To breed or not to breed that is the question. The first things to consider, are whether you have the facilities and what are you going to do with the cria after it is born. Remember that if you plan to sell it, you must be willing to put in the time and effort to make sure it is well handled and halter trained. It is all well and good if you have a suitable male and a suitable female to put together; but, you must be aware that the male and female must be separated before the female gives birth. After the birth, the female should not go back to the male for between 10 and 21 days. Whether the cria is a female or male, it will have to be separated from the stud male at about six months. If left with the stud, the stud may try to cover his daughter or fight with his son. When they are separated, you will need a companion for the weanling and a separate paddock for them.
Next, you must consider whether the male and female are suitable for breeding. Do they have proper genitalia? Do they have any major conformation faults? When deciding which males and females to breed, be objective not emotional. Very few llamas are without some faults. So, in choosing a mate for your female, select a male that will improve her poor qualities. For example, if your female is slightly knock kneed, select a male with straight legs.
Llamas are induced ovulators, a female does not ovulate until she has been stimulated by the male. This means that they can conceive any time of the year. The average llama is pregnant for 340 to 345, but, females can be pregnant from 330 days to 375 days. Since the female is an induced ovulator , you can chose the time of year that your cria is born.
There are several methods of breeding. Which you use depends on your time and your facilities. One method is pasture breeding. This is the more natural way. The male has his field and the females are introduced to him. This has the advantage of less stress and ensures that the male will keep breeding with her as long as she is open. The disadvantage is that after awhile, if the female does not get pregnant, the male may loose interest. To prevent this, the male may be removed from the field for a week and then re-introduced. The other problem is that since you cannot watch them 24 hours a day, you don’t know exactly when the female has been successfully covered.
The second method is hand breeding. This is only workable when the male and female are kept separately and are halter trained. Therefore, it involves having more fields and more time. The female is introduced to the male in a place of your choosing. After the initial breeding, the two are separated and then re-introduced four days later. Check her behavior. If she lets the male cover her, she has not ovulated and the male will mate her again. You continue to re-introduce them until she refuses the male. This method gives you a better idea of when the cria might be due.
Whichever method you use, you can test if the female has conceived either by blood testing for progesterone levels after 21 days of her refusing the male or by an ultra sound scan after 50 days.
If the male and female are kept together after mating, they must be separated before the female gives birth. It has been known for the male to try to cover the female while she is giving birth with some very bad results.
Most births happen during the day. Some llamas show signs of getting near giving birth, others do not, particularly first time mothers. Most llamas “bag-up” one to six weeks before birthing. This is when the mammary glands fill-up with milk. Also, when getting ready to give birth, the rear end of the female becomes slack and the vulva elongates.
The mother-to-be often appears restless, stands alone humming, goes to the dung pile often, and lays down and gets up frequently. Normally the crias front legs appear first and then the nose. The cria generally drops out of the mother while she is standing. This breaks the umbilical cord. Almost immediately the baby will begin rolling and trying to sit up. It is usually on its feet and suckling within a few hours. When the baby is born, you can dry it off with a towel and then you must spray the umbilical with iodine.
The last stage of the birthing process is the expulsion of the placenta (after- birth) within 4 to 6 hours. If after twelve hours it hasn’t been passed, do not try to pull it out. Seek veterinary help. The after-birth should be examined for infection, tears, hemorrhaging and completeness. You want to make sure the cria is standing, nursing and passing droppings.
Most important enjoy the miracle of a new llama!