New Critter on the Range

What do you think of when you picture range animals in a Western setting?  Buffalo?  Deer and antelope?  Horses, sheep and cattle?  Probably all of these.  But llamas??  They probably didn’t come to mind.  But if you take a drive through Western ranch and farm country, you’ll can’t help but notice these strangely elegant creatures in the fields.

Llamas (not to be confused with lamas, a name for Buddhist priests) are a recent import from South America—specifically mountainous countries like Chile, Peru and Bolivia.  Their name can be pronounced “lama” or the Spanish way, which sounds like “yama”.   New World relatives of the camel, they come in two domestic varieties.  Both stand between five and six feet tall, have long, straight necks, thick wool, and snooty expressions.  Llamas, sturdy and strong with coarser wool are raised as pack and guard animals as well as for their wool and hides and sometimes their meat.

Their close cousins, the alpacas, are raised for their luxurious wool (if you’ve ever shopped for an alpaca sweater or coat, you know just how luxurious it is).   The animals are shorn every two years.  Alpaca wool is superior to llama wool, but llamas are more useful in other ways.

Here in the United States and in Canada, llamas have enjoyed a surge in popularity for several reasons.   Llamas are adaptable, intelligent and easily trained.  For outdoor hikers and trekkers, they make good pack animals.  They can’t be ridden, but they can carry 25 to 30 percent of their weight for 5 to 8 miles.  Overload them or push them too far, however, and they can become temperamental, refusing to move and spitting to show their displeasure.

Llamas kept with sheep and other livestock become very protective of their charges.  Most predators, like coyotes, are no match for a full-grown llama, which can weigh up to 450 pounds.

Some people keep llamas just because they make delightful pets.

Llamas can live 20-30 years with good care.  They are social animals, happiest in herds.  Their young, called crias, weigh between 20 and 30 pounds at birth.

Fossil records indicate that llamas originated on the plains of North America about 40 million years ago.  By the end of the last ice age they were found only in South America.  But now they’re back, big time and here to stay.  These days the population of llamas and alpacas in the U.S. and Canada is somewhere close to 300,000.

My July Desire, THE SANTANA HEIR is set in Peru, where lots of llamas live.   You can read an excerpt and find a purchase link on my web site:

Do you know anyone who raises these animals?  Have you had any experience with them?  Would you like to have one for a pet?

(Pack llama photo by Richard Masoner)

+ posts

21 thoughts on “New Critter on the Range”

  1. Interesting blog. I remember the first time I saw Llamas in a West Texas pasture, I thought maybe they had escaped from a circus. 🙂 Now, we see them everywhere and they have become a common sight.

  2. We have a lot of them here in Utah, too, Jan. I see them out on the range with sheep. I bet they’d even fight off a human predator who’d try to take one of their “babies.” And I read about llama packing treks in the mountains–always wanted to take one. Thanks for stopping by today.

  3. I have suggested we purchase a couple of llamas to help mow the home place around the house yard. Our farmland is rented out but the grass around the place grows quite tall. We used to have cattle but now only reside here. Hubby says the fences aren’t good enough to hold animals anymore but I thing an oreo cookie cow or some llamas would be fun. But then we would have someone willing to care for them when we travel so I guess he is probably right.

  4. What’s an Oreo Cookie cow, Connie? I’ve never heard of one. And you’ve started me wondering how much care a llama would need. I’ve seen them out on the range with sheep, so I’m guessing that as long as they had grazing and water they’d be ok. Conditions where they thrive in South America can be pretty harsh. Hmmm.
    Thanks for your comment today.

  5. How strange. No, you certainly wouldn’t think of them when you’re talking about ranches in the west. I always learn something new on P&P. Thanks for an interesting post.

  6. I don’t know anyone who raises these animals… Just in books..
    Can’t wait to read your new book…

  7. An oreo cookie cow is a black and white cow. The front and back of the cow is black and the middle is white. I’m sure they have a scientific name but they look like an oreo cookie!

  8. Hmmm. You know, Linda and Kathleen, I’ve never read a book about anybody raising llamas. Now that might make an interesting touch for a contemporary Western. I’ll have to tuck that away.
    Thanks for stopping by to chat.

  9. The things I learn from our readers! Don’t know that I’ve ever seen an Oreo Cookie cow, Connie, but I’ll sure know one if I see one. Thanks for the info.

  10. One of the families at our church raises llamas. We’ve been to their house a number of times. They always tells us not to pet them without one of them around because they will bite or spit! So, that’s my extensive knowledge!

  11. Hi Elizabeth, what a terrific piece of information! They have an alpaca display at our fair, but I don’t think I’ve seen a llama inperson.

    I watched an Animal Planet program one time on a cowboy who had adopted an abused llama from a neighbor. Not the typical ranch animal for him, and the poor llama had been so hurt and abused he was very antsie still. The cowboy was very patient in getting them to know each other. One day he was on the range and some heavy equipment fell on him and trapped him. He heard these hoofebeats, knew it was his new llama and was kinda uncertain what the critter would do. Well, the llama pulled all the stuff of the guy, then squished down so the cowboy could lay across his back so he could ride him back to the house. I still get teary.

    Oh, I love our animal friends! Thanks for this very interesting post.

  12. At least you know more than some of us. Valri. I knew llamas were spitters but didn’t know they bit, too. My only encounter with one was so long ago I barely remember. His name was Louie, and he was kept alone. Judging from his behavior I think he must’ve been lonesome for a mate. Poor guy.

  13. What a wonderful story, Tanya. Wish I’d seen that program. I do know that llamas are very smart, but I didn’t know they could be so loyal.
    And you are the ultimate animal person. It’s such a pleasure to share in your experiences, even long distance.

  14. My daughter has had llamas for the past 10 years or so. They are pets and have very definite personalities. Some are quite approachable. One of the females will come up behind you and lay her head on your shoulder. The had a little coco brown baby last fall and it was the cutest thing. She gives the wool to a friend that makes yarn and knits with it. There are a surprising number of llama and alpaca “ranches” here in east Tennessee.

    Several years ago when we were in Colorado, we passed a couple of groups using the to pack into the backcountry. The trip we just returned from, we saw a couple large llama ranches, either in northern Colorado or southern Wyoming.

  15. It’s great to hear from someone who’s had experience with llamas, Patricia. That little baby must’ve been adorable.
    I never thought of llama and alpaca ranches in Tennessee, but it makes sense. It would be a nice place for them, lots of grass. And I bet the sweaters your daughter’s friend makes are beautiful. I have a red alpaca knitted cape I bought in Peru–makes me feel like a princess when I wear it.
    Most of what I know about these amazing animals comes from reading. Would love to have some up close & personal experience with them. Thanks for your contribution to our blog today.

  16. I live in Southeast Texas (close to Houston) and I had a little encounter with a llama. A friend of mine had me feed and water her livestock while she was on vacation and I went to the house to meet with her on the duties I was to perform. Needless to say I met the llama, fed it while they were gone and have had the “pleasure?” of being spat upon. He did seem to like me though. Relatives of friends have alpacas. I’ve seen them through the fence but not up close.

  17. Oh, no! Now that’s what I’d call an up close experience with a llama, Connie. It must have been gross to be spat on–I guess it’s like the cud they chew, yes? But I’m glad he seemed to like you after that.
    Maybe you should have been the one to write this blog…
    Thanks for stopping by.

  18. What an interesting post, it’s very informative!! Had no idea there were so many llama’s here in this country.Thanks I really enjoyed it.

  19. Thanks for stopping by, Martha. I got the number off the internet and rounded up, so I hope it’s close.
    Llamas are fascinating animals. It was fun learning more about them.

Comments are closed.