The Little Llama

by Ann van Engelen

Julie Insley lives with her herd of 32 llama on 26 acres of easy to flat land. The land was originally developed for horticulture with a variety of shelterbelts and Julie found the property perfect for her animals.

I don’t farm my llama for fibre but as working animals. We put packs on them and pick rubbish up down on the roads, take them down the beach for picnics and use them for community events.” says Julie. Julie grew up in the dairy farming industry and like most farming children had a lot of contact with horses.

“I was involved in the horse scene and now I find llamas are really safe in comparison to horses. Llamas don’t kick, bite, stomp or throw hissy fits like horses can.”

She has had her herd for 20 years and enjoys the fact that they are an intelligent animal. “You have to learn all about body language and how to outsmart them. They have a personal space and have to be trained to be touched.”

Julie says once trained they will go in the direction you want them to go in simply by moving your head or shoulder.

Llamas in New Zealand were originally imported from England, Canada, the United States and Chile. Although they originated in South America, coming from different regions around the world means there are more types including long, short or medium wool coats.

“I have the short wool which are classic. The woolly ones need grooming and the shorter coat ones tend to be taller. “We use ours for charity work including rest home visits, daffodil day collecting and fundraisers.”

A male llama is called a macho, a female is a hembra and a baby is a cria. The gestation period is around 11-and-a-half months and up to a year sometimes.

“Some breeders want one baby a year and get the mothers pregnant again within two weeks of giving birth. We don’t do that to ours, we let them rest.”

Llama is not an eating meat although they were imported into Australia for colonial settlers but it is said the settlers did not like the taste. “Those I know who have tried it have only ever tried it once — even dogs walk away. It has a very strong flavour.”

Llama are known to stick together as a herd and look out for each other

Julie believes llamas are good for lifestyle blocks as they are low maintenance. They only need to be shorn once a year, and if you only have a couple this can be done with a pair of scissors. Toenails can need trimming either six weekly or six monthly depending on the genetics.

“They love hills they can clamber up and they love to stand at the top and look at the view and see what is going on. They enjoy licking lichen off a rock and having rubbishy stuff to chew on like gorse and blackberry. We feed ours hay for roughage as we just have grass.” One of the biggest health issues for llama is facial eczema, and this is now creeping across the country with the weather changes.

“Check with your local veterinarian if there are any cases in your area in sheep or cows. There is lots of information online or call the Llama Association for advice if need be.

“We feed ours zinc oxide mixed in their food when we know the season is approaching. Don’t take your eyes off facial eczema because they are very sensitive to it.

“Like humans, they have the fight or flight instinct. Flight is their first defence. They can run fast but if they are cornered and feel under attack they will stomp their front feet.

“They used to stomp on pumas which were their main predator.” Julie says if any strange animal walks onto their land they will alarm call to let everyone in the herd know.

“A friend came to visit with their dog and one llama was in the house paddock. The llama looked at the dog and slowly walked away. Five minutes later 25 other llamas came back to the house paddock to sort out the dog.

They are an amazing animal with looking out for themselves.” There are approximately 1,500 llamas in New Zealand — they are kept more as a hobby.

“They like working and getting out to do things — they don’t like being stuck in a paddock and being ignored. They like people and are very understanding of them.

“It would be good if more people understood them as there is a lot to learn. Everyone should have a couple in their front paddock — they would learn a whole lot of new things.”