To become a llama mama (or papa)

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Cows, horses, sheep, pigs, goats and chickens are still the most common forms of livestock in the U.S. but llamas deserve some love too.

The ancestors of llamas are believed to have originated from the Great Plains of North America around 40 million years ago. However, they migrated to South America about three million years ago during the Great American Interchange. By the end of the last ice age (about 10,000 to 12,000 years ago), all camelids were extinct in North America. Not to worry, though. There are more than 160,000 llamas and 100,000 alpacas, descended from progenitors imported late in the 20th century, in the U.S. and Canada today.

Llamas are social animals and like to live in herds. They can learn simple tasks after a few repetitions. Their wool is soft and contains only a small amount of lanolin – and many are raised specifically for their wool. In South America, llamas are also used as pack animals and for meat as well.

There are a few varieties of this interesting looking animal: the vicuña, the guanaco, the Suri alpaca, the Huacaya alpaca and the domestic llama. Guanacos and vicuñas are wild, while llamas and alpacas exist only as domesticated animals. A full grown llama can be almost six feet tall and weigh more than 500 pounds! And baby llamas are called crias.

For a quick course on differences, the llama is larger, has a longer head and curved ears, versus the alpaca. Alpaca fiber is generally more expensive, but not always more valuable. Alpacas tend to have a more consistent color throughout the body. Neither are ruminants, as they only have three stomach chambers (compared to a cow or a sheep, which has four).

If you’re interested in raising these interesting animals for wool, their care isn’t that different from many other domesticated livestock. UMass Extension has a quick guide on how to shear a llama, and the website PetKeen lays it all out in a little more detail. You can sell the goodies at the same places you’d sell sheep wool or goat hair too.

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