Llamas are one of the oldest domesticated animals on the planet, helping the people of South America carry food and provisions in the Andes mountains for thousands of years. They can now be found all over the world, but while living in the mountains, llamas survive on quite different vegetation from that on offer in rural farmland, so farmers should know about llama nutrition before committing to raising one.
Llamas are entirely herbivorous so they will feed on a wide variety of vegetation they can forage such as shrubs, mountain plants, lichen, grasses, flowering plants, low trees, fruits, nuts, grains, and even some plant fluid such as sap. In addition to the vegetation they can forage on US farmland, pet llamas are normally fed a diet of hay and grain supplements to help replicate their mountain-reared diet.
Like goats and sheep, llamas require a mixture of plants and different vegetation to thrive, and can occasionally be fed small portions of certain fruits and vegetables as a treat. If you’re a farmer or homesteader hoping to care for a llama, consult our guide below to find out what they can and can’t eat, and find out a little more about their typical eating habits.
What Kind of Hay Do Llamas Eat?
Because forage is of poor quality during some seasons, llamas need access to different types of feeding hay throughout the year and this includes grass, oat, alfalfa, and chaff-based hay.
Before we view each type in detail it’s important to note that you should always find out which type of hay a newly purchased/adopted llamas has been eating to ensure a smooth feeding transition. Changing too quickly to different hay types – even from one grass variety to another – can be fatal for llamas.
High-quality grass hay is usually recommended as the best forage type for llamas, and the best selections should have a high-protein content and leafy consistency as opposed to dusty, moldy varieties, as these will not provide llamas with the fiber and energy they need. Good grass hay is rich in calcium, Vitamin A which supports your llamas bone development and immune system.
Oat hay can be an excellent source of fiber and the amino acids contained in oats can also benefit brain function and increase cardiovascular health. Caution should be urged as to how the oat hay is produced, however, since whole oats contain a barb at one end of the grain and this has been thought to collect in pockets of a llamas stomach and risk ulcers – so choose oats that have been thoroughly rolled and crushed to remove these barbs.
Alfalfa is a high-fiber, high-calcium hay with a chaff base, meaning it is bulked up slightly with chopped up straw and this can sometimes be too rich for a llamas diet so a moderate amount is recommended (about a closed fist full of alfalfa hay is a one-day serving for adult llamas). High amounts of alfalfa hay can also lead to urinary blockages, but the high-protein content can be beneficial to underweight and pregnant llamas in need of extra nutrients.
What Kind of Plants Do Llamas Eat?
Llamas enjoy grazing on many types of plants and flowering shrubs, though beware that yews, buttercups, azaleas, rhododendrons, and these plant varieties are toxic.
Clover plants are of high forage quality for llamas as they contribute to their daily protein intake and increase blood circulation and improve bone health. The active ingredients in clover have, after all, been used in the treatment of osteoporosis in human medicine so it can provide these same benefits in llamas!
Dandelion roots are packed full of vitamins (A, C, and K) and are excellent sources of folate and potassium. This helps improve blood pressure, fight inflammation, support bone development in growing llamas, regulate the immune system, and is thought to have cancer-fighting properties.
Blackberry leaves contain less fiber than other forage material but are easier to digest and even have equal nutritional value to alfalfa hay. Llamas love to forage blackberry leaves and the berries themselves are safe to eat but only as a treat in small quantities since the higher sugar content will impact digestive health.
What Kind of Grains Do Llamas Eat?
Llamas in their native South America don’t get grains in their diet, but research shows that grains should be included as part of their forage material because, without it, llamas can actually “grow to a smaller size and don’t reproduce as efficiently” according to veterinarian Robert Van Saun of Penn State University.
Note that grains should not make up more than 25% of a llamas diet, as the moderate starch content can risk obesity and other health concerns resulting from grain overload. If you’re unsure, always try to use llama-specific grain from your local feed supplier.
Corn grain gives llamas an energy boost and helps bulk up their feed in winter, but too much holds a high obesity risk, so feeding them a grain mix mixture of corn, oats and barley is best to provide energy benefits without the high fat and starch content.
Barley is a whole grain, making it rich in fiber and vitamins, but when fed in large quantities, the starch in barley grain can actually hinder a llamas digestion by altering the number of fiber-digesting microbes.
Oats Grain is moderate in starch which bodes well for a llamas digestion. It is also high in fiber and the fat content provides llamas with much-needed energy. As above-mentioned, oats grain is safer in crushed or rolled form to prevent ulcers.
What Do Llamas Eat in the Wild?
In nature, llamas mainly graze on all types of grass and native shrubs they can forage. They will also feed on low tree foliage, forbs, lichen, and the tender shoots and roots of flowering plants.
What Do Llamas Like to Eat for Treats?
Llamas enjoy many fruits and veggies as treats but these must be cut up into small bites since their lack of front upper teeth makes it difficult to chew and grind down on big portions. Popular llama treats include:
- Sweet potato
How Much Do Llamas Eat a Day?
Llamas typically eat around 2-4 percent of their body weight daily, which can be equivalent to around 10-12 pounds of hay a day. Pregnant and lactating llamas can consume more and llamas will tend to eat less during the winter months when forage is of lower quality, which is where grain supplements come in.
How Often Do Llamas Eat?
Llamas eat as often as they like throughout daylight hours once they have reached their threshold of consuming 2-4 percent of their body weight. They will graze all year round, but because grass and other plants don’t grow throughout the year, supplementary feed, such as hay and the above-mentioned grain mixes, is needed to replace lost nutrients.
Can Llamas Eat Apples?
Apples are a superfruit for llamas – they get a tasty treat that’s packed with antioxidants and immune-boosting properties and many vitamins that benefit their heart and gut bacteria. The only downside is a choking risk, so make sure apples are cut into manageable pieces.
- High-fiber and water content makes them a filling, slow-release treat
- The fiber promotes good gut bacteria and protects against obesity
- Contains flavonoids that lower blood pressure
- Anti-inflammatory compounds have cancer-fighting properties
Can Llamas Eat Asparagus?
The actual asparagus stalk is safe to feed to llamas, but take caution with the inedible part of the plant known as the fern. Asparagus ferns are toxic to llamas and other animals, causing vomiting and abdominal pain. If you feed llamas asparagus stalks, it is better to serve them cooked so they are soft enough to chew.
- Antioxidants in asparagus help reduce inflammation and reduce the risk of chronic disease
- Iron and phosphorus deliver oxygen and promote cell repair
- Contains potassium which improves brain and muscle function
Can Llamas Eat Pumpkin?
Yes, pumpkin provides a healthy treat for llamas. It is easy to chew and digest and is rich in vitamins K3, A, C and E which prevent blood clotting, improve bone health and strengthen the body’s natural defense. As always with fruit and veggies, pumpkin is best for your llama when it is fresh, plain and cut into small pieces.
Can Llamas Eat Lettuce?
Yes, llamas can benefit from a small serving of crunchy lettuce leaves as a treat. Lettuce leaves have a high mineral content of calcium, magnesium, phosphorus and potassium – all of which can lower blood pressure, fight against diabetes, promote cell tissue repair, strengthen bones and even protect against cancer.
Can Llamas Eat Eggs?
Yes. Though llamas have a mainly vegetarian diet they can occasionally enjoy dairy products, so if you wish to feed eggs to your llama, serving them up soft-boiled can be a tasty and easy-to-chew treat. In moderation, the many vitamins and nutrients in eggs can provide llamas with benefits such as an increase in ‘good’ cholesterol, improved heart and bone health and increased muscle mass.
Can Llamas Eat Goat Feed?
No, goat feed contains high levels of copper which is toxic for llamas. Goats require more copper in their diet and their mineral feed has a copper concentration high enough to be very harmful to llamas. For this reason, be sure to avoid feeding llamas these copper-rich foods also.
Can Llamas Eat Green Beans?
Yes, and fresh green beans are best. Raw green beans can be pretty tough and stringy for llamas to chew, so always cut up into smaller chunks. As well as being high in fiber, green beans are great sources of folate, and vitamins C and K – all of which can increase a llamas energy, boost their immune system and improve bone metabolism.
Can Llamas Eat Peanut Butter?
No, it is not recommended that you feed llamas peanut butter as it has a high sugar content and can risk digestive issues. Even indulging in regular peanuts has sadly led to the death of an alpaca, the llama’s closest relative, in recent years, so peanuts of any kind are best avoided.
Can Llamas Eat Zucchini?
Yes, zucchini is safe for llamas to eat in moderation and only if they are not bitter. Go for smaller, organic zucchinis as the larger ones are more likely to contain biochemicals known as ‘cucurbitacins’ which give off the bitter taste and have been known to be toxic to some animals, causing diarrhea and vomiting.