The straight scoop . . .
about breeding llamas
People breed livestock for:
- specific by-products (meat,
- economic gain based on the above
products -- that is, animals are sold to others for their meat
or future fiber production
People breed companion animals
for different reasons:
- specific, personal end-uses
(work, sport and competitive endeavors; show; and harvest of
nonlethally acquired by-products such as fiber)
- aesthetic pleasure and personal
- economic gain, most often economic
recouperation of expenses incurred in some end-uses such as showing
and competition, and speculative investment
Although llamas are legally classified
as livestock in some parts of state codes and laws, they are
in fact used as companion animals. [The original purpose
in having llamas designated as "livestock" was to remove
them from exotic animal restrictions and also bring them under
the protection of laws such as those addressing dog attacks.
Llamas were clearly not horses, so they legally became "livestock."
Llamas are not selectively bred
for any specific uses by the majority of breeders, but instead
have been bred primarily for aesthetics, economic gain, and --
during the 1980s -- speculative investment. The llama industry
has been and currently remains a breeder's market. What that
means is that the predominant reason for breeding llamas has
been to produce more llamas to sell to others so that they can
produce more llamas to sell to others. In virtually all cases,
"breeders" who produce llamas just to sell are only
selling to each other in order to obtain tax benefits -- there
is no actual profit generated. In addition, the type of llamas
currently being promoted as "high-quality stock" and
the parameters that define "high-quality" have been
based on and still remain dependent on aesthetics and popular
Practices to maximize investment
return have become "industry standard." This means
that llamas are commonly (mis)managed in a number of ways despite
the clear damage to the llamas in the long run. For instance:
- Immature female llamas are commonly
impregnated as soon as they can carry a pregnancy to term. [see:
- Males are often not castrated,
both to save money and to possibly gain a better price as a "stud
quality" male from a naive "newbie." [see: castration]
- All fertile females are kept
pregnant for maximum production -- even those who are not breeding
quality and thus produce a continuous supply of difficult-to-place
and even unwanted crias. [check out: rescue
- Buyers are told to pack immature
males and geldings. [see: suitable
- Untrained llamas who do not
have the attractive features that allow them to sell quickly
in an overcrowded "pet" market are dumped (sometimes
for pet food) when they become management problems -- at sexual
maturity, or when they simply stop being cute and are only cutting
into the food budget. [check out: rescue
These practices, along with encouragement
to breed llamas to "enjoy the cute little babies and a wonderful
investment at the same time" are presented to prospective
llama buyers -- some of whom have never handled an animal larger
than a dog before. Care to guess what happens?
- Rookie owner
- + pregnant immature females
and mature female culls
(often without disclosure of known problems)
- + untrained, nonbreeeding quality
(often just discovering their hormones)
- = expensive problems.
And, tragically, more generic
(read "mutt") crias who deserve good lives in good
homes but may never have them.
Can I breed llamas?
Anyone can multiply llamas as
long as they have fertile specimens of both sexes. Breeding,
however, is different.
Breeding entails purposeful selection
and results in desirable offspring. Breeding takes knowledge,
and also carries responsibilities such as: Limiting propagation
to genetically healthy animals; using all available knowledge
to be as certain as possible that offspring will be suited to
a purpose and will have good prospects for placement; not breeding
at all when there is a flooded market for the type of animal
being produced; and a lifelong committment to the lives the breeder
was responsible for creating. [The latter includes careful placement
and, if errors are made, repurchase and replacement or rescue
when necessary.] Guardian llama breeders have an even heavier
responsibility because a failed placement may mean injury or
death for the llama.
One important segment of knowledge
involved in responsible breeding choices is a sound understanding
of basic genetics, known and suspected heritable conditions within
the species, and careful, off-the-record research regarding which
llamas carry or may be suspected to carry genetically inherited
flaws. The latter can be very difficult, particularly because
those honest owners and breeders who can and would give you valuable
information are likely to be threatened by the unscrupulous segment
who stand to gain as long as the truth can be supressed. And
it's also true that many people see "full disclosure"
as a good thing until the subject is their own llamas.
Another important segment is
use-specific knowledge. If you are breeding for usable fiber,
you should have an excellent understanding of what constitutes
superior fiber -- and then learn what the genetic components
are and how they are inherited. If you are breeding for performance
llamas, the requisite education includes biomechanics, the specific
demands of specific performance tasks -- and how each individual
physical trait is inherited. If you are breeding performance
llamas specifically for packing, your success and respect will
also be dependent on the quality (not quantity) of your actual
trail experience and packing knowledge.
Breeders of all kinds of llamas
also need to understand the components of mental and emotional
health so that they can make careful matches that will result
in the most handleable, willing, and pleasant dispositions. Breeders
should also be good llama trainers -- they will be the ones to
handle the crias during their most impressionable time, to make
choices affecting the crias' social structure, and also will
be responsible for assessing young llamas' maturity and readiness
prior to placement. Breeders can literally make or break a llama
Breeding llamas also carries
ethical responsibilities to customers. What will you be able
to offer as compensation if one of your customers buys a breeding
llama that subsequently proves to be genetically defective? How
about if a genetic defect is uncovered in a close relative? Will
you be able to offer full guarantees of your working stock? Will
you have the time and expertise to ensure that each llama makes
a smooth and successful transition to your buyers?
Only you can honestly answer
whether you can breed llamas after you have owned and
handled llamas for several years. Most problems (and monetary
losses) occur because people were rushed into llama multiplication
based on economics or a sales pitch (including those cute little
babies, of course) without adequate background and no one to
turn to except other multipliers who themselves frequently lack
adequate backgrounds and/or information.
Should I breed llamas?
- Breeding llamas means lifestyle
- Breeding is a gamble
If you want to pursue any particular
end-use, you are likely to find that breeding prevents you from
partaking in the activities and lifestyle that you wanted, and
that ultimately led you to purchase llamas to begin with. This
is particularly true for those who enjoy packing, driving, or
showing. There are ways to work around the scheduling conflicts
-- timing breeding and birthing during the off-season if you
live in a suitably mild climate, for instance -- but there will
still be more work and less play, period.
An alternative, commonly practiced
by mare owners but only just gaining popularity among llama owners,
is to buy, use, and enjoy one or more female llamas (with one
or more compatible geldings to provide companionship if necessary),
and wait to breed until you are ready to raise one or two understudies.
If you have the knowledge to make good breeding choices from
the studs available to you for outside breeding, you will eliminate
the largest problem for most conscientious breeders -- placing
your special babies in a good, permanent home -- and you will
have replacement llamas at a reasonable cost (but don't expect
breeding-your-own to be a bargain). You will also have a far
simpler, more enjoyable and more peaceful life with llamas because
you won't have to experience the ongoing hassles of managing
an intact male llama!
There are two major drawbacks
to this alternative. First, you may not have the knowledge now
to select good breeding stock. Thus, if you chose to breed later,
you may end up spending more money all over again, or you may
be tempted (strongly!) to produce a cria from a llama who should
not be bred at all. Second, investment-driven breeding practices
have allowed female llamas who are prone to cystic ovaries to
remain in the gene pool and ... yep, pass it on. If you were
to purchase such a female, you would find that she could not
be bred without medical intervention, and despite your best intentions
to only breed genetically sound llamas, you would be faced with
heavy temptation to breed that llama anyway. You can virtually
eliminate this risk by buying mature (minimum three- to four-year-old)
females who have not been bred and then have a reproductive exam
performed prior to purchase.
Yet another option is to lease
a proven breeding female or two to produce a couple of understudies.
This gives you more choices (there are a number of females available
for lease who are not for sale), and also allows you to develop
more knowledge and more resources you trust to help you make
your selections. This option is also available whether you own
females that should not be reproducting ... or geldings (who
However, no matter what option
you take, keep in mind that all breeding is a gamble. The only
thing you can count on is that whatever you have in mind is NOT
what will be born. Yes, a very experienced, knowledgeable breeder
with realistic goals and appropriately-selected breeding stock
will produce llamas close to his or her ideal -- but none will
turn out "exactly as ordered." If you want very specific
traits in your next llama, your only chance of success is to
select from what already exists and forget about breeding.
- Breeding llamas requires
stable financial resources and property
Breeding (or even multiplying)
llamas requires more specialized facilities and more space. Both
are expensive. You'll need to manage different groups differently,
and some cannot be housed together: young females, young males,
adolescent males, adolescent geldings, adolescent females, open
adult females, open and lactating adult females, pregnant adult
females, pregnant and lactating adult females and -- the real
tough one -- breeding stud(s). You'll need better, stronger,
and taller fencing that is safe for all sizes and ages of llamas.
You'll need more and better shelter, and more of those shelter
spaces equipped with electricity and good lighting. And more
facilities have a way of needing more upkeep!
Although we know of llamas kept
and multiplied in very high densities on small acreage, not only
do regulations often prohibit such crowding, but the llamas themselves
become prone to a host of problems (including illness and "bad"
behavior) from the stress of not having enough space. Llamas
are open-space creatures, and although one must also prevent
them from becoming overweight due to too much forage, they truly
benefit (as do their caretakers) from adequate room to run and
just plain spread out on a regulat basis.
Do you own property? It's one
thing to rent property and own a couple of nonbreeding llamas.
Geldings, nonbreeding females, and spays are not difficult to
board out if you should have to move unexpectedly. Boarding more
than a couple of llamas can be a very difficult proposition,
as a number of people have learned the hard way. And the type
of llamas found in breeding operations -- studs, pregnant and
nursing females, and immature llamas (especially males) -- are
NOT welcome boarders on most llama-suitable facilities, which
are usually llama farms stocked at or over capacity. Using neighboring
or nearby pastures to house part of a llama herd in order to
have adequate room or pasture separations to breed llamas is
also not a viable solution -- we've known firsthand far too many
people who abruptly lost the space they depended on (even after
they'd put up fencing and shelters) and had nowhere to put a
significant portion of their herd. In short, if you can't afford
adequate land or you choose not to move, then the only ethical
choice is to postpone breeding llamas until that situation has
- Can you put ethics and llamas
before ego, other humans, and profit?
Another consideration is whether
you have the economic, emotional, and ethical stability to withstand
the not-all-that-remote possibility of discovering that some
of your breeding stock carries one or more genetic defects. It
is easy to say you will castrate and spay, and that you can and
will euthanize nonviable crias (or spend thousands to save them
and then provide them with a "retirement" home for
life) before it happens to you. It is not nearly
so easy when you are faced with an otherwise perfect cria struggling
for air with every breath after a year or more of high hopes
based on the careful selection and pairing of two outwardly outstanding
adults. A defective cria is unlikely to be the first offspring
of both parents. Will you be able to afford to castrate and spay
(or not breed and then deal with the subsequent management issues)
not only the carrier parents, but also their other offspring?
What if some of those offspring have already been sold? These
are questions that need to be answered before deciding to breed,
Of course it's not necessary
to be ethical ... but one can't bury the consequences of a bad
reputation as easily as even one defective llama.
- Breeding llamas requires
A very important consideration
is whether you are going to live long enough to guarantee a home
for both your original breeding stock and any offspring you raise
that either doesn't sell or you choose to keep. Barring accident
or abuse, you can expect the average llama to live 20-25 years;
some live past 30. How long can you expect to live? More importantly,
how long can you reasonably expect to be physically capable of
caring for llamas? (Don't forget to factor in the ones who get
physical when handled -- including certain initial lessons for
untrained animals -- and don't forget those tasks you'd rather
forget, such as emergency fence repairs in the pouring rain or
a blizzard.) If you are an intelligent person, you'll realize
that your longevity and continued capabilities are not guaranteed,
and that provisions for the llamas you love in the event of your
incapacity or demise aren't going to be easy to finance or arrange
... and the more llamas you have, the more difficult that will
be (or rather, the more likely that most will be "dumped"
for pet food, big cat sport, or uncared-for llawnmowers -- if
they aren't euthanized outright or taken in for slaughter --
although they will claim to be giving the llamas good homes --
by one of the unscrupulous large breeders who have their own
"solution" to the problem of too many llamas competing
with theirs for homes). If you're also "getting up there"
in years, the facts should be clear: Breeding llamas really isn't
a responsible choice.
So, breeding llamas requires
time and money. Breeding (as opposed to multiplying) also demands
some heavy responsibilities (which require more time and occasionally
quite a bit of money, and thus precludes using llamas as an investment
per se). Should you do it? The answer will be "yes"
for some, "no" for others, and "yes, but not now"
for others still.
I really want to have some
cute little crias running around. What can that hurt?
Plenty -- unless you don't think
that all cute little crias have a right to live their entire
lifespan, properly-cared for and appreciated even though they
are no longer cute after 6 months to a year of age. The sad fact
is that weanling and yearling llamas in all parts of the US and
Canada are regularly being sold for a few dollars to be slaughtered.
The ONLY reason is that there are TOO MANY generic ("mutt")
llamas for the number of available homes.
Every cria you produce
that will not excel it's entire mature life at some
end use for which there is a high demand puts another formerly
cute little llama into a dog food can.
What if you keep all of your
mutt crias yourself? Then you've just proven that you DID have
room to save a few intelligent, potentially loving, and otherwise
unmarketable llamas from the slaughterhouse.
If you enjoy seeing llamas
running around and having fun, you can still do that without
making any more! It's
a fallacy that only baby llamas run and play. Healthy, fit, mature
llamas with adequate pasture space regularly engage in playful
running and bouncing games. Geldings, open females (if never
bred or if not bred too young), and spays in particular are quite
playful. (Late geldings rarely play, and life is virutally always
dead-serious for studs.)
Who will buy the llamas if
I breed them?
What kind of work would be
Would I make any profit?
Can I at least break even?
Good for you! These are important
questions -- the kind that people SHOULD be asking BEFORE they
The answers depends entirely
on what kind of llamas you are actually breeding (not what you
plan to breed -- what you actually get!), which is directly linked
to the quality of your initial breeding stock. Good breeding
stock for any purpose is not found easily, nor at bargain prices.
For some markets, it will also depend on how well those llamas
are trained. It is also dependent on the age you plan to sell
Llamas have been used for packing
on both continents for thousands of years. However, lack of selective
breeding on both continents means that many llamas can pack little
more than light loads (40 pounds) for short distances (one to
three miles -- or less). Excellent pack breeding stock -- llamas
that easily match handler pace and can handily pack 80 or more
pounds for 20+ miles, day after day, 120+ pounds for shorter
distances, and who maintain the ability to pack under real-world
demands well into their third decade -- is difficult to find.
Even the most skilled breeders using stringent selection practices
for potential breeding stock expect to "pull" up to
50% of their purchases out of their breeding herd. Although that's
necessary to produce only good pack llamas, it's also expensive.
Current llama packers and backpackers
new to llamas purchase trained pack llamas. Some of both groups
purchase untrained llamas at much lower prices with variable
(mostly poor) results. Profit after expenses for those who sell
immature, unproven llamas is nonexistant. Trained pack llamas
must be held until maturity (4-5 years depending on sex and other
factors) to avoid physical damage, which results in higher expenditures;
however, the selling price is substantially higher. The time
commitment for individual training and the interaction required
to produce a desirable personal pack llama means that responsible
and successful breeders cannot produce very many trained packers
Profit after expenses, if any,
is generally limited to repayment of training time invested at
about minimum wage (or less), and is tied directly to the breeder's
ability to produce excellent pack prospects that learn quickly
every time and have desirable dispositions and coats.
For example, we figure the base expense of breeding and raising
a registered and castrated pack prospect is about $800; we
also sell a fitted pack saddle and halter with the animal to
minimize the possibility that the animal might be mistreated
(and ruined) with ill-fitting or painful equipment -- and that
brings the total price to $1000 before any training,
gas for transportation, money for farmsitters while we're gone
on training trips ... let alone farm overhead! An animal
that takes to packing in one season with 40 hours of training
and trail time (including individual work, not just being strung
along with other llamas) is only making us a small "profit"
if the animal is also so physically superior and charismatic
that we can ask (and get) a higher price. A more average llama
who has some physical "glitches" or some less-than-perfect
temperament qualities -- necessitating a lower selling price
-- already has out-of-pocket costs equal to the that eventual
selling price; if that llama requires two packing seasons with
100 hours of training and trail time, you can see we're in the
hole in a big way.
Think it's easy to just breed
better llamas to begin with? It's certainly the right way to
do it, but it's far easier said than done. But more to the point,
it's far easier to claim a llama is ideal than to make
it so in the first place. ... because profit usually evaporates
when full disclosure is made (or the truth comes out) about the
average "pack" llama. If you're an honest breeder,
you're still competing with the less-than-honest "breeders"
and resellers who are perfectly comfortable selling unsuitable
or marginally-suitable llamas with minimal training to uneducated
buyers at prices that will always beat yours.
Although wool production
has long been given as a primary reason to own llamas, there
is still no commercial market for the fiber. Fiber quantity is
not difficult to achieve, but finding breeding stock with high-quality
fiber is a different matter. Offspring can be sold to rural handspinners
if the price is reasonable (in their opinion). With so many llamas
to choose from now, only the very finest-fibered and best-colored
individuals are in demand in this limited market -- and fiber
llamas (along with their fiber) are seeing increasing competition
from a maturing alpaca industry, which has only one goal: high-quality
An additional factor to consider
is that immature llama fiber is always finer than fiber from
a mature animal (and fine baby fleece does not always correlate
with a desirable mature fleece) -- those who are "in the
know" will want to buy mature stock. This means that the
honest breeder spends more to raise and sell mature llamas for
the same price, and also pays more for breeding stock. A fiber
llama with a good-quality fleece can be expected to produce $350-$500
worth of fiber in its lifetime and will cost a minimum of $150
average per year to feed and maintain (if nothing goes wrong)
-- and that doesn't even take the purchase price into account.
It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see that fiber llamas can
be terrific for a hobbyist who loves both his/her craft and
tending animals, but they're not a money-maker.
Llamas have been touted as outstanding
sheep and livestock guardians. This is only partially
true. Some individuals excel at this task and enjoy it; at least
as many are just as vulnerable to slaughter as the charges they
are supposed to protect. At this time, we are unaware of anyone
selectively breeding llamas for guarding exclusively. Although
there is high demand in some areas, the suitable llamas are long-lived
and this market definitely has the potential to become saturated
quickly -- it cannot support a large number of exclusively-guard-llama
breeders. An additional complicating factor is that several facets
of the guard llama personality are definitely not desirable for
companion functions. Successful guard llamas who cannot be placed
due to lack of demand will also not be considered desireable
by those who want pets, show animals, or packers.
Guard llamas are not ready to
be placed until they are at least two years old, and they need
to be castrated within the 12-18 month age range. Figure $150
per year for feed, $150 preventative maintenance expenses and
castration, and $15 for a halter, and your minimum break-even
price for an unregistered guard llama is $465. If even one llama
get sick or hurt or if you transport the llama to the buyer's
farm, or if you expect compensation for your time teaching the
most basic skills to the llamas (allowing capture, haltering,
leading, picking up feet, and loading), you're operating at a
loss already. Finally, understand that many people who want a
guard aren't willing to pay much for one -- they know that llamas
can be found at the livestock auction for $50, and so even a
guaranteed, trained llama for $500 sounds ridiculously high-priced
The high-rollin' trendsetters
are happy to sell you this year's trendy llamas at a very
high price, but by the time you produce offspring (even if you
follow their sickening example and breed your llamas at ages
equivalent to nine- and ten-year-old human children), they've
already set new trends with the progeny THEY chose to retain.
In other words, although a few do succeed in this game, most
can play only at the bottom of the pyramid. Nearly all of the
time, the llamas will not sell for prices that can repay the
investment (we commonly see trendy llamas reselling for 25-50%
of their original price within just a few years), and even while
the breeding stock is still quite young, their progeny become
so "out-of-date" that those breeders are soon hard-pressed
to sell them at give-away prices. Obviously, breeding to meet
trends is not an end use, nor is it ethical. To make money breeding
trendy llamas, a person must ruthlessly exploit both buyers and
llamas. Sad, but true.
Like trendy llamas, show llamas
(at halter) come in and go out of vogue at the whims of a
few people. The difference is that although trend-setting breeders
do have a delayed influence on showring choices, judges and the
show associations that certify them have the greatest influence
on what will be in demand. Those judges, in turn, are influenced
by a variety of factions, most of which focus on aesthetic features
and none of which are concerned with function. This means that
a halter class llama may have a very short career before becoming
obsolete -- or a very long wait of many years before becoming
a trendy flash-in-the-pan. An additional complication is that
the proportions of immature llamas are preferred by a number
of judges, so some llamas will never see the winner's circle
after they reach adulthood. Very few people actually purchase
llamas to show at halter -- halter classes are instead the realm
of breeders (primarily those on the bottom of the "trendy"
pyramid) trying to get an edge on selling llamas or stud services.
You can easily see that although participating in halter classes
does not harm llamas directly, breeding llamas primarily for
exhibiting at halter is not a practical nor ethical goal.
Contrary to what you may hear,
performance show llamas do not have to be athletes --
the physical demands of showing are simply not that significant.
What is necessary is mental suitability to training, the emotional
stability to take traveling and the chaos of shows in stride,
and to be "politically sound" (certain types of disabilities,
although causing no detriment or pain in the show ring, are targeted
for disqualification by ALSA judges to create the appearence
of concern; other, more serious disabilities are ignored). A
successful breeder of performance show llamas needs to evaluate
breeding stock by showing them first -- both males and females
-- and then follow through by showing the offspring.
A peculiar quirk of the present
llama market (originally started and still supported by large
breeders who don't train their llamas due to lack of time) is
that most buyers truly believe that "anyone can train their
own llama." This is not true, but the end result is that
there are very few people willing to buy a trained performance
show llama, especially at a price that is fair compensation for
that animal's training (several hundred hours and two to three
years minimum for a solid performer at intermediate levels).
Because senior llamas with minor physical ailments can still
perform comfortably in the show ring, those llamas who do find
themselves in show homes can stay there for a long time to come.
In addition, many of the "culls" from highly selective
breeding programs for other end uses that emphasize disposition
can -- and often do -- do well at performance showing. As a specialty,
this market simply does not have enough buyers, and cannot be
the primary goal of any ethical breeding program in the present
Companion llamas may perform one or more of the preceding
tasks at a moderate level, but in all cases, the overriding desirable
features are handleability and a desire to relate to humans.
This requires that the breeding stock (both male and female)
have outstanding personalities and that the breeder has both
the time and expertise to guide the development of the offspring.
Many people who have some land become interested in having two
or more llamas as companions; most of those who do buy llamas
purchase the wrong llamas (translation: cheap, untrained, and
too young) too fast and for the wrong reasons, and either repent
for the 20+ years their llamas live, or get rid of the llamas
without thought (or knowledge) of what usually happens to unwanted,
Companion llamas do not sell
for very high prices, and there is a lot of competition for the
primarily uneducated buyers in the form of llamas that did not
make the grade for other uses (particularly fiber use and packing)
and who are now being dumped in the "pet" market at
even lower prices -- or at auctions for as little as $5-$10.
This, coupled with the intensive training that good companion
llamas require prior to sale ensure that even unscrupulous breeders
will make negligible profits at best (figure $300 as a base cost
to produce one castrated, registered yearling).
More important than the economic
losses to breeders are the losses of life directly caused by
every person who allows another "pet-only" llama to
be created. Every time a llama is "disposed of" instead
of finding a home (and homes are limited), llamas in general
and pet llamas in particular are devalued until they are considered
worthless. Until there are no more llamas going to slaughter,
there is simply no such thing as conscientiously breeding
Therapy llamas are a subset of companion llamas. Their
ranks cannot tolerate certain quirks that normal handlers might
be able to work around, so they might be more accurately considered
an "elite" companion llama. Both therapists and private
individuals will purchase a therapy llama. Very few llamas are
purchased specifically for therapy, and their long lives ensure
that the market will remain very, very small. Those llamas who
cannot find a therapy home do make outstanding companions, however,
their selling price is no higher.
Is there even room for more
Those who have an overcrowded
pasture of untrained, no-purpose female llamas for sale certainly
hope they can convince you to think so! The real answer lies
in examining whch end uses for llamas currently have an oversupply
of "qualified applicants."
For trendy, show-only, and companion
llamas, the answer is "no," even though you will hear
the opposite from the breeders in that market (notice, too, how
many llamas they have for sale ... ). That answer will change
for performance show llamas, companion llamas, and therapy llamas
when the llama "industry" finally matures, which is
unlikely to occur for another fifteen to thirty years.
There is limited room for guardian
llama breeders. Whether this continues, increases, or decreases
will depend heavily on how successful the offspring from those
breeders are. Unsuitable llamas and failed placements can easily
kill this young market. In addition, cheap auction llamas compete
with (and can give bad press to) llamas bred specifically for
successful guarding attributes.
There may be limited room for
fiber production llama breeders, but with the exponential increase
in alpacas and alpaca breeders, the fiber llama niche will be
a very limited one, consisting only of those handspinners who
prefer the llama disposition and those who want to have their
fiber llamas do double-duty as guards or companions. However,
the cost of high-quality breeding stock is not likely to result
in a profit for those llamas sold to handspinners and other fiber
users -- a commercial llama fiber market must be developed, or
existing lama fiber markets tapped (which will require the fiber
from wool production llamas to either compete sucessfully with
alpacas or to be accepted without question into the same fiber
There is very limited room for
breeders of well-trained, high-performance classic-coated pack
llamas, but most of the sales opportunities won't be realized
for another decade or more, when the hordes of generic llamas
have both passed into disability and also are recognized widely
for what they are -- nice enough animals, but NOT pack llamas.
In practice, the majority of pack llama breeders are breeding
only enough llamas to ensure their best genetic stock will still
be available to them 10-20 years from now.
Good, well-trained pack llamas
that can perform reliably under real-world conditions and expectations
are in high demand; their short supply is unfortunately resulting
in marginal llamas being purchased for packing and subsequently
"proving" that llamas in general can't make the grade
as serious pack animals -- and these failures, in turn, depress
both demand and prices. The same is true for those who select
pack llama breeding stock solely for the "in" trait
(formerly extreme weight; now most often extreme height) without
taking the llamas' actual performance and longevity into
account. Breeding excellent pack llamas takes significantly
more knowledge than does breeding for other current uses, worthy
pack breeding stock does not (and should not) come cheap, and
just finding good pack llamas for possible breeding can
take a LOT of time (we should know!). In sum, just the expense
of acquiring many pack breeding prospects and then verifying
which ones are genuinely excellent ensures you'll make no profit
for many years to come.
Training excellent pack llamas
also takes a substantial commitment of time, meaning that only
a few can be produced each year. Training pack prospects includes
numerous overnight trips every year to the same old places with
all the new rookie llamas (some of which may turn a few level
miles into sweaty, neverending torture); it also means the trainer-breeder
must have quite a support network to permit them to take off
every weekend every summer ... or a hefty bankroll to pay farm
sitters (if any competent people are even available). Those "breeders"
who don't train and pack with the llamas they've produced should
count themselves very lucky if they sell some untrained llamas
for cheap initially -- once it gets around that just some of
those untrained llamas they produced are actually duds on the
trail, sales plummet ... if there are any more sales at all.
Performance and pack llama breeding
cannot be entered into lightly if success is the goal and should
not be considered a potentially profitable venture for many years
to come (even then, the level of profit is -- realistically --
minimal). It is also becoming obvious that producers of marginal
"pack" stock aren't surviving long in the face of increasingly
sophisticated competition. Remember -- all breeding is a gamble.
No matter how good the breeding stock and how skillful the breeder,
there are no guarantees that the outcome will be 100% saleable,
What is the soundest way to
learn about llamas and breeding before deciding whether to make
the investment and take the plunge?
Learning about llamas takes time.
Although you can read everything in print and talk to a large
number of people (both excellent ways to gain good information
and horrible misinformation with no means to sort the two from
each other), there is no substitute for hands-on experience.
A few nonbreeding llamas (geldings
and/or spays) with basic training (or trained to pack, drive
and/or show, if that is your interest) can provide you with volumes
of invaluable education. It also helps you to solidify what you
really like to do with llamas. Sometimes people find that the
uses they really enjoy are nothing close to what they initially
thought they wanted llamas for. Finding a direction you are
sure you enjoy is a critical step that must precede gaining the
knowledge and experience necessary for responsible and successful
Animal breeding is not as simple
as mating your favorite male and female and making another one
that just happens to get all your favorite features. A basic
understanding of genetics, heritable traits in llamas and their
modes of inheritance, ideals specific to a particular use, and
prioritizing those goals in a manner that stacks the odds heavily
in favor of sound, healthy, placeable llamas -- even when a particular
mating does not produce exactly what you are after -- are all
essential components of a successful breeding program that cannot
be quickly learned or even easily understood. It will take even
the most motivated individual many years of research, study,
and scrutiny of successful llama and other animal breeding programs
before "taking the plunge" becomes a good gamble rather
than a bad risk.
Of course, there will always
be those who leap right into making more llamas -- in fact, that
has historically been how both backyard and large-scale llama
producers began (thanks to pressure from those who needed to
sell). Look at what the multipliers started making and how those
llamas are selling five and ten years later (they're hard to
give away, and the bulk of rescues -- once cleaned up -- look
just like 'em, folks!) if you have any doubts that waiting and
self-educating is the responsible and intelligent way to go.
If much of the preceeding seems
like a pretty glum picture of llama breeding, you're right. It's
certainly not unique to llamas, either. Making a profit (or just
breaking even) by breeding horses or dogs (or any other animal,
domestic or exotic) is tough too. You have to either be a trendsetter
or produce absolutely top-of-the-line animals bred for and meeting
the criteria of specific uses in those markets in order to make
a consistent economic gain. You also have to start with enough
capital that you can afford to be ripped off because, guaranteed,
if you are buying breeding stock of any kind, you will
get ripped off sooner or later.
The llama "industry"
currently differs from most animal breeding markets, however,
because it is in the "big crash" after the initial
multiplication phase -- that is, supply has recently (and predictably)
exceeded a previously "insatiable" demand in a big
way, but with no corresponding curtailment of production, particularly
of the generic, no-purpose llamas (who don't deserve to be unwanted,
but have landed in a world where that big risk is fact). This
oversupply is compounded by llamas' relatively long lifespan.
Only after it finally hits home with the majority of cria-mill
style multipliers that this practice results in significant monetary
losses with little or no returns will the wanton production cease.
After that point, genuine llama breeding can proceed to a more
mature, healthier position (as a small minority) within the llama-owning
community as a whole.
You won't lose out by putting
off a decision to breed llamas, and there's always room for more
education and experience before taking the plunge -- if you do.
We did not begin breeding until
more than six years after getting llamas. We have never been
sorry that we waited (although we did get impatient on occasion
-- particularly because so many people openly looked down on
non-breeding owners during that time). We also started out with
an unusually sound foundation of genetics and function. We have
produced less than one-fifth of the crias that any conventional
multiplier would have produced with the females that we have.
We chose instead to put our llamas' health first, and we also
chose to not breed any llamas -- male or female -- who were not
likely to produce highly desirable offspring.
Breeding is not (and will never
be) a road to riches for us, but instead is a commitment to producing
what we value (and have discovered has become very difficult
to find) -- trained, high-quality classic llamas for real-world
packing and other serious, mentally and physically demanding
performance pursuits. We fully expect our primary customers to
be ourselves alone until the huge surplus of generic llamas diminishes
and most serious backcountry users have finally learned their
lesson the hard way: It takes an exceptional pack
llama to meet average human demands on the trail.
Finally, we don't claim to be
perfect or even experts (despite both positive and negative accusations!),
but we will always be striving to learn more so that we can guarantee
our crias good homes when (if!) they leave us at maturity. Matching
llamas with humans and the process of bridging the "savvy"
gap for first-time buyers are complex tasks that we take very
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