Uses of Llamas
Llamas have historically been used as a food, fiber, and pack animal. Those uses continue today with the additional and newly recognized use as a guard animal for other species.
Llamas have been used for centuries as a meat animal in South America, particularly in the Andean regions. The Quechuas ate the meat both fresh and dried. The dried meat called "charquii" is the original form of what is referred to today as "jerky". The meat is lean, low fat, and nutrient dense. (See analysis.) Its taste is similar to the taste of grass fat beef and quite palatable.
The llama's ability to efficiently utilize the low grade, sparse forage common to semi-arid lands establishes its validity as a meat animal. Other domestic species cannot efficiently utilize the forage because they require higher quality and quantity of forage or they are subject to predation requiring cost-prohibitive management and protection. Because these lands are in their natural state and free of commercial pesticides and fertilizers the meat produced from them is all natural and organic. The low-fat analysis makes llama meat a healthy red meat source that maintains the consumer's cholesterol at healthy levels while providing high quality protein. The llama's browsing pattern on a variety of plants vs close-grazing of grass minimizes impact on the plant populations and spreads impact evenly among all the plant species. This low impact imparts a sustainability that assures continuity of production as well as the preservation of the resource. No supplemental feeding with concentrates or hay is necessary to grow a llama to a harvestable size.
Llama fiber is an excellent performance and fashion fiber. The fiber is quite versatile and is used in the production of outerwear as well as mid-layer garments. There are a variety of knit and woven fabrics that are used to produce everything from active wear to dress designs. The fiber is exceptional in its performance, easily maintained, comfortable and rich looking, and is very strong in its green/sustainable production qualities.
The llama has been selectively bred as a high altitude pack animal for centuries. It has been found to be unparalled in this capacity, particularly here in the U.S. where its low environmental impact makes it the pack animal of choice.
The llama's territorial nature, protective instincts, and self-sufficiency combine to make it an effective guard animal for domestic ungulate species that are subject to predation. Llamas offer advantages over guard dogs currently in use because they forage with the flock/herd they are protecting and don't take extra management and maintenance. They are a 24 hour presence and don't have the potential of turning predator against the population they guard. The most common species employing the guard llama concept is sheep. Goats, cattle, and alpacas are other species the llama has effectively protected against predation.
Not all llamas are effective guards. An Iowa State University study found 83% of guard llamas to be effective. The best success has been achieved with solitary, gelded males with average or higher territoriality. The solitary male will adopt the subject flock/herd to be protected and take over the territory they occupy. The llama will not only attack predators invading the territory, but will actually move the flock/herd to the most defensible position available. Llamas are most effective against canid (domestic and wild) predators. Bold confrontation, coupled with intimidating size, discourages most predators, but the llama will aggressively strike an undeterred predator with front feet giving added effectiveness. Predators such as mountain lions may not be easily intimidated and are better equipped to win a physical confrontation. This can cause a llama to flee the mismatch or possibly succumb to the predator in a physical confrontation.