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The straight scoop ...
about breeding llamas
Should I breed llamas?
Breeding is a gamble — that's ALL breeding, any species. The level of risk you can afford is specific to you and your situation. And, of course, you can't anticipate all risks. You can, however, inform your considerations by learning about common risks and generally unpopular "background information."
Breeding llamas means lifestyle sacrifices
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.
A viable alternative to owning a time-consuming breeding operation, commonly practiced by mare owners but only just gaining popularity among llama owners, is to buy, use, and enjoy a couple of female llamas (with additional females or separately-housed geldings if necessary to meet your llama activity needs and goals), 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 reproducing ... or geldings (who can't reproduce!).
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). (Even if you purchase stud services, there's the very real concern of producing male offspring whose behavior may run through a period of stud-like behavior before you are able to sell them.) 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 regular basis.
Do you own your property? It's one thing to rent property and own a few (2-4) 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 been resolved.
Another consideration is whether you have the economic, emotional, and ethical stability to withstand the not-all-that-remote possibility of "life" happening to your balance sheet. Perhaps a promising animal dies right before you sell ... or before you're able to breed it ... or while you still have stud bookings to fill ... or you discover 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 takes a LOT of financial and emotional resources to follow through, because it's always worse than anyone imagined.
Breeding llamas requires personal stability
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 many people will claim to be giving the llamas good homes, a less-able you or your frazzled heirs won't have the resources to screen these people, and it's common for groups of llamas to be "taken in for rehoming"by by one of the unscrupulous large breeders who have their own "solution" to the problem of too many llamas competing with theirs for homes.
The previous warning goes for everyone — we can all die with little or no advance notice. But if you're also "getting up there" in years, the facts should be clear: Breeding llamas really isn't a responsible choice. (Note: "Up there" is highly individual. It's dependent on your own genetics, your actual fitness, and your accurate assessment of any assistance network you might have. You may love your spouse, children, etc ... but they may not have the personal reserves to care for, let alone responsibly place out your llamas in the event of your incapacity.)
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.