30 Amazing Llama and Alpaca Facts You Need to Know
Over the past decade, there’s been a soaring interest in owning llamas and alpacas. People who might not otherwise want to are suddenly realizing that these animals are more accessible than your average livestock. They’re smart, often healthy and generally easy-going. Plus, one simple look at their cartoonishly cute faces, and it’s understandable why so many people would want regular access to them.
There are almost 100,000 llamas and alpacas in the United States today. That number reached a pique about a decade ago when people started really going crazy for the animals. But it has steadily declined since then, likely once people realized that they do require a good amount of maintenance — though plenty of their owners would agree that they’re worth every minute and penny invested.
If you have a passing curiosity about what it might be like to own one or you’re ready to purchase your herd ASAP, these facts about owning llamas and alpacas will help you make a more informed decision.
1. Know Your Livestock
If you’re going to invest in taking care of these animals, it’s important to know the difference between llamas and alpacas. Even though they’re similar-looking and there’s a lot of overlap in their care, it’s vital you know their specific nuances. Llamas are larger animals that can grow up to 6-feet tall and weigh as much as 450 pounds. They have longer ears and are both more interested in and — occasionally more aggressive toward — humans (stories of these animals spitting at random humans are usually llamas).
Alpacas can grow up to almost 3 feet and can weigh up to around 145 pounds. They are generally more gentle creatures that very rarely get aggressive towards humans, though that’s also because they can be a bit more aloof.
2. Know What They’re Best At
Llamas are pack animals, which means they can carry heavier loads on their backs if properly trained to do so. Alpacas are raised for their fleece, which is hypoallergenic, hearty, almost completely waterproof and incredibly soft.
With a little patience and proper socialization, both animals can be very people-friendly and are happy to oblige to do whatever task you ask of them. Just make sure you have fair requests based on their own abilities.
3. Have the Basics
Both llamas and alpacas need enough space to roam, hang out and enjoy themselves outdoors. Llamas, being bigger, need a bit more space. The general recommendation is about an acre of land for every two llamas or so. Alpacas you can get away with an acre of land for every six-ish alpacas.
And since you’ll always need a few animals at a time (more on that later), just make sure you have plenty of space. They’ll also need a shelter at night and some amenities in case it gets too hot or too cold in their living area.
4. Use the Right Fencing
These animals are smart and are generally not interested in wandering too far from their pals (which usually includes their human caretakers!). So you don’t need to worry about using a really hefty fence to keep them in.
But do make sure you stay away from barbed wire or something similar that they could get their fleece stuck on. And never use a fence that’s pressure treated because it’s poisonous to animals.
5. Know What to Do
Thanks to the internet, you may feel like you’re already an expert llama or alpaca owner after a few quick searches. And while you can learn a lot online, there’s plenty more you need to know about the ins and outs of daily care for these animals.
Make sure you do your research via in-person learning from people who have done it before or who have been owners for a long time. Ask for someone to mentor you, if you can, until you get the hang of it yourself. They’re relatively easy to care for assuming you know what you’re doing in the same way that, say, driving a car is relatively easy to do assuming you know what you’re doing.
6. Remember These Animals Are Livestock
Don’t let their charming smiles or quirky personalities fool you — these animals are meant to live and roam outside. Unlike some of their domesticated friends, like dogs, they aren’t able to adapt to life in an enclosed space indoors for long periods of time.
And while they can be adaptable in many ways and are often happy to accommodate your requests, they have their boundaries.
7. Respect the Fleece
In order to properly care for llamas or alpacas, you have to know what you’re working with. They both have different kinds of fleece. And there are even multiple kinds of fleece options for every animal.
With llamas, knowing their specific type of fleece can help you properly maintain and groom them. And for alpacas, it can also help to know how to care for it, should you want to turn around and sell it. You can sell llama fleece, too, but it’s not typically as in-demand.
8. Get Them in Groups
Both llamas and alpacas are very social creatures. They work well and bond with each other and with other similar livestock like goats. And while they enjoy having any sort of company around, they’re happiest with their own kind.
If you’re looking into buying an alpaca, be prepared to get at least three of them in order for them to thrive. And if you want a llama, make sure to get at least one other llama so they have someone to shoot the spit with (so to speak).
9. They’re Really Good Buddies
If you’re going to invest in a small herd of either alpacas or llamas but can’t seem to decide between the two, you can get both (as long as you get a few of each). These animals not only get along well and are happy to socialize with each other, but their relationship can also be beneficial.
Alpacas, much like sheep, need protection from some types of animals. And llamas are guard animals that can usually keep any nearby predators away.
10. Be Careful With Your Herd Choices
Generally speaking, female llamas and alpacas get along well with each other. Much like humans, there can always be issues and differences. But if you get already bonded groups, siblings or young crias that can grow up together, you should be fine.
When you introduce males into the herd for breeding or any other reason, you need to be careful — even if they’re castrated. This is when speaking with experts who are used to these dynamics becomes really important for your herd’s safety and happiness.
11. Use a Reputable Breeder
While it’s possible to rescue llamas and alpacas, they can be difficult to find. And it can be even more difficult to find groups together to adopt all at once. It’s a good idea to find a breeder when you want to own these animals, and we recommend you find a good one who knows what they’re doing.
Searching Craigslist (or something similar) for alpacas from any random person is not a good idea. You want to know everything there is to know about the animals you’re getting so you can properly care for them. There are times when it’s a good idea to cut corners on costs, but this is not one of them.
12. Know What You’re Getting
It's important to understand the health history, pedigree and socialization of your animal. There are grooming needs, basic health issues and general lifestyle restraints that you need to prepare for in advance to properly care for your llamas or alpacas.
But it’s also important to know what they’ve been bred or used for when getting an animal — especially if rescuing one. While llamas can and do make great guard animals for your alpacas, not all of them have been trained to do so. Know what function they’ve been previously serving and play to those strengths, rather than assuming they can do something they may not have been trained or taught to do.
13. Call for Backup If Needed
If you’re desperate to have a herd of llamas or alpacas to call your own, but don’t have the space or general capabilities to take care of them regularly, you still have options. There are places and people who board them, much like people do with horses.
Always make sure that where you’re boarding them is reputable with good reviews. And it’s important to continue to maintain your relationship with your animals regularly. But you can at least outsource some of their care if needed.
14. Socialize Them Properly
Part of the reason it’s so important to use a reputable breeder and to know what you’re doing if you’re creating your own herd is that a poorly socialized animal is incredibly difficult to deal with (especially for new owners). If they haven’t been properly socialized with other animals, it can pose a danger to your already existing herd or to the herd you’re trying to build.
And if it isn’t properly socialized with people, you will have a heck of a time doing some of the most basic care needed. With a larger llama, this can even be dangerous (remember they can be tall and heavy!).
15. They’re Hearty Creatures
Aside from setting up the basics and taking care of their regular food and health needs, both llamas and alpacas are known for being healthy and happy creatures that need pretty minimal ongoing care.
They tend to have relatively easy pregnancies, with gestation periods lasting around 11 months and giving birth to one baby (called a cria) at a time.
16. They Can Crossbreed
As previously mentioned, llamas and alpacas get along well. Like, really, really well. As in they can crossbreed with each other without complications.
Their offspring, as expected, are typically a mix of the different animal’s characteristics. Plus, they have a cool name: huarizo.
17. They Won’t Eat You Out of House and Home
These livestock only eat a small percentage of their body weight every day. Llamas eat 2 to 4 percent of their body weight every day and cost around $300 per year (per llama) to feed.
In comparison, alpacas eat about 1 to 2 percent of their body weight every day and cost around $220 per year (per alpaca) to feed.
18. Their Food Needs Are Simple
Both llamas and alpacas eat mostly hay and nutritional pellets. They also enjoy minerals or mineral blocks they can lick. A salt block for llamas is usually recommended as well.
Plus, in the winter, llamas especially appreciate a little extra corn in their diet to help maintain their energy levels.
19. Yes, They Need Water
There’s a common misconception that llamas and alpacas don’t need much water since they’re hooved mammals and cousins to the water-hoarding camel.
But don’t let that lineage fool you! These animals drink about a gallon of water every day. So make sure to keep their water bowls and troths filled.
20. You Need a Good Vet
While llamas and alpacas are generally healthy and easy-going animals with less daily care than your average domesticated dog, they still need some regular check-ins with a good veterinarian.
They’re especially susceptible to parasites and worms, so they’ll need medication (often shared with other livestock) and regular check-ups.
21. Learn How to Groom Them
In order to properly care for your llamas or alpacas, you need to know the basics of grooming them. Even if you’re not interested in selling the (coveted and popular) fleece from your alpaca, you’ll still need to know how to wash and generally care for it.
You could always pay someone else to do this, but it will cost you a lot in the long run. Plus, it’s great bonding time with your animal (or at least a great test to see just how bonded you really are).
22. They Need Pedicures
Llamas and alpacas don’t have traditional hooves as you might expect from other livestock like pigs or sheep. Instead, they have long nails on their feet that require trimming.
It’s really important you know how to trim them and how to do so properly so you can avoid any health issues in your animal. And, of course, so you can avoid any physical issues that happen as a result of not trimming regularly.
23. Raise Them for Love, Not Money
If you want to own llamas or alpacas, it must be done as a labor of love. One look at the charming faces of these animals, and it’s honestly difficult not to love these creatures. Plus, their generally curious and delightful personalities make them really fun to be around.
But there are a lot of start-up costs and a good amount of basic maintenance in order to do it properly. So don’t depend on your new herd to be your new main source of income.
24. But ... There Are Some Ways to Make Money
While you shouldn’t expect to make a profit on owning llamas or alpacas, there are ways to make money with them. Assuming you’ve socialized them properly and that they’re well-trained, you can offer them as special guests at various events, including birthday parties, weddings or even yoga classes.
With alpacas, you can also sell their prized fleece. Or you can learn to make items with it and sell those.
25. Some States Offer Tax Exemptions
There are a number of states that offer tax exemptions for owning alpacas. If you’re starting a new herd of alpacas, there’s a good chance your state may offer some tax write-offs for many of the initial upfront costs that come with starting a herd.
Depending on your state, these exemptions may last a year or two or until they start having little cria of their own.
26. They’re Absolutely Delightful
There’s a reason llamas and alpacas have become popular animals among even the most dedicated city dweller. They’re naturally curious, generally gentle and highly trainable animals.
Compared to other standoffish livestock that are only interested in you if you’re feeding them, these animals can really provide great entertainment and companionship.
27. They Make Great Therapy Animals
Thanks to their natural charm and easy-to-train personalities, they can be quickly taught to provide humans companionship and entertainment.
Though it’s not a task for new owners, those familiar with llamas and alpacas can train them to be especially docile and friendly with people who might get a kick out of seeing them.
28. They’re Quirky and Fun
There are so many quirks to both llama and alpaca personalities that will make you fall in love with them. For instance, llamas love to interact and play with humans, especially if they feel particularly bonded to one. And alpacas make all sorts of hilarious noises to communicate their feelings.
Also, alpacas create their own litter boxes with their herd, only peeing and defecating in one area of their pasture. And the females like to line up and go together, which is a sight to pee-hold.
29. Owning Llamas and Alpacas Is a Commitment
Both these animals live between 15 to 20 years, assuming they’re well cared for and don’t have any major health issues. That’s a very long time.
In that time, they’ll give you all sorts of attention and plenty of positive memories, but if you’re going to commit to raising a herd, know that it’s just that — a commitment.
30. Bonding Can Take Time
For some people, falling in love with llamas or alpacas happens the instant their eyes gaze upon the big-eyed gentle beasts. But it can take some time before that love is reciprocated. Both llamas and alpacas can be slow to bond.
Llamas tend to be a little more interested more quickly and are often more willing to approach a non-threatening person to learn about them. Even with that openness, these bonds take time. Their interest in you may not be instantaneous. But anyone who has ever cared for these creatures will tell you that once they decide they love you back, well, that’s nothing to spit at.