Llamas as Induced Ovulators
Llamas are slightly unusual in as much as they don't "come into season" like many mammals, but rather they are known as induced ovulators, which means that the act of being bred by the male llama stimulates the release of an egg from the female llamas ovary. This does simplify life for the llama breeder who can time the matings in order to have all llama crias born during the optimum time of year, between May and July ,when the grass is at its best for the new born llama and the lactating or heavily pregnant llama dam, and the daylight hours are long and sunny. Despite being induced ovulators, llamas do however still have follicular waves , creating some periods when they are unable to conceive, so around 25% of first matings are likely to be unsuccessful . Experienced breeders who know their female llamas behaviours very well may recognise these fallow patches and in these cases may remove the male without permitting the mating. Repeating the mating process 7 days later however should prove to be more fruitful.
Llama Breeding Methods
Most experienced breeders will pen mate their llamas , which means that the breeder will bring the male llama to the female llama in a suitable small yard area or breeding pen for the purpose of being mated . If the female llama is open and receptive she will normally kush or lie down for the male fairly quickly , with little or no resistance . Once the mating has taken place the male will be returned to his paddock , and the female llama to hers. 7 days later the process is repeated , and if the female ovulated in response to the first mating she will then reject the male , either by running from him or by spitting at him aggressively . The process is then repeated for a third time in another 7 days , and if the female llama continues to spit off the male llama then an educated assumption is made that she has now conceived . Using this method the breeder has precise dates for the llamas conception , and any potential fertility issues are likely to get picked up very quickly. If the llama continues to sit for the male for three consecutive matings/weeks then the vet should be consulted as repeated unsuccessful matings can do great harm to the female. If mating takes place on week one, and the female llama rejects the male at week two , but sits for him again at week three this would indicate that she did ovulate in response to the mating , but that conception did not follow.
The alternative llama breeding method is paddock mating whereby the male llama is allowed into a paddock with selected females suitable for breeding , which would exclude any pregnant llamas, or any llamas with crias at foot as this would not be a safe environment for those crias. The male llama would remain with these females for three to four weeks , after which time it would be assumed that they might all have conceived . No precise dates are known , and there may be no definitive confirmation by two consecutive rejections of the male 7 days apart . If the female has failed to conceive she may have an undiagnosed problem that goes untreated , made worse by the repeated advances of the male , so this method is altogether less satisfactory than properly conducted pen matings.
Confirmation of Pregnancy in a Llama
Even amongst those llamas who have conceived , between day 14 and day 60 around 10% will suffer embryonic losses , so it pays to continue monitoring the llamas pregnancies. Definitive confirmation of pregnancy can be achieved by a slightly risky rectal scan as early as 3 to 4 weeks after a successful mating , or by a much safer trans abdominal ultrasound scan at 60 days . In the time frame between the confirmed pregnancy at 60 days and the full term date , statistically around 5% of pregnancies may still be lost . Sometimes there are outward signs of these losses , especially in the later stages of the gestation , but quite often the breeder is unaware unless regular checks are made . Unfortunately , ultra sound scanning is far less useful as a diagnostic tool during the middle of the pregnancy when a clear image is not achievable , so most breeders will undertake one last spit off using the stud male at the end of the breeding season , usually in August , and then will check again in April to see if the pregnancy has held.
Fertility Issues in Female Llamas
The act of mating is actually quite damaging to the female llamas delicate internal tissues , so repeated unsuccessful breeding can cause permanent scarring and can ultimately cause infertility .Using the pen mating method , most healthy adult female llamas will have conceived successfully by or before a third mating . If the female is still not spitting off the male after three matings then it is time to consult with your vet . Possible causes for failure to conceive might include a uterine infection which will require a course of antibiotics to clear it up . Your vet will need to know the breeding history of the llama , whether she is a maiden or a proven mother , and what behaviour she has been exhibiting towards the male . Was she continuously receptive on day 7, 14 and 21 , or does she sometimes spit the male off one week only to sit for him again the following week ? From these records he will try to establish if she is ovulating successfully but the egg is then failing to implant , possibly due to cervical scarring or an infected uterus , or is she failing to ovulate at all , which in the case of a maiden might indicate a condition known as hypoplastic or very undersized ovaries. Conversely , is the llama known for certain to be an open female, definitely not pregnant , yet she rejects the males advances every time , displaying great hostility and aggression towards him and covering him in green spit ! This behaviour would be indicative of a condition known as retained corpus luteum , similar to an ovarian cyst, which floods her system with progesterone as if she were already pregnant, in which case the vet would give her a hormone treatment to disperse the corpus luteum. Obesity in the female llama dramatically reduces her fertility , and female llamas over the age of 7 or 8 who have never been bred before also have far more difficulty in conceiving.
Fertility issues in Male Llamas
Young male llamas display sexual behaviours as early as five days old , but are actually incapable of impregnating a female llama until they are considerably more mature ! Anatomically , the young male llama has preputial adhesions that prevent his penis from extending until he reaches sexual maturity , which normally happens between the ages of two and three years old, but some early bloomers reach this stage at 12 months ! Boys will be boys and these adhesions will not stop the male llama from trying , so there are some cases where injury or trauma to the males penis has occurred during this period of sexual development which can result in infertility. A physical examination by the vet would also include checking the llamas penis for any balanoposthitis infection , and his testicles for a condition called orchitis , or inflammation of one or both testicles due to an infection. Male llamas are also susceptible to prostatitis and urolithiasis which can affect their waterworks and their ability to mate successfully . Far more commonly , male llamas can suffer with heat stress , which is rather unfortunate as they are so often expected to breed the llama females in the height of the summer . If the llama is in poor health or is suffering from some kind of systemic disease then his libido is likely to be undermined , so an overall health check would also be advisable. It is commonly found that males used for pasture mating lose interest in mating their female llamas if they have been pastured with them for too long . That same male , if presented with some different females would suddenly rediscover his mojo immediately !
Success in Llama Breeding
Keep notes! Have a breeding diary for recording every mating and every spit off , and make notes on the llamas behaviour each time .Keep stress to a minimum , including heat stress , particularly during the first 90 days of the pregnancies.Good nutrition means fit not fat llamas ! Poor fertility and obesity in llamas go hand in hand , particularly for the females as their delicate hormone levels are affected by their body fat content . Llamas are designed to be lean , and most llamas dont need supplementing with extra calories but simply with specific vitamins and minerals that are abundant in their natural environment in the High Andes of South America , but which can be lacking here in the UK . Heavily pregnant and lactating female llamas are an exception, and these llamas will need a camelid specific concentrated feed during these times . All llamas will need supplementing with vitamins AD&E during autumn and winter , including and especially the crias .