Spaying Female Llamas

Why spay? Why not just leave the female open?

The first reason is for the well-being of llamas in general. Unfortunately, there are many poorly-informed people who still genuinely believe they can get rich making more llamas — the fact that they bought a really crummy looking female for $300 (or $30!) doesn't alter their fantasy that all llamas are worth many thousands — and so spaying becomes an important means of both birth control and quality control. Spaying a female who is not breeding quality for a particular end-use is one way that conscientious breeders can exert that control for those who don't know better or simply don't want to believe that there are too many llamas in need of homes or rescuing. Spaying insures that a nonbreeding female will never breed even if unforeseeable events result in an ownership change. Spaying protects the marketability of better quality llamas. Nothing turns off a prospective buyer faster than encountering an inferior animal and subsequently coming to the conclusion that all llamas can't pack, have coarse wool, or possess a rotten disposition; scores of inferior llamas from backyard breeders do untold damage to the species' reputation.

The second compelling reason to spay (by ovariectomy, not tubal ligation) is for the well-being of the female as an individual and the enjoyment of her human partner. Unlike other domestic species, who have a well-defined estrous, or heat cycle, a female llama has no heat period and is almost always interested in breeding. Spayed females are calmer and more confident, and it naturally follows that they are easier and more enjoyable to handle and train. Without the constant distraction and discomfort of their hormones, female llamas are distinctly happier and more relaxed, and thus are better companions and better performers. Spays are more active, and their optimum weight is much easier to achieve and maintain. Finally, estrogen exposure is linked to mammary (breast) cancer in other species. Open female llamas are constantly under the influence of high estrogen levels (the reason their weight is difficult to control) because of llamas' unique cycle. It follows — although studies have not yet been done — that spaying may very well reduce the risk of mammary tumors in llamas substantially. Certainly the spayed female no longer runs the risk of ovarian cancer.

A third compelling reason to spay is for human caretakers and companions to enjoy the best of the female disposition and prevent the hormonal rollercoaster ride that some females endure (and unintentionally inflict on their pasturemates and humans alike). Although female llamas usually ovulate only as a result of intercourse, a surprisingly significant percentage ovulate spontaneously. Others, thanks to selective breeding for earliest possible investment returns (extreme early maturity and hypersexuality) develop ovarian cysts and unpleasant pregnancy-like behavior along with them. Both are prevented by spaying. It should go without saying (but unfortunately does not) that such llamas are best removed from the gene pool in any case — both traits appear to be hereditary.

The most common reason for large breeders to spay is when a female would be breeding quality except that she carries a serious genetic defect. If such a female fell into unknowledgable or unscrupulous hands, she would end up being bred and spreading that defect further. Many of these breeders are willing to pay to have these llamas spayed rather than tarnish their reputation, even though the same breeders are not yet willing to put out the money to spay for other reasons.

As with castrated males, fiber production, fiber quality, and working ability are not affected by spaying.

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