Like other herbivores, llamas love to forage various types of plants. These animals can adapt to the harsh weather of the high Andes Mountains. But what do llamas eat while being raised for meat, milk, wool, or kept as pets in the United States with different landscapes and vegetation?
Let’s learn about llamas’ favorite types of food and the eating habits of this camel family member.
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What Do Llamas Eat And Drink?
Llamas can eat many kinds of plants and flowers and can quickly adapt to the local living area. These herbivores are similar to cows. They love grazing on grass, chewing partly of their food, and rechewing it like cud.
Besides, they need little water to survive. Their flexible eating habit allows them to survive well in mountainous terrain or harsh weather conditions.
Forage, whether in its fresh form or dried into hay, is the primary food source for llamas. This food provides these herbivores with an adequate amount of fiber and nutrients for the healthy function of their digestive system.
A llama needs approximately 1 to 1.3% of their body weight of dry matter in his daily diet. If your llamas are still growing, want to gain weight, are pregnant, or are in their nursing period, you should feed them more forage to reach their development goals.
Since llamas can digest forage better than cows, you should provide llamas with a mixture of grasses and leaves from trees, shrubs, and bushes. Young leaves and grasses are more nutritious and more accessible to digest than old ones.
You can also plant more high-quality grass seeds at the beginning of their grazing season so that your animals can have enough fresh forage to eat.
Diversity in their daily diet also makes your llamas happy. Always ensure that you can mix many types of forage. The forage type might differ based on your local weather:
- In cool or temperate areas: orchard grass, timothy, fescue, Kentucky bluegrass, perennial and annual ryegrass, etc.
- In warm or tropical areas: Bermuda grass, Dallisgrass, Bahia grass, corn, etc.
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2. Hay & Grain
Although dried foods like grains or hay don’t contain the same level of nutrients as fresh grasses and weeds, they can be used as a secondary choice for llamas at times when fresh forage is not available. You can add grain or hay to the daily diet of your regular llamas and mix it with forage and other supplements.
There are two types of grains – cereal grains and starch:
- Cereal grains: are made from plants’ seeds. This grain type can be absorbed in a fermentation process in llamas’ stomachs. This fermentation process creates glucose – the simplest form of carbohydrate that a living creature can accept.
- Starch: since this grain type stores most energy from plants, it can be a quick energy source for llamas.
Besides energy, grains also provide lactic acid. And too much lactic acid consumption can result in death in llamas. So, how to maintain a moderate amount of grain for these herbivores? You can calculate based on two indicators – NFC and TDN.
- NFC (non-fiber carbohydrate) indicates the energy content in each type of grain. For example, corn has 75% of NFC, while oats only have 48% of NFC.
- TDN (total digestible nutrient) reflects how much energy a cereal contains. For example, hay can provide 40-60% TDN
In terms of hay, a llama can consume 2-4% of its body weight (around 10-12 pounds of hay per day). Another important criterion when picking hay for llamas is its quality and freshness. New, protein-rich hay provides llamas with more nutrients and fewer health risks in the long run.
You can identify high-quality hay with the following hints:
- New, fresh with the grassy smell
- Pure green with reasonable amounts of vitamin A, D, and E
- This hay has many leaves with sufficient protein intake
- Contains 12% moisture or less and no mold
- Contains little or no dust
While supplements can’t replace llamas’ complete meal, they can be fed along with forage. They are a complex mixture of concentrates and are often available in pellets.
To maintain good physical function, llamas need a balanced intake of macronutrients and micronutrients as follows.
- Macronutrients: calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, potassium, sodium, sulfur
- Micronutrients: iron, copper, zinc, manganese, molybdenum
You can purchase supplements for llamas from any livestock food store in your area. Some large-sized commercial farms also grow their supplements for feeding their herds.
Besides supplement pellets, these grazing animals can get the most of these above nutrients on various types of fresh grass available in their living area or high-quality hay. However, there are some adjustments that their owners should notice in their daily diet.
For instance, hay can provide llamas vitamin A, D, and K. Llamas can produce B-group vitamins in their digestion process. However, they can only get enough vitamin E via supplement pellets.
Similarly, llamas should get vitamin D from the Sun. So, make sure that you allow them to walk outdoors as much as possible.
Besides knowing what nutrients llamas need, you should provide llamas supplements that meet their specific nutrient demands:
- For all llamas: since almost all llamas rely on forage as their primary nutrient and energy intake, you can add a small number of supplements to their daily diet. However, if your animals have to walk a lot, you should provide them with supplements with more energy and contain from 10 to 12 % protein.
- For pregnant llamas: it’s undeniable that mommy-to-be llamas or llamas in their lactation period need more energy than regular ones. These llamas need at least 16 to 18% protein in their supplement intake. You should mix energy-rich cereal grains with extra vitamins and minerals to ensure that your animals get enough nutrients in their reproductive periods.
- For llamas carrying heavy loads: a proper mixture of grains with barley, oats, and corn provides adequate energy for llamas under labor-intensive work without the risk of obesity.
There is no fixed supplement intake for all herds. In other words, the type and amount of supplement differ by your llamas’ species, age, region, and food quality. It also depends on how fresh and nutritious the forage in your area is. You should ask for consultation from your vegetarian to get the appropriate intake for your llamas.
Salt is a vital electrolyte in the health of llamas, just like humans or other animals. Llamas need sodium and chloride in salt to maintain their internal organ muscle function.
A regular llama needs from 0.25 to 0.5% salt in his total daily consumption. If it lacks salt intake, it will suffer from Pica, with symptoms like chewing dirt, rocks, or drinking urine.
So, what forms of salt can llamas absorb, and how to feed salt to them?
- Forms of salt
Salt for llamas can be available in two most common forms: compressed blocks or loose granular (the latter often appears with a concentrate mix).
Free block salt is a less common form of salt. However, since llamas can hardly consume enough daily by licking salt blocks, this form is not recommended for all llama owners.
- How to feed salt for llamas
Provide your llamas a kind of salt at a time. If llamas need to consume salt for sodium, you can offer them white salt. But don’t mix white salt with trace mineral salt.
Granular salt should be kept in a solid container that is accessible for llamas. Yet, it should be protected from hard rains or moisture.
Don’t place salt near a water bowl or a water source since salt can quickly be melted in a high-moisture environment.
Calculate the required salt intake in an inspection period of 30 to 45 consecutive days.
You should balance your llamas’ intake amount of forage and salt. If their forage contains fewer minerals, you should provide them with more salt.
In the wild, llamas can survive for a long time without drinking water. They can stay well-hydrated by consuming water from plants and flowers. However, llamas in captivity conditions require more water than the wild ones. On average, a llama needs from 2 to 3 gallons of water daily.
You should ensure to maintain a fresh, clean, and accessible water source for your llama herd. During freezing temperatures of winter, install a water heater to keep water warm and accessible for them.
But avoid feeding these herbivores human beverages and alcoholic drinks since they are toxic and can cause serious health problems.
What Do Baby Llamas Eat?
Crias (or baby llamas) rely mainly on their mother’s milk for the first month after birth. They can consume a maximum of 10% of mother’s milk of their body weight daily.
When reaching a few weeks old, crias will consume a daily mixture of grass, hay apart from their mother’s milk. When two months old, they can also eat hard foods like pellets.
After finishing their weaning period at six months old, crias no longer rely on mother’s milk. Instead, they consume pasture, grains, hay, and pellets as their primary food source. If your crias don’t gain weight gradually after their weaning period, you should increase their food rations for optimum growth and health.
What Do Llamas Eat For Treats?
What do llamas eat for treats is one of the most common questions for llama owners. Aside from the above common types of food, llamas also love enjoying treats. Therefore, you can feed them some fruits and vegetables available in your region.
Below are the most common treats for llamas:
- Vegetables: broccoli, sweet potatoes, pear, celery, carrots, green beans, beets, etc.
- Fruits: oranges, bananas, grapes, watermelon, mango, melon, blackberries, apples, peaches, pineapples, strawberries, etc.
As llamas don’t have front teeth, they can’t chew hard treats like a whole apple or carrot or even choke on those things. Thus, make sure that you cut apples and carrots into small pieces so that llamas can safely consume them.
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What You Should Not Feed Llamas?
After knowing “What do llamas eat and drink daily?” you might want to know the types of foods and things that llamas can’t eat or what you should never feed your llamas.
Blue-green algae found in stagnant water in high temperatures can be poisonous to llamas.
The toxins in this plant can quickly attack their underbody, ears, and muzzle inflammation. These symptoms can develop relatively rapidly and seem similar to allergies. While a few llamas can have convulsions, most of them will quickly die before struggling.
Llamas and sheep are more likely to suffer from copper. If their mineral intake contains too much copper, they can suffer from copper contamination with signs like copper-colored urine with a sweet smell. Chicken food, minerals for cows, or minerals for pigs can also lead to this contamination.
Lead is another type of toxic metal for these herbivores. Llamas can suffer from lead toxicity if swallowing products containing lead.
Besides, lead might appear on their surrounding areas, like on an old barn or fence paint, near old machinery, leaded gas. This toxic metal can be present in the local soil or plants like grass, clover, dandelion.
Mycotoxins are a toxin caused by fungi and often happen in a warm, high-moisture environment. Llamas can suffer from mycotoxins through their contaminated bedding or food.
Pregnant and young llamas are the most vulnerable to this allergy, with some signs like loss of appetite, weight loss, respiratory problems, or increased vulnerability to infectious diseases
Appealing grass or plants can sometimes contain a high amount of pesticides, rodenticides, or herbicides. These toxins can lead to nerve-related problems or even death in llamas.
Although this contamination is often found in soil, llamas often consume it through plants. Lack of energy and liveness is a common symptom of this contamination in llamas.
6. Other toxic foods
Apart from the above contaminations, there are some toxic foods that you should never feed llamas:
- Animal products in any forms
- Nightshade vegetables
How Much Do Llamas Eat A Day?
Llamas consume 25% less food than cows, making them an ideal choice for small farms.
A llama with dry matter as its primary food source needs around 1-1.3 % of its bodyweight of forage in its daily diet to maintain a healthy weight and overall health. If they are in the grazing season, they will need more feed.
Since their digestive system works slower than other farm animals, you should provide them with a sufficient daily intake of nutritious foods in high-quality conditions.
There are also some special occasions when you need to modify your llamas’ daily intake. For examples:
- When you make changes to their feed
- In their late gestation or lactation period
- Bottle-fed crias
- Babies under 2 months of age
- Mother llamas from the 3rd to 5th month of their pregnancy
- Llamas that suffer from malnutrition
- Llamas with overweight or obesity
- On extreme cold or hot days
How Often Should You Feed Your Llamas?
Llamas are grazing animals like sheep, goats, and horses. Thus, you should provide them with all-day access to food.
In warmer months, they can get fresh pasture outdoors as their main nutrient intake. In winter, when pasture is not available, you should feed them with hay and grains.
Llamas can easily overconsume loose minerals or supplement pellets, so you would better feed them individually. If you are using mineral blocks, you can group them in their herd to let all of them get the number of minerals they need by licking the blocks.
How To Feed Llamas?
Llamas can choke if they consume grains too quickly and do not drink enough water. To prevent potential choking in llamas, you should follow some critical notice when feeding them:
- Keeping a llama separated from its herd when feeding grain allows it to slowly chew grains instead of competing with others.
- Mixing grains with hay to force them to find grains in bales of hay. By that, they can chew more slowly.
- Providing grains to llamas in a shallow container or trough also helps limit their possibility of eating grains in mouthfuls at one time.
- Make sure they have enough water while eating grains. Thus, grains can hardly get stuck within their throat.
1. What do llamas eat in the wild?
The grass is the primary food of wild llamas. Besides, they also consume forbs, tree foliage, lichens, native shrubs, young and tender shoots.
2. Do llamas eat brush?
Llamas can eat brush. Thus, they are often used to clean brush on pasture.
3. Do llamas eat cactus?
Llamas can’t eat a whole cactus because this plant has sharp spines that can cause injuries. But they might chew cactus flowers on the tops of this plant.
4. Do llamas eat corn?
Llamas can eat a moderate amount of energy-rich grains like corn. This type of grain provides llamas with extra carbohydrates, protein, and fats for their daily activities.
5. Do llamas eat alfalfa?
Alfalfa cubes or loose alfalfa is a favorite food of llamas. However, since alfalfa is high in protein, it should only be provided as a treat, not the main part of their daily diet.
6. Do llamas eat cabbage?
Llamas can’t eat cabbage because this vegetable can be poisonous to them.
7. Do llamas eat meat?
Llamas can’t eat meat because they are herbivores.
Whether you are a homesteader or a farmer, knowing what llamas eat and what they can’t is essential to maintain the physical growth of these herbivores and protect them from possible health threats and diseases.
Please remember that llamas in different environments, climates, and species need different nutrient demands. So, you can ask for consultation from your local vegetarian to get an appropriate, well-balanced diet to keep your animals always happy and healthy.