The llama's nutritional program is very important for a healthy, good producing herd however this program will vary a lot between different areas of the country, what the animals are being used for, and what kind of pasture you have for them. Their nutritional program can effect their breeding, their birthing, the health of their crias, milk production, stress in the animals, heat stress, their conformation, and the wool quality.
The llama's dietary need consists of Energy, Protein, Fiber, Salt, Calcium and Phosphorus, and Vitamins, and Minerals. A very important factor in the diet and feeding is regularity and consistency. Suggested daily feeding proportions for each animal are l lb. supplement (some people call it grain), 5 lbs. from hay and pasture, plus free choice trace minerals. A good diet is especially important in the hot humid weather and gives the animal the strength and energy to fight heat stress. Additions to the supplement may be added in late gestation, early lactation, or in extremely cold weather.
Energy and Fiber - Pasture and Hay are a major contributor of energy and fiber to the diet. The start of a good nutritional program should begin with an analysis of your pasture and your hay. A good leafy grass hay, not moldy or dusty, generally provides the necessary energy and fiber needed. Corn, a grain, is also a high energy source and may be added to the diet under certain circumstances. Animals in early lactation or in late gestation may have 3/4 lb. cracked corn added to their diet for energy. In extreme cold weather, 1/4 lb. of cracked corn per 100 lbs. of body weight for every 10 degrees below 30 degrees up to a maximum of 2 lbs. per head. A second feeding with the addition of cracked corn (breakfast) may be added to the expectant mother's diet about 4-6 weeks before her delivery date and then continue with the additional feeding after birth. Especially if the mother is prone to losing a lot of weight after giving birth and having the nursing cria at her side. This is a good time to use your "body scoring" and/or keep a monthly record of her weight Grains, such as corn or oats, should only be used as supplemental high-energy sources and are normally not given during hot humid weather.
Protein - The llama's protein requirement is rather low and in most cases a good grass hay will provide adequate protein intake. When protein supplement is necessary, 50% alfalfa hay may be added for cold weather or lactation. The protein content in alfalfa hay is excessive and is better fed only as a supplement and not as a routine daily hay. Alfalfa hay is likely to be the cause of fat pads in mammary tissue and can do damage to the crias by putting on excess fat in their primary growth period. For herd maintenance, 10-12% protein is good. Geldings are fine at 10% protein. Protein content and quality of the pasture is much higher in the spring when plants are growing actively. The same pasture will test much less in August and September. Caution should be taken against overfeeding protein. Excess calcium in the diet from alfalfa hay will upset the calcium-phosphorus balance which is crucial during the rapid growth period in crias.
Salt, Calcium and Phosphorus, and Vitamins - A good llama supplement (feed) can provide the necessary grains, salt, calcium and phosphorus, minerals, and vitamins. This supplement can be compared to a daily vitamin pill necessary to their well being. Regularity of this supplement in even distribution is very important. Feeding the supplement by way of a pellet is the most efficient way to feed and to control all their immediate dietary needs. Mixing the vitamins and minerals by way of powders, pellets, and loose grains does not make for the most consistent and controllable diet as much of it falls to the bottom of the bag and all ingredients are not distributed evenly. A small 1/8" pellet, somewhat hard in consistency, is the most preferable to prevent choking. Not all llamas in the herd will choke, but a certain few will be more prone to choking due to the makeup of the esophagus (or how fast they chow down). It is my opinion, however, that a choke problem is as much a herd management problem as it is a feed problem. If fed from a long trough, the food will be spread out and animals will not be able to get enormous mouthfuls of food and therefore this method of feeding greatly lessens the possibility of choke. With the pellets spread out, they have to work harder to pick up the pellets with their lips. Once an animal has choked, do not offer the pellet again for a couple of days. Then introduce it back slowly. Even though the llama supplement may have all the needed vitamins, minerals and salt, it is also necessary to offer a loose free choice trace mineral mix. A salt block does not provide the necessary ingredients and they all will not use a salt block.
Most of the midwest area is very selenium and phosphorus deficient. Abnormal bone growth such as bowed legs are usually the result of deficiencies or imbalances of calcium and phosphorus. Excessive alfalfa hay can upset this calcium-phosphorus balance in crias. The lack of selenium, a trace mineral, can be the cause of white muscle disease, weak crias, or interference with growth, reproduction, and lactation. Selenium levels should be randomly checked in the herd when blood is drawn. Above 150-200 is a normal level.
Llamas have a high requirement of Vitamin E - one of the most important ingredients of their diet. Since it is quickly lost in dried forages, it is necessary to supplement Vitamin E. The lack of sufficient Vitamin E in their diet can be the cause of weak crias and also crooked legs.
The nutritional needs of the llama are somewhat like a sheep than any other livestock animal. Never feed a llama any type of horse feed with copper as high copper levels can be toxic. Some breeders report that fescue in the pasture can be the cause of abortion or perhaps death.
Llama nutrition can be extremely complex and more than a little confusing, but good nutrition is essential to a relatively problem-free herd. Even though the animals will eat a lot of different feeds and appear to be getting along just fine, the problems will eventually show up and result in costly veterinarian bills, birthing problems, or even death. Having blood tests done occasionally and randomly checking selenium levels, calcium/phosphorus and protein levels with a CBC, doing an IgG, and checking levels of copper and zinc can keep you aware of the general overall health of your herd. Equally important is a periodic weighing and/or body scoring.
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