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Do Llamas Spit?

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Ears forward, means a happy llama

“Do llamas spit?” I wish I had a dollar for every time someone has asked me that question. It seems that llamas have a bad reputation for spitting. In answering the question, I always explain a little bit about normal llama behavior.

Tere out for a walk.

Llamas need the company of other animals, and preferably, another llama. If you observe a group of llamas, you will see a complex social order.  As with most flock and herd animals, llamas have a pecking order or social ranking. With llamas, this hierarchy is often established by the means of spitting. Feeding time seems to be the perfect opportunity to establish this order within the herd. Those of higher rank, get the food first, and the others must wait their turn or risk being spit at. If raised properly, llamas do not view people as a part of their hierarchy. They will not see you as a threat to them or their position within the herd.

School children visiting with Tere

I have seen a highly agitated llama spit at a person, but this seldom happens. Llamas generally do not like people to touch them. They have about a 3 or 4 foot personal space which they prefer that you respect. I tell our guests to stand still and allow the llama to approach them, rather than reaching out to grab at them. Most of the time, curiosity will overtake the llama and they will come close to you. They will then like to sniff you and may even give a sort of snorting sound, but they will not spit at you. You will also find that if you move towards them, they will back up as many steps as you come forward. We tell our guests to let the llama establish their comfortable distance from which to visit with you.

Tere became agitated while having his legs sheared. Nose
 pointed upward and ears back is a sign of spitting.

I have only seen our llamas attempt to spit at a person a couple of times. Each time, it was our young male who reacted out of fear. The first time, was while being sheared. He had not yet been conditioned to allow the shearer to handle his legs during shearing. He never actually spit at her, but he became very agitated and had his nose raised in spitting position. My husband has also been spit at just a couple of times while trying to administer a shot to him when he first came to our farm. Llamas do not like to feel confined. In their natural environment, they are the prey animal, and so confinement to them means they are vulnerable. Llamas require time, patience, and an understanding of their fears in order to handle them successfully. They must be trained to allow you to touch them, pick up their feet, halter them, and care for them. None of these are natural instincts to them. (Anyone interested in learning more about handling llamas should take a workshop in Camelidynamics.)

On our farm, we have two llamas that live with our sheep. Between the two llamas, we see this pecking order. The female llama, Alaska, towers over the male, Tere, in stature as well as dominance. She sets the male in order, threatening to spit if he approaches her pile of hay. She also establishes her dominance over the sheep by spitting in their faces if they try to eat from her store of food. You can tell when she becomes agitated with Tere, as her ears lay back against her head and she points her nose directly in the air. Her next move, will be a spray strategically aimed in his face.

Tere, on guard at the fence line.

Llamas, though they seem to dislike one another, actually protect each other as well as any other animals around them. Their attentiveness makes them excellent guards, thus the reason we keep them in with our sheep. Though Alaska rules over Tere, he has the more keen guarding instincts. Little passes by without his being aware of it. If he suspects danger, Tere will approach the fence line and boldly confront the intruder while making guttural noises. Alaska, stands back, with sheep gathered around her.

So to answer the question, “do llamas spit?” quite simply, yes, they do. However, llamas typically do not spit at people, but rather, at other llamas. The key to success in visiting with a llama, remains in how much you respect the llama and allow him/her to get to know you on their terms.

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2 Responses

  1. Jody
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    I love our gaurd Llama and she will come up and touch my face many times with her face almost like a kiss. I have never seen her spit…not even at the sheep and she always lets them take up space at the feeder before she will get in there. She is a lovely animal:-)

  2. Tombstone Livestock
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    Congratulations I see you are mentioned in MJ Farm Magazine, got my copy today in the mail.