Sunday, May 10, 2009
Last week I talked about how we got into llamas and about our first llamas. Since then comments have been left about the female llamas. So, this week's post is about the female llamas. Several months after we moved to Split Rock Ranch we decided that we wanted one female because we thought the babies, called "crias" were so adorable. We found a young female named Clementine who was already bred and was due the next summer. We bought her and brought her home to live with us. The gestation period for a llama is 345 days but anything from 340 to 370 days is considered "normal". We have had llamas go 375 days from a known breeding date before delivering a normal healthy cria. It was exciting and educational preparing for our first cria. We built a little shelter (which they never used) in the corner of the newly fenced in llama pen and put straw into the shelter and anxiously awaited the birth. Of course, she gave birth while we were at work/school so we missed the big event. Llamas general give birth only during the daylight hours. We have only had one evening birth (approximately 8 pm) and she had been in labor most of the day so she just didn't get the cria delivered before it got dark.
Crias are usually up and nursing and running around within an hour of birth. The momma llamas are generally very protective and attentive to their new crias, rarely letting them get very far away for the first few weeks. After that first few weeks, they get less and less anxious about their crias going exploring. We try to plan the breedings in our herd so that the females deliver within a few weeks of each other so that the crias have other babies to play with. It is so much fun to watch them run and jump and play together out in the pasture.
We have also discovered that raising the crias is a group effort. Our gelding watches the crias while the moms graze and when the crias go find their mommas to nurse, only then does he relax and rest. For the mommas who have had girls and then other crias, the "big sister" spends a lot of time with the new cria. We had a female die when her baby was 14 weeks old. The older sister took over for momma. She couldn't nurse her little sister but she ate with her, slept with her, hung out with her and did everything else a momma would do. Both of these girls have grown up and become excellent mommas themselves. When danger is sensed, the entire herd will gather together and keep the crias in the center of the herd.
Crias are generally weaned after at least 5 months of being with their mother. Sometimes the momma starts the weaning process herself, pushing the cria away and only allowing them to nurse first thing in the morning and later in the day (more to keep themselves from getting too bagged up and uncomfortable than for any other reason I think.) We base our weaning on how the cria is progressing. If they are smaller and momma is still letting them nurse frequently, we leave them together. We also wean the babies at the same time so they have a familiar buddy to hang with during the stressful weaning process. It is far more stressful on the cria than it is on the momma! By that time most of the mommas are glad to be rid of a cria following them around begging to nurse.
One more thing I want to cover in this post. Another common question about llamas is "do they spit?" The answer is yes, but generally only at other llamas and only when their space has been invaded or over food disputes or territorial disputes. They rarely spit at humans unless you are doing something that is painful or aggravating to the llama (brushing really hard and pulling their fiber, giving shots, etc.) A well socialized llama will very seldom spit at a human. Dogs bite and cats scratch - I would prefer being spit on by a llama to being bitten or scratched any day! I've had a rabbit lay the end of my finger open and a horse take off half the flesh on one of my fingers - I'll take spit any day over those unfortunate events! And, llamas will give warning signals prior to spitting - they will lay their ears back (think of a dog growling or a cat hissing) and if you ignore that signal they will make a clicking noise prior to actually spitting. Anyone who ignores those signals has deserved a well placed spit wad.
More coming next week on llamas 101.__