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For the uninitiated, a llama is a domesticated camelid–that is, a member of the camel family, Camelidae–native to South America. By nature, llamas are calm, quiet and gentle, and although classified as farm animals by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, they are highly resistant to traditional livestock diseases and kind to the environment. These characteristics mean that llamas can be bred for their wool, for showing, for trekking and other leisure uses and thus can form the basis of a profitable business.
Your choice of llama breeds and what you do with your llamas is largely a matter of personal preference, although it's fair to say that breeding llamas for showing can be one of the most profitable activities; show-quality animals regularly fetch tens--or even hundreds--of thousands of dollars. The traditional, or classic, breed of llama stands about 4 feet tall and is suitable for use as a pack animal, for giving children rides and for pet therapy. However, its wool lacks quality when compared to that of other llama breeds, such as the Suri llama and woolly llama. Both these latter breeds are smaller than the traditional llama, reaching a maximum height of around 3.5 feet. Both are covered with fine, quality wool–curly in the case of the Suri llama and smooth in case of the woolly llama–making them eminently suitable for showing as well as wool production.
Llama wool, or fiber, occurs naturally in colors ranging from golden brown to black; it is soft and warm and can be spun into high-quality yarn, so it is much sought after by spinners, knitters and weavers. Indeed, numerous commercial processing companies in North America clean and spin raw llama fiber to produce yarn, felt and long, narrow bundles known as rovings. Llama wool does not contain lanolin, a waxy substance present in sheep wool, so it is naturally more hypoallergenic and can be washed in mild detergent, rather than harsh chemicals, prior to spinning.
Weighing between 300 and 400 pounds, llamas make ideal pack animals because they are much lighter on their feet than pack horses. Additionally, because they belong to the camel family, they are able to absorb water from the grass and other plants they graze on and so require very little drinking water. If you are buying a llama as a pack animal, you obviously need to see it in the flesh so that you can check its conformation, movement and soundness.
A full-time writer since 2006, David Dunning is a professional freelancer specializing in creative non-fiction. His work has appeared in "Golf Monthly," "Celtic Heritage," "Best of British" and numerous other magazines, as well as in the book "Defining Moments in History." Dunning has a Master of Science in computer science from the University of Kent.