Thinking about getting a llama or two? If you do, there are some things to know about grooming them. While they’re not as high maintenance as other animals, they still need plenty of care to ensure their wellbeing.
In general, llamas need occasional brushing, regular shearing, and regular checks on their ears and teeth. Llamas will also need regular check-ups with a veterinarian, as they can detect parasites and the like. Most of the grooming chores can be done easily and without having to go out of your way.
Keep reading for more details on how to keep your llama clean and healthy.
The Do’s and Don’ts of Llama Grooming
Llamas are becoming popular farm companions due to their low maintenance and intelligence. Not to mention, they’re also quite friendly and generally clean without having to do much for them. Below is a quick rundown on the do’s and don’ts of llama grooming.
|Brushing Llamas||Brush them according to their fur type and treat them to blowouts.||Miss out on the debris that gets stuck in layers of fiber.|
|Shaving Llamas||Shear often and use a professional.||Leave it to grow too long.|
|Ears||Check them regularly for ticks, and pests.||Forget to check for ticks and pests.|
|Feet and Toenails||Trim the toenails as often as once a month.||Let toenails grow too long until they have issues walking.|
|Teeth||Inspect teeth and gums regularly.||Do it yourself, especially if you’re not experienced. Ask for help from a vet!|
|Regular Check-ups||Have regular check-ups with a veterinarian.||Skip regular vet care and inspections, or your llama’s health can be at risk.|
It might seem like a long list, but checking up on your llamas daily is pretty quick. You can even do it feeding time – and in the amount of time it takes to feed them! As long as they’re healthy, anyway. If they aren’t doing well, then a daily inspection will take longer – and it’ll involve getting help.
How to Groom a Llama
Llamas’ thick wool-like fiber enables them to thrive in more extreme conditions like cold, wind, snow, and rain. Their long fiber covers their neck, back, and sides, while it has short hair on the head, underside, and legs.
The average llama is covered with approximately 3 to 8 inches in length of woolly fiber. That’s quite a fair amount of fiber! If you multiply that by the number of llamas you own, and you may think it’s a big job to groom them, but they’re not as high-maintenance as you may think they are.
First things first: if you provide your llamas with a nutritious diet, they’ll be healthy and groomed from the inside out. Once you have this down pat, you can get on with familiarizing yourself with the physical grooming process. Don’t worry – we’ll go through it.
But first, let’s make sure we get our boilerplate disclaimer out of the way. Because if you’re ever unsure about any of our grooming tips, please consult your trusted veterinarian, as each animal and situation may differ.
Grooming tip #1: Do you have to brush llamas?
Whether or not you have to brush llamas will depend on what type of fiber your llama has.
- Classic llamas need to be brushed. They have a double coat with abundant guard hair that will regularly shed when dead underwool combs out. Classic llamas can maintain a healthy coat with occasional grooming with a comb.
- Woolly llamas can’t be brushed. Woolly llamas have dense body and neck fleece that won’t shed and won’t comb. As a result, woolly llamas will need to be sheared on a regular basis.
Llamas with Suri fiber (the straight-looking fur) should not use a brush that will disturb the locks. On the other hand, a silky type of fiber can be a bit more flexible (source).
Make sure to pick out large debris from your llama’s fur. If you’re comfortable using your hands, do so, otherwise, you can use a wand or pick if it gets stuck deep in the fur.
For even harder-to-get debris, give your llama a blowout with a hairdryer or a leaf blower. Yes, a leaf blower. You can take a leaf blower to the surface of the fur in the direction that the fibers grow. Keep blowing until it’s visibly clean – llamas actually enjoy a good blowout.
Grooming tip #2: Do you have to shave a llama?
Llamas require wool shearing to keep them healthy. Unless you confidently know how to shear a llama, it’s best to leave this job to a professional shearer.
A knowledgeable shearer is a valuable asset to have if you have livestock, as they’ll have the right equipment and experience. It’s also not as easy as it looks – there are certain details when it comes to shearing, such as knowing how much to shear off.
Here are some key ‘don’ts’ to avoid:
- Do not neglect to shear your alpacas. Leaving a heavy coat of dead fiber on your llama isn’t healthy. It has the ability to pull at their skin and restrict movement. Not to mention that it makes for an optimum living condition for parasites.
- Do not think there is a one-size-fits-all-llamas approach. Each llama is genetically different and will require different grooming practices. Avoid using the same process for all, as some will fare better with combing, while some will find it painful.
- Do not shear too much or too little fiber off of llamas. Shearing will require a good balance. If too much fur is taken off, your llama’s skin will be more exposed to the sun leading to burns. But if you leave too much? Then you’re still where you started. Groomers I talked to say about two inches of fiber left on a llama is just about perfect.
As far as how often you’ll have to shave a llama, that’s going to depend on the llama itself, its type of fiber, and your local weather conditions. If you have a cooler winter, then you may not want to shave your llama as frequently during the winter – as long as you have some make-up shearing in the spring.
The best way to gauge how often your llama needs shearing is to talk to a local shearing expert. Your local veterinarian may be able to recommend one to you.
Grooming tip #3: Do you have to bathe a llama?
In general, it’s good to bathe your llamas occasionally. When you do, it’s best to use high-quality shampoo and conditioner that suits the fiber of your llama. Good grooming products ensure your llamas wool is properly cared for.
For llamas with suri fiber, the bathing process may take a longer time. This is because their locks have to be separated one at a time to prevent the fur from being matted. If your llama isn’t cooperating very well with the bath, you may have to spread the grooming over a span of a few days.
To have your llama’s fur soft and shiny, consider getting a leave-in conditioner. Other grooming products that may boost their coat includes finishing sprays and grooming ointments.
Grooming tip #4: Trim llama toenails monthly
Each llama’s toenails grow at a different pace, so it should be trimmed on a schedule specific to them. For a general idea, many llamas require trimming 3 to 6 times a year, while some may only need one every few months.
Instead of hooves, llamas have nails and pads, which require regular maintenance for them to be healthy and happy. The frequency of toenail trimming will depend on the weather conditions, floor surface conditions, and your llama.
You’ll have to watch your llamas and see how their toenails do in their pasture and paddock. Sometimes, dry weather and treading on hard surfaces may warrant a more frequent trim, while other times the hard ground may help wear down the toenails for you. Sometimes soft ground sometimes means the nails are more likely to wear down, so you won’t have to trim as much. And other times, that same soft ground won’t touch the toenails.
Depending on your llama’s personality, they may not be as fussy when it comes to toenail trimming. If they’re less cooperative about this part of the grooming process, you may want to hire a professional or two. This is not usually a veterinarian – you will have to do a little research to find a competent llama toenail trimmer. When in doubt, ask your professional shearer for a referral. In most cases, the shearer can also handle toenails and teeth.
If you’ve learned a thing or two from the professional, you may be able to trim their toenails on your own. Just make sure to have the right tools, as using ineffective ones can sometimes draw blood during a trim session. It’s also easier to trim them when the nails are soft after rain or after they’ve been standing on the damp ground (source).
Grooming tip #5: Check a llama’s ears daily for ticks and pests
While you may not bathe or trim their toenails on the regular, checking their ears should be a daily task. Scoping out their ears is a good indication to see if there are ticks or other pests, as you wouldn’t be able to spot them under all their fiber. Ticks and other bugs have the risk for disease or infection, so the earlier you find them, the better.
These parasites can get comfortable quickly nestled in your llama’s fur thanks to its warmth, and checking their ears daily allows you to get rid of them fast. Ticks can still come about if they’re not around in your area or if it’s off-season. You can’t ever be too careful, as getting rid of an infestation can be challenging!
If your llamas forage in bushes or low grass in wooded areas, this check is especially important, as ticks in the United States do carry diseases like Lyme disease. If your area is prone to ticks, be sure to talk to your veterinarian about common diseases ticks transmit. Become familiar with symptoms of ticks to watch for.
Grooming tip #6: Inspect your llama’s teeth regularly
Llama’s incisors (front lower teeth) are encased in enamel, which means that they won’t continue growing. Despite this fact, many llamas will still need tooth trimming. The incisors are important, as it’s designed to grab their food, such as grass from the ground. Due to their constant use, they will shed and be replaced by permanent teeth during the course of the llama’s life (source). With this in mind, it’s important to get their teeth inspected regularly.
They also have “fighting teeth”, which consists of six (sometimes eight) razor-sharp canine teeth that are used in combat. For your safety, it’s vital to have these removed or sawn off by a vet or experienced breeder. These teeth usually come up around the age of 28 months for male llamas, which can be blunted at 32 months and cut around 3 years of age. Female llamas’ fighting teeth would erupt around 3 to 4 years, but some may not even have them (source).
Grooming tip #7: Schedule regular visits with the veterinarian
Animals will need regular care and check-ups with a veterinarian, llamas included. Find one that’s specialized in llamas or livestock, if possible. A travelling or on-call vet is also ideal, as having to bring a llama to the veterinarian’s office can be troublesome. It would be much easier to get them checked in your backyard homestead instead.
Llamas, like other livestock, require a specific schedule when it comes to vaccinations, de-worming, and other tests. Regular vet visits can determine parasite issues, vaccinations, and nutritional supplements. Set up a regular schedule with your veterinarian – it doesn’t have to be monthly if your veterinarian suggests otherwise. As long as it’s often and regular, that’s all that matters.
If you’re new to having a llama, a veterinarian can show you how to keep track of everything as well. Your trusted vet can also advise you if you are grooming your llama properly. They’ll also be around to answer any questions you may have.
Grooming tip #8: Keep pastures clean
Something that can be an overlooked factor to the cleanliness of your llama is the state of your pastures. Llamas will spend a significant amount of time grazing on pasture and there’s a good chance that dirt and debris will catch on to their coat.
Try to constantly evaluate your llama’s living spaces to see if there are things that could potentially get tangled into their fleece. Their feeding station should also be spacious, especially if you have a few llamas. You want to keep the area clean or it can lead to very messy situations and dirty fur.
Llama Show Grooming Tips
In general, some but not all llamas will be taken to show. This is more true for breeding llamas than working or pet llamas. In any case, let’s go through what some of the shows are like for llamas, just in case you ever want to show your llama – or go see a show.
Show tip #1: What’s a llama show like?
Llama shows generally consist of getting your animal to walk on a lead, take on a few stances, and getting examined by a judge. Your llama will be graded on how well-trained and how well-groomed they are. Even something as simple as the way they place their legs together while standing still will be judged.
If you’ve never seen a livestock show, think about a dog show – but on a much bigger scale. Your local county or state fair may have livestock-style shows. That would be a good place to go watch what general livestock shows are like.
Show tip #2: How to train llamas for shows
To get your llama prepared for the ring, you’ll need ample time to train them before the show. It’s best not to leave until the last minute, as some llamas may take longer to train. In the ring, your llama will need to wear a halter – a harness-type gear that goes around your llama’s face and head to train, care and lead them in various settings (source). Getting them used to wearing one takes time, so bear that in mind when working out your training schedule.
Show tip #3: How to get llamas “show ready”
Groomers say it’s best to start at least one month prior to the show for grooming your llama. This gives them plenty of time to get used to the process and won’t get stressed during the show. A good bath with quality products followed by a conditioning treatment will generally do the trick. Make sure to brush your llama if their wool is matted and a shear job to enhance their best features can also work in your favor.
Final Thoughts on Grooming Llamas
At the end of the day, grooming llamas all comes down to how you care for them. If you treat them with tender, love, and care, they’ll happily love you back. So, when it comes to grooming time, they’ll be more open and cooperative.
Before you establish a grooming process with your llamas, it’s important that you know exactly what type they are to provide them with the proper care. Whenever you’re in doubt, always seek a veterinarian’s advice – a trusted one is useful to have anyway for regular checkups.
It’s important to learn from your own experience, but it’s also smart to learn from others. These are the sources used in this article and in our personal research to be more informed as homesteaders. 🙂
- “From The Farm: How About A Pet Llama?” Pet Assure, https://www.petassure.com/new-newsletters/pet-llamas/
- “Pre-Show Llama Preparation.” JNK Llamas, https://www.jnkllamas.com/pre-show-llama-preparation.html
- “Basic Llama Care.” Lost Creek Llamas,http://lostcreekllamas.com/basiccare.htm
- “Tips and Tricks to Living with Llamas and Alpacas.” Oregon State, https://extension.oregonstate.edu/sites/default/files/documents/11866/llama-alpaca-doc.pdf
- “The Anatomy of Alpaca Teeth.” Alpacas of Montana, https://alpacasofmontana.com/blogs/alpacaoverview/the-anatomy-of-alpaca-teeth
- “Medical and Maintenance.” Llama Association of Australasia Inc., https://www.llama.asn.au/medical.html