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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 numerous:

  • 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 endeavors).

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.

Breeding management

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 it consistently.

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 weather.

  • 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.

After breeding

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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