Llama Life Cycle
All animals, including llamas, go through different stages in their life which cause their nutritional requirements to change. Llamas can be growing, maintaining, gestating, lactating, working or aging. All of these factors necessitate alterations in the feeding program. An awareness of the stages and knowledge of why their requirements change will help you tailor your feeding program to suit your llamas ever-changing needs.
Llama General Maintenance
Llamas are considered at maintenance when they are over 3 years of age and not doing anything other than maintaining themselves. There is no activity causing an increase their nutritional requirements for energy or protein. These are llamas that only need to eat enough to keep their body organs functioning properly and do some moving around the farmyard and the pastures. This will include geldings who are not doing work (i.e. packing, cart driving, etc) on a regular basis and female llamas in the first two trimesters of their pregnancy.
Llamas are growing from the time they are born until about 3 years of age. Llamas growth rate does slow down after about 2 years of age causing their requirements to approach maintenance, however, there is still some growth occurring. Growing animals are building lots of muscle, bone and skin and can be putting on up to 1 lb a day.
Young Llamas are also more active than the adults. This causes an increase in the total dietary requirements for protein, energy, calcium and phosphorus. Growth rations tend to be 1.5 to 2 times the requirements of maintenance. This does not mean that the ration itself has twice as much energy or protein, but that about twice as much needs to be fed on a body weight basis. This is usually done by feeding a little bit more of a diet which is a little more concentrated.
Llamas are pregnant for 12 – 18 months. The size of the cria and the placenta does not increase very much until the last trimester. Therefore, pregnant llamas should be eating a maintenance diet until the beginning of the last trimester. At this time the cria and the placenta begin to grow rapidly and the dam needs more feed to keep up with the growth. The female llama will have increased requirements for energy, protein and calcium.
Late pregnant female llamas will need to eat 1.5 to 2 times the maintenance diet. The amount fed to the llamas should be increased slowly over 4 – 6 weeks. Sudden dietary changes may cause serious problems in the gastrointestinal tract that may lead to systemic disease. Putting overweight llamas on a diet during late pregnancy is dangerous and life threatening. Always wait until mid to late lactation to decrease feeding below their requirements.
CAUTION: Do not overfeed female llamas in early pregnancy. They can easily become overweight which could lead to difficulty at the time of birthing. Check her body score on a regular (3 – 4 times per year) basis to prevent this from happening.
Llamas lactate or produce milk for 5 – 6 months, depending on when the cria is weaned. Milk contains all the energy, protein, calcium and other nutrients that the cria is going to need for the first couple months of life. Everything in the milk comes from the dam. Llamas will have higher requirements to maintain their body condition in addition to producing milk. Their peak lactation (point when they are producing the highest volume of milk per day) will be about one month after the cria is born. Up to this point, the dam requires 1.5 to 2.5 times maintenance. There is more variation in requirements during lactation than in the other life stages because of individual differences.
The amount needed by the dam depends on the size and growth rate of the cria, the amount of milk she is producing, her current body score and the weather. This is another reason why it is important to weigh and body score your llamas. The dams feed should be very slowly tapered back down to maintenance by the time the cria is weaned.
Llamas doing regular (more than once a week) work, like packing or cart-driving, will require more energy in their diet. Protein requirements do increase to slightly more than that of maintenance. The requirements for any other nutrient which is required above maintenance levels is met by the increased intake necessary to meet energy needs. Unless they are doing very hard work nearly every day, an increase of 1.5 to 2.5 times maintenance is enough to meet the needs of the working llama. This is another group of llamas who require regular weighing and body scoring to detect the need for any adjustments in the diet.
With better care and more knowledgeable owners, llamas are living to be older. Not a great deal is known about geriatric nutrition in any species, let alone the llama. In general, they have a decreased energy, protein and calcium requirement due to decreased activity and less production of new tissue in the body.
Geriatrics also have a greater need for vitamins and some minerals because their digestive tract is not as efficient at absorbing them. Increasing levels of these vitamins and minerals in the diet may help to meet their requirements. Probably they will all do well on the maintenance diet until some geriatric problem necessitates a change. Your veterinarian can help you with determining this and making the appropriate changes.