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Appropriate breeding management
and initial breeding age
for male llamas
A decade ago, llamas were touted as being
exceptionally manageable -- so much so that a child could handle
a stud. Now stud llamas are usually managed with chutes and other
facilities that minimize or eliminate contact, and most male
llamas are immediately removed from public contact -- including
showing -- after beginning to breed. Is there a way to have handleable,
showable, working stud llamas? The answer is YES.
Llamas are large animals. Although stud llamas
are smaller than stallions and bulls, they are still capable
of injuring and killing humans (yes, it HAS happened -- more
than once). Making more llamas with minimal risk to animals and
handlers is quite possible, and even relatively easy if some
simple procedures are followed. Preserving a stud llama's ability
to work and show despite the presence of females does require
both forethought and patience on the part of the handler, but
the rewards for llama and human (as well as the safety factor)
make the efforts well worthwhile.
We handbreed, meaning that we bring both male
and female to a small area where their activities can be observed
and aided or halted if necessary. For many reasons, we've chosen
not to pasturebreed, provide stud service, or breed at any location
other than our farm. One undeniable byproduct of these decisions
is greater stud manageability. If your situation demands pasturebreeding,
stud service, or traveling stud service, we recommend that you
locate several exceptionally well-mannered studs who do, and
ask how each were managed to preserve their handleability.
Appropriate initial breeding age
The first step to safe, manageable stud llamas
is to allow all stud prospects to mature prior to breeding (this
is the part that requires patience). The reasons to wait are
- You will be able to assess the mature
male's actual temperament.
Some male llamas experience marked, highly
undesirable (and heritable) temperament changes at sexual maturity
or even somewhat later. These llamas should, of course, be castrated.
In practice, such males are often used as studs if they possess
some feature expected to make both sales of offspring and stud
service bookings brisk. Besides fathering a percentage of males
with the same trait, they also sire females who can and do pass
the undesirable temperament components to their offspring. This
means that even if your stud's father had an excellent temperament,
you won't know if your stud prospect will follow suit. You simply
will not know if he falls into the "problem" category
until you give him time to prove that he does not. If a stud
prospect reaches the age of four years without becoming hypersexual,
hyperaggressive, or exhibiting symptoms of aberrant behavior,
you'll know that he is in fact breeding quality in that regard
and that he will contribute sound reproductive temperament traits
to his offspring.
- You will be able to establish lifetime
behavior and habits that will keep the stud manageable.
The evolutionary "social blueprint"
for the normal male guanaco or llama includes a period of time
between sexual maturity and actively beginning to own real estate
and mating. The average guanaco, for instance, does not establish
an exclusive territory or breed until aged four to six years.
During this period, important and necessary social guidelines
are learned, including the need for self-control in certain circumstances
(and how to achieve that), and the unwelcome fact of life that
the particular individual in question was NOT born Automatic
World King. Besides being a time to learn what peers will and
will not tolerate, this social learning period is also the critical
time when a stud prospect's hormonal urges result in him testing
his handler. The handler, in turn, must then establish what behavior
is and is not acceptable.
Circumventing this learning period creates
numerous problems. Immaturely-bred males encounter significant
difficulties (if not impossibilities) cohabiting and transporting
with other llamas -- they assume all other llamas will "hit
the deck" for mating and, if not, that they are capable
of annihilating all resistors. Because immaturely-bred males
began acting on their new hormonal urges shortly after they become
aware of them, they never learn to control these urges nor to
force them to take a back seat to other stimuli. When on lead,
many commonly mount other llamas with the intent to breed them
(including other intact males). This is not only extremely discourteous
to others, but it can be dangerous to both llama and human bystanders.
Those studs whose handlers possess the propriety (and ability)
to halt this behavior are still distracted by the presence of
other llamas -- activities such as showing, packing, and driving
are not allotted the attention necessary to perform well.
Stud llamas with normal temperaments who were
allowed to work through their social learning period without
mating or owning real estate (a separate paddock or pasture,
for instance) can copasture and transport with other llamas,
and they can show, pack, drive, and function as companions with
minimal (if any) detriment to their performance.
- You will be able to assess whether the
stud prospect is actually breeding quality
Llamas who do not fill one or more specific
needs bring lower prices and compete with numerous other llamas
(including rescues) for a very small number of homes. As with
other species, it is impossible to assess a stud prospect's suitability
for specific uses until he has matured and proven himself in
the appropriate field(s): garment-quality fiber production, all-around
packing, and/or all-around showing. In addition, all stud prospects
should prove that they possess the universally-desired companionable
mature temperament. Accurate assessments can be made between
four years (fiber quality) and five to six years (performance
Breeding only from stock already proven to
be above average -- and for studs, exceptional -- for one or
more specific uses is the hallmark of a successful breeder.
The second step to safe, manageable stud llamas
is breeding management with careful consideration of the psychological
effects each action connected with breeding will have. Llamas
have extremely good memories and can make strong associations
after a single experience. This means that you want to be extremely
careful to avoid allowing certain associations to be made.
- Decide on a pre-breeding ritual, and implement
If it seems to your stud that he might be
able to breed at any time, he will be not just thinking about
sex, but actually expecting it much more often. His behavior
and handleability will reflect that preoccupation. A stud who
breeds in many different locations, at any time of day, and with
no prior preparation may: push into or knock down humans in an
attempt to get through gates; jump over, crush, or plow through
fences; and/or pace incessantly, compromising nutrition, health,
and the nerves of everyone around. Despite statements by (sexually
deprived?) humans who declare that all this just means that "boys
will be boys," llamas have a great deal of intelligence
and ability to exert self-control. They, too, would prefer not
to be controlled by hormones. They can easily understand that
breeding is the exception rather than the rule and which environmental
cues indicate that sex might be expected. When they are afforded
such considerations, they usually choose to behave normally,
even when living in close proximity to open females. When they
do experience the occasional hormonal surge, rational behavior
can be restored by the handler after getting the stud's attention.
Virtually all llama breeders (other than volume
"cria mills") choose to handbreed, which involves bringing
both llamas to one location. Using the same location sends a
specific message to both animals. For safety of both partners,
the female's tail is placed in a sock or wrapped with Vetrap©
or a similar product prior to breeding. This action, too, sends
a clear message. These activities are unlikely to occur together
for other reasons, and they may be all that is needed to establish
your stud's "ritual." More than one stud ignores his
humans' activities with an open female, only to snap to attention
when they begin to apply the Vetrap©.
Other possible ritual components include confinement
in a specific location (used for no other purpose) prior to breeding,
passing through an area that the stud would otherwise never enter,
or a verbal cue. Feel free to invent your own as long as the
uniqueness of your message will be clear.
- Decide on a breeding season.
Under natural conditions, both llamas and
guanacos have an established breeding season. An established
breeding season on your farm not only follows the natural pattern,
but also serves to make expectations clear. Your breeding season
does not have to coincide with spring to be effective in this
regard, although those farms who have their breeding season at
other times will still see an increase in studdy behaviors and
short tempers between the spring equinox and the onset of hot
- Decide on a breeding strategy and location
that puts you in control. Send
your stud the messages that (1) he is YOUR guest and (2) breeding
is not a right, but a privilege.
Choosing a breeding location that is neither
within the stud's physical territory nor within his perceived
territory (in his direct line of vision from his normal living
area) is crucial. His instinct then tells him that he is entering
your territory and that certain territorial-establishing behaviors
(including posturing, snorting and challenging, defecating, or
actually threatening) are to be curbed. If this area is within
the females' normal territory, that will serve to increase their
confidence. Rape can and does occur in llamas, and unless the
female can establish her right to self-protection from the start,
many males (or any male in certain circumstances) can and will
wear her out (or trip her, or bite her) and force her down. When
a female objects, there is often a very good reason. An astute
caretaker finds such input invaluable rather than a nuisance
to be squelched.
When introducing the pair, it is usually most
convenient for the female to be brought in first. Her tail can
then be wrapped. If the stud is brought in before the female,
he should be short-tied so that he does not mount the female
before your preparations are completed and she's had the opportunity
to orient herself. Whether the stud enters first or last, this
is when the handler establishes who is in charge. If the stud
is allowed to leap away from the tie or the lead, he is in charge.
If the stud is required to control himself, including standing
still ("calmly" is not a realistic expectation) for
a short period of time (3-5 seconds), then the handler is in
charge. When the handler is in charge, both llamas and handler
are much safer.
Initial breeding practice adjustments for
the young stud
Investment-driven industry literature stacks
all components of breeding in favor of increasing a stud's dominance,
with predictable results: An instant initial breeding followed
by years of uncontrolled slamming into females (oh, yes, and
their handlers) before either can even get through the gate.
Using the foregoing recommendations to achieve handleable experienced
studs will slow down a stud prospect's initial breeding. However,
there are valuable social lessons to be learned from that experience
as well, and unless the stud has a serious hormonal deficit (something
you would not want to pass on), his libido will not be damaged
in the least by this final lesson.
Ideally you would choose an experienced female
who is neither particularly aggressive nor unusually submissive
for a young stud's first partner. However, this is not always
practical. In any case, first execute the ritual where the young
stud can see all your chosen components. Bring him in first to
watch you wrap the female's tail, for example. Next, make sure
that the young stud will be able to get away from an enraged
dominant female -- move him to an adjacent pen for a few hours
if you find that the female is so aggressive that she used physical
force to make her point. If she is only spitting, let them work
it out. It is perfectly OK for her to pin him in a corner with
flying cud. Plan to keep the pair under observation for several
hours. We've never failed to get a breeding within this time;
most mature studs are encouraged to make advances once the humans
are out of the enclosure.
If you are not in the breeding area when you
first hear orgling or observe mounting, return and observe from
inside the enclosure. This establishes the expectation that you
belong as an observer. After the female kushes, verify that the
male's penis is actually entering the female's vagina. Anal intromission,
if it occurs accidentally on an early breeding, can quickly become
a very difficult habit to break (this is most likely to occur
when the llamas are mismatched in size and with older females
with acquired genital "malconformation"). The young
stud may become nervous at your attentions. Proceed gently and
slowly, halting when necessary, until you've completed your task
and then withdraw. Once you've established this as a normal part
of the breeding routine, the stud will no longer be concerned.
Behavioral problems during breeding
Sometimes the handler will find it necessary
to pull the stud off the female: to allow her to reposition because
she's "in a hole" or against the enclosure wall or
fence, for instance. It is best to have two handlers -- one for
each animal -- during initial breedings in case this is necessary.
Two handlers will speed the process and thus minimize the young
stud's frustration. It is frustration that leads to the use of
physical force, and you do not want to establish any expectations
of frustration or inadvertantly teach that force can be used
on humans. Use a lead rope attached to the stud's halter. An
experienced stud may get up when simultaneously told and physically
cued, but an inexperienced stud will be confused and, because
he is very much aroused, he may require strong cueing or even
correction if he objects to the procedure.
Some studs allow instinct to overcome their
better judgment and will spit on an approaching handler, a handler
who stands directly in front of the copulating pair, or any human
who appears to be interfering. IMMEDIATELY attach a lead to the
stud's halter. He may rise and attack, and you will need to have
a means of controlling him. If spitting is mild or occurs in
conjunction with pulling the stud off the female, direct the
stud's head away from you and continue about your business. A
young stud has no way of understanding that he will be permitted
to return to his activities until it has actually occured once
or twice. However, if the stud persists in spitting at you or
actually gets up to attack, you now have an unpleasant problem
-- this animal, who has to this point met all of your criteria,
realistically must be removed from the gene pool. Fortunately,
if you've allowed your stud prospect(s) to mature fully and castrated
any who proved to have behavioral problems, the chances of this
occurring are extremely remote.
It is usually advisable to confine a stud
for at least few hours (if not overnight) prior to returning
him to a communal pasture. Some studs are better housed in a
separate paddock or stabled in a large stall during part or all
of the chosen breeding season. The primary concern for stud management,
regardless of what means and degree of confinement works best
for you, is that the recently-bred stud does not use his testosterone
high to embark on a dominance frenzy, attacking cohabitants without
reason or caution. This is not only physically dangerous for
pasturemates and stud alike, but it sets a precedent in which
the stud may come to expect the "privilege" of working
off his "high" by being out-of-control after breeding.
Such an expectation often results in disregard for the safety
of humans, particularly any handler who does not comply with
the stud's desires.
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