Origin of the Animal and Dietary Pattern in Native Habitat

The llama and alpaca came from the mountainous regions of South America including Peru, Bolivia and Chili. The animals are browsers – meaning that they selectively consume sparse woody plants and forbs, often traveling long distances to find that. Those woody plants are usually high in fiber and of low quality. The combination of having to expend a significant amount of energy to acquire a low quality diet in a potentially hostile environment, and often times working – has resulted in an animal that is extremely efficient. As an adaptive response, the animal builds body reserves – reserves of fat that are not needed in our environment. Once a camelid becomes overweight the best plan to reduce that weight is to increase exercise. Merely decreasing the amount of feed is not as effective and could be dangerous in pregnant females or growing animals.

Ideal body weights for llamas are 250-275 pounds for a small frame size; 275-300 pounds for a medium frame size; 300-350 pounds for a large frame size and 350-400 pounds for an extra large frame. The frame size is dependent on bone structure as well as stature. It is of importance to note that there is some natural weight cycling in llamas and alpacas – a natural gain in spring and early summer, and a loss in late summer, fall and winter. By using the body condition score and keeping records of them, you will be able to “spot” anything out of order very quickly!

 Behavioral Influence on Feed Management

Llamas are browsers by nature and if allowed, that is their preferred eating style. In most captive situations in the US, llamas have little choice but to be grazers. Alpacas tend to be more opportunistic than llamas, and in their native land showed selection of a wider variety of forage types. Overall in comparative studies, llamas and alpacas will consume more coarse forage (stems) than will domestic sheep – perhaps indicative of the dry season in their home country. During times of drought, camelids are able to adapt to their environment by reducing intake and decrease transit time of digesta (you do not see this type adaptation in domestic ruminants). It indicates that llamas are better adapted to coarse forages than alpacas, because when given a choice, llamas will select tall, coarse bunchgrass while alpacas prefer plants of moist bottomlands. Though the llama and alpaca do not have a prehensile tongue as seen in cattle, they are able to utilize salt blocks to some extent often by chewing the block rather than licking it. It is suggested to feed loose, iodized salt in mineral feeders that can protect the salt from the environment. Camelids are notorious for their dung piles. Obviously because they do use dung piles, clean up is much easier! In their native environment it is thought that dung piles were used to mark an animal’s home territory.