South American Camelid Basics
December 15, 2011
Imagine a plateau high in the Andes Mountains covered by nothing
but South American camelids and shrubbery. Over the past twenty
years, this picture has changed as some South American camelids
have found new homes in the United States living very different
lives than their predecessors.
The domesticated South American camelids - alpacas and llamas -
are sprouting up on farms across the United States. Their
intelligence and docile nature make them easy pets for agricultural
Dr. Juan Romano, associate professor at the Texas A&M
College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM),
says that South American camelid interest has increased over the
years prompting new South American camelid curriculum for
"Alpacas and llamas are the two most common types of South
American camelids in Texas," Romano said. "Llamas are larger than
alpacas with thicker wool. Alpacas' wool is fine making it more
suitable for sweaters and special suits. Alpacas also have ears
that stick straight up, while llamas have ears that fold over like
Romano says the low-maintenance nature of alpacas and llamas
make them viable animals for those with limited agriculture and
animal raising experience.
Romano adds that they also make great companion animals, because
of their protective nature and their cat-like personality.
"In 2007, the Texas government allowed camelids to be used for
livestock purposes so we saw an influx of South American camelids
farm growth then," Romano said. "Today, Texas is one of the most
populated states with South American camelids, especially
Prior to starting a South American camelid farm, it is advisable
to speak with a veterinarian and do your research. Initial
investment varies. South American camelids farm basic requirements
are a simple shelter, fencing, forage, clean water, and fiber.
"Eventhough the initial investment may seem feasible, right now
it is hard to fund a ranch in the United States, because our prices
are not competitive with South American ranches cost of
production," Romano expressed. "It is important to do your research
and understand the market before you invest in a farm."
It is also important to remember South American camelids'
natural habitat before starting a new environment for them. Alpacas
and llamas originated from the high altitudes of the Andes of
Chile, Peru, and Bolivia. They were limited to grasslands of
shrubbery and weather that is very dry and cold. It is important to
try to keep them in an environment their bodies are accustomed to.
If not, you can supply their environment with fans, shelter,
"The Texas heat is an issue for alpacas and llamas," Romano
explained. "Some regions of Texas are at sea level and it is also
very humid. Farmers should supply sprinklers, fans, and shade to
avoid heat distress in their animals. Shearing once a year in the
spring also helps alleviate heat distress."
South American camelids are familiar with a shrubbery landscape
for food. Romano suggests supplying them with adequate quality
fiber found from forage. Owners in the United States tend to
overfeed South American camelids, because they are used to such
limited low quality food sources. Avoid overfeeding to reduce
additional health problems.
With expected lifespans of up to 25 years, South American
camelids can be a trusted farm companion. Their intellect and
obedient nature make them enjoyable pets. However, it is best to do
your research prior to investing in a South American camelid as
they are not natural inhabitants in the United States landscape. If
you have any additional questions about South American camelids,
contact Large Animal Clinical Sciences at the CVM at 979-845-9127
or online at .
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