure to cold rain
or snow are factors to consider,
just as extreme heat, humidity or dryness are in summer.
Gestation & Signs of Pre-Parturition
Gestation is normally between 335-365 days, with 350
days as a mean. Our ranch has yet to induce labor in a Ilama,preferring to
let Mother Nature take her course. As the time of birth, or parturition
approaches, you may notice some, all or rarely
none of the following signs which
are seen when kneeling or on your hands and knees beside or behind your
female. (You will be
surprised at how much shearing your female helps all
1. The posterior portion of the abdomen becomes gradually
2. The udder begins to swell close to the body. The swelling then
continues into all four quarters, which normally have one nipple per
3. 1-72 hours before parturition the nipples may swell and become tight
and warm with globules of sticky colostrum (the
first milk) on the nipple
4. The lips of the vulva may elongate and swell,
relaxing for the imminent birth. When the female is resting in basic
(sternal) position or goes on her
side, the vulva may part, showing some of the inner vaginal lining. Do not
become alarmed. This
Llamas give birth in daylight hours unless a problem
with presentation occurs. Any difficult birth is called dystocia. There is
no special English term for the
process of the Ilama giving birth (like foaling, calving, lambing). Birthing
or parturition are most
The mother-to-be may stay off by herself for several
hours to several days before giving birth. She may also seem more
subdued and quiet than usual, lay
down and stretch out sideways and emit louder, more frequent distressed
humming sounds, or
"Ilama talk", than normal. If she lives with a male, this is a good time to
separate her, as breeding males will occasionally try to
mount a birthing female -
not a good situation for the mother or unborn baby!
Your Ilama will give birth in a standing-squatting
or prone position. If all is well, the water will break, lubricating the
birth canal, and a
small shiny bag will be pushed out (it may appear and disappear several
times before remaining out). The front feet,
nose and head should follow, and may
sometimes be seen inside the bag. With the next strong push, the sack is
usually ruptured by
the extension of the legs to the outside as the elbows are pushed over the
pelvic rim. Sometimes there is a short delay at this time
while the shoulders slip
through the birth canal. When the rest of the body slides out, the umbilicus
is automatically disconnected.
Usually all of the placenta remains inside with nothing
hanging out or showing until the entire placenta is expelled later.
Since most babies are delivered while the female is standing, fluids in
the lungs, trachea and nasal passages have a chance
to drain out due to gravity before
the baby is dropped on the ground head first. If the baby is having trouble
breathing, do not be
afraid to give mouth to mouth resuscitation or hold it
by the hocks and swing it around to expel fluid from the lungs.
The baby will be delivered with a unique thin
membrane (the epidermal membrane) covering its entire body and attached to
the lips and toes. Make sure the
nasal passages and mouth are clear of mucus and other debris, including the
membrane which is
sometimes tightly adhered to the edges of the lips and the nostrils. After
toweling off the baby (called a "cria" in Spanish) carefully
follow the standard operating
procedures outlined below. In the case of first-time mothers, it is helpful
to move the mother and baby
to a quiet stall or paddock, in sight of and in close
proximity to Ilama friends so bonding can develop uninterrupted. Simply pick
up the baby
and the mother will follow. In hot weather, a shady spot with fresh water
and hay or grass should be provided.
Llamas are good mothers and love their babies, but they
are passive and do not lick their newborns or eat the afterbirth.
They do commonly smell and touch the baby with their nose.
The following procedures are both recommended and commonly used, but may
not be applicable in every situation.
1. Treat the navel with Betadine, or a 50/50 mixture of 7% iodine and
Betadine, or use any antibiotic ointment if the
above are not available. If the umbilical cord is
dripping or pumping blood it should be clamped or tied off 1 to 1- 1/2"
from the body. Special ties and
clamps can be obtained from your veterinarian or, in case of emergency,
short pieces of dental
floss or suture material work well. Use care in tying these materials to
avoid amputating the stump. If the
umbilicus is already dry or has been contaminated with
dirt, treatment is not recommended.
2. Give a warm enema - squeezing gently. If the baby
later appears to be straining even though it has previously passed
a quantity of meconium (the first
fecal material), it may be necessary to give another enema. A drop of liquid
Ivory soap in
4-8 ounces of warm water is fine. A human Fleet enema, warmed in a bucket of
hot water, also works well.
Your veterinarian may recommend injectable Vitamin A and D
3. If corona virus has been diagnosed on the farm or ranch, administer an
oral vaccine as a preventive for diarrhea
caused by this bovine
4. Only if in a selenium deficient area, administer
injectable selenium (Bo-se) sub-cutaneously or intramuscularly in the
5. Weigh each baby at birth and
monitor its weight carefully for the first week, or longer if necessary.
Normal birth weight
is 22-35 pounds. Most crias either lose or maintain weight for the first day
or two, but should gain a minimum of 1/2pound per day thereafter. This gain
may be irregular but should average out.
6. Other vaccines or anti-toxins may be indicated in your area. Your
veterinarian will best advise you in the matter.
7. The baby should ideally have colostrum within the first 2-4 hours of
life because of the natural laxative effect of this
milk, the energy provided by the
nutrients and the high antibody content. It is known that colostrum is
produced only during
the first 24 hours of lactation and that the cria dramatically loses the
ability to absorb the antibodies after 24
hours of age. The newborn Ilama is born without any
antibodies. Therefore, it is of the utmost importance to be sure
that all neonates receive adequate
colostrum as soon as possible after birth. An IgG test may be done 24-48
birth. If the IgG (immunoglobulin) level is not adequate, a plasma
transfusion may be necessary.
8. We also recommend desensitising crias at birth,
this includes laying the cria on a towel and touching, rubbing and
flexing all parts of the head and
body. 15 - 20 minutes twice a day for the first few days works wonders for
later training. DO NOT
TALK while handling the cria. We want baby to bond with mom, not with us.
First day of life priorities
are: 1) Be positive the baby is actually nursing. 2) Be
positive the baby has passed fecal material. 3) Be positive the
baby has urinated and that
no urine is leaking from the umbilical area.
If you have any reason to think your baby has a
problem, call your veterinarian and have a physical exam and a complete
blood count (CBC), and Routine Llama
Panel (RLP) done.
When the Baby Won't Nurse
The author's personal tips:
1. It will be much easier for baby to find the "right place" if mom is
shorn. Crias can and do die from ingesting fiber.
2. Prime the pump by milking the mother and putting the milk in a stubby
bottle with a sheep nipple (hole slightly
enlarged) or other apparatus of similar nature. Two to
four ounces every 4-6 hours is a normal amount to expect. After
the baby has sucked down 1-2 ounces,
place it at the mother's side and coax it to nurse. It helps to gently rub
and blow warm air on
the baby's hind quarters, especially on top in front of the tail in
imitation of the mother. This and
"humming" help initiate the search and nurse response.
(Macho guys don't laugh - you can do this too). Babies should
be up and nursing within
3. Each neonate needs to receive 10% of its body
weight in milk or milk replacer each day in order to grow and gain
normally. If the baby will not suck
from the bottle or nurse, it should be stomach tubed. Using a Lady Clairol
type bottle and a 16"
cat/puppy tube, place the Ilama in a sternal position between your knees.
Bending over and holding the
head in your left hand, insert tube (unattached and
lightly lubricated) through the baby's mouth and into the esophagus
which you should normally see or
feel on the left side of the neck. To make sure you are not in the trachea,
listen at the end of
the tube to be sure there are no breathing sounds or suck back gently on the
tube. You should be able to
feel the resistance. Attach bottle to tube when tube is
about 12" down. Squeeze gently, giving 4-8 ounces. Repeat
every 4 hours if the baby
is not nursing on its own. Then, stand the baby at the mother's side and
coax to nurse.
4. Do not be afraid to perform all of the above with
baby males, even if it takes several days. They do not turn instantly
into "berserk males" - just treat
them like Ilamas taking care not to cuddle or talk to them.
Post-Partum Care of the Mother
Milk a squirt from each teat to dislodge the small
plug of colostrum in the opening. If the udder is small and there is little
or no milk, hot pack
and massage it with warm water. Your veterinarian may suggest giving an
injection of oxytocin sub-cutaneously or
intramuscularly. If, on the other hand, the udder is
tight, distended, hot or swollen, milk out as much as possible and feed it
to the baby from a
bottle. Keep milking every few hours or until the baby is nursing on its
own. If the female is a heavy milker, extra milk
should be frozen and put into a
colostrum bank for future use. Rarely, it may be necessary for your
veterinarian to administer an
injection of Lasix to reduce udder edema and make the
milk come more easily. If Lasix is given, make certain free choice fresh
water is available for
mother. Should blood be noticed in the milk (causing a pink tinge), the
mother may have mastitis and should be
checked by your
The mother should be watched carefully for the first
week. If any discharge or pus is noted coming from the vulva after the
first few days, ask your
veterinarian to check her to determine whether or not she needs to be
cultured and/or infused intra-uterinely.
This will be an easy matter for the veterinarian to
The placenta (afterbirth) should be passed within 4 hours and often comes
shortly after birth. Call your veterinarian if after
this length of time you cannot find
evidence of the afterbirth or if membranes are still hanging out. Do not
pull on the membranes
since this can easily cause hemorrhage and/or retention of pieces of the
placenta in the uterus and predispose the Ilama to uterine
prolapse. Treatment should
definitely be decided by your veterinarian and often includes the use of
systemic antibiotics along with
Babies are most commonly weaned by the age of 6
months. We halter train our crias before weaning. Except in extremely
rare instances, male and female
weanlings may be safely placed together until the age of 1 year. This is
also an excellent time to
further train and work with your new llama.
Finally, the most important thing to remember when
your Ilama begins to give birth is DON’T PANIC! Most of the time there
will be no problem. If you suspect a
problem and delivery seems prolonged, call your veterinarian immediately. If
help is not
available, pray and use your good common sense. If a neonatal care clinic is
being held in your area, do attend it
So You Want to be a Llama Mama! Notes on Reproduction, Birthing & Care of
the Newborn Llama ILA
Educational Brochure #8 Author: Kay Patterson Sharpnack
Cover Design: Patricia Waters
Kay has been closely involved in the breeding and daily health care of
over 7,000 Ilamas, alpacas, guanacos, and camels since 1965
and has handled over 600
Kay grew up on an Ohio farm with an M.D. father and
a brother who is an exotic animal veterinarian. She was a premed graduate of
the University of Colorado and
received a teaching degree from John Carroll University, after which she
spent two years at Case
Western Reserve Medical School doing canine surgery for
a pulmonary physiologist.
Since 1973, she has lived in Sisters, Oregon
breeding camelids and Polish Arabian horses. Kay organized the first Ilama
for veterinarians on the Patterson Ranch In 1981. She was a founder of both
ILA and the International Lama Registry (on
whose board she served from inception in 1985 until
stepping down as president in 1991), a charter member of ALSA, steering
committee member of the
Heifer Project International Bolivian Llama Improvement Project and on the
Patagonia Research Project.
Love for animals, medicine, and the education of
Ilama lovers on all aspects of management, breeding, obstetrics, and
remain priorities as she and her husband, Eric
Sharpnack, DVM continue caring for a herd of over 200 Ilamas on Hinterland
© 1989 International Llama Association. This publication
may be reprinted if done so in complete form and credit is given.
Llamas with Style!