Is the Llama – an animal that has high economic value – the new viable entity in Kenya? Find out
It is gentle, intelligent, social, gracious and easy to handle. Those who have encountered this animal that looks like half a camel and half a sheep become fascinated by its characteristics.
Some of those wishing to keep it do not know whether it feeds like a sheep or a camel and if it can be milked or slaughtered for meat.
This is the llama, an animal that has high economic value and can be kept for meat, milk and for ornamental purposes.
The llama (Llama glama), which originates from Peru in South America, belongs to the camel family. A full-grown llama is 1.7 to 1.8 metres tall and weighs between 130 and 200kg.
The animal lives for 15 to 25 years, with some surviving up to 30 years or more.
Their feet are two-toed with a broad, leathery pad, and they have nails, not hoofs.
Another interesting fact about llamas is that they have high content of haemoglobin in their bloodstream and the shape of their red blood cells is oval, not circular.
These characteristics make them adaptable to an oxygen-poor, high altitude environment.
The animals are extremely curious and approach people easily. The young are bottle-fed and given utmost care, while in youth, they become troublesome.
Mature ones treat their handlers as they treat each other, throwing kicks often.
When bottle-feeding a crias (young llama) keep minimum contact and stop as soon as possible.
Llamas will sometimes spit at their handlers if mistreated or they object to something hurtful. The spitting behaviour is used to define pecking order in a herd.
Thus, when one sees a llama stretching very tall with their head held high and rapidly flicking the tail, they should know the animal is displeased.
This behaviour is common with a pregnant female, which wants to ward off an approaching male.
Llamas mate with the female in a kush (lying down) position for between 20 to 45 minutes, and their gestation period is 11.5 months (350 days).
They give birth in less than 30 minutes, usually quickly and problem-free. Most births take place between 8am and noon, during the warmer daylight hours.
Dams (female llamas) do not lick their crias, as they have an attached tongue which does not reach outside their mouth more than 1.3cm. They, thus, nuzzle and hum to their newborns, which begin walking an hour after birth.
Llama’s milk is consumable and contains more protein and calcium than that of a cow or goat. It has 4.23 per cent protein compared to 3.3 per cent for cow and 2.9 per cent for a goat.
In addition, llama milk contains higher amounts of phosphorus and potassium and a higher lactose content than that of a cow.
DRINK CLEAN WATER
Like cows and goats, the core of their diet is grass hay, which should have 8 to 10 per cent protein. Weanlings or lactating llamas should receive protein supplementation consisting of alfalfa hay or pellets.
They can obtain water from their food although they also need to drink clean water.
The animals are considered ruminants, but with a three-chamber stomach as opposed to, say sheep, which have four.
They regurgitate their food after it is partially digested in the rumen.
Their shelter depends on climate. In cold climates, a barn or other windproof housing is necessary, while in warmer regions, a light structure will help.
Five adults should be placed in an open 12 by 16 feet shed, and six mothers and babies fit comfortably in a 16 by 16 foot shed.
Llamas are multi-purpose. Although their meat can be dried and consumed, they are not farmed commercially for their meat.
The llama industry remains a breeders’ market, therefore, only the heifers and bulls are bred and sold, not their meat, milk or skin.
Llama hair is used for making handicrafts, ropes and clothing. Their hides are used to make sandals, and dung as source of energy. The animals bond quickly with sheep, thus can be used to guard them.
Currently, the animals are bred at Egerton University and several ranches in Laikipia, but the herds are small. Their prices range from Sh40,000 to Sh60,000.
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