Monday, April 2, 2012

Llama Nutrition

By Al Tollefsen, Sugar Run Llamas
From The Llama Source, July/ August, 1996

(This is an article I recently rediscovered. I have been thinking about nutrition since the GALA conference where my working llamas were scored as 6-7! If these guys are chubby, there are a lot of overweight llamas out there! The statement that I will remember most is that llamas are 25 % more efficient than sheep. We determined that my group of 8 adults males should be eating 27 lbs of hay a day... not even a bale. So I am giving it a try. They certainly are glad to see me and they clean their plates! When I weighed and body scored my females, I felt that 2 were in perfect condition. Everyone else was too thin or too heavy! So how can we deal with this, as well as taking into account the weather, weather while haying (protein was way down due to the rain), lactation , and even personalities of animals? There are those that look at food and the pounds add up! To determine proper nutrition, you need to know what you are feeding your animals. Test your hay, weigh the feed, and try to feed according to groups, maybe separating the older or thinner animals. But when it's cold l still feel guilty and I give them a little more... sorry LaRue!) editor LC

This topic is so subjective that there is no one reference that is considered "the source." However, generalities that seem to be agreed to by some of the gurus follow:
First you need to consider and take into account whether you are in a feedlot or pasture style operation. I submit that most llama owners are nearer a feedlot style.
The energy requirements of llamas can usually be met by ad libitum of "good" quality hay or pasture. "Good" doesn't mean alfalfa - which, because of its relative high protein content, is quite often not fed to llamas. It is because of the variation in nutritional content of different types of hays, (further affected by cuttings, storage, age, etc.) that the hay being fed should be analyzed to establish a baseline.
It is generally accepted that llamas will consume 1.8-2% of their body weight, on dry matter basis, daily. But we all know animals that would eat their body weight in grain if allowed. That's why it is imprudent to feed grain or chow feeds by free choice, or in large feed containers. Those animals high on the pecking order will overindulge and those on the lower end will often not get the desired amounts. Further, this feeding technique seems to increase the potential for choking.
Most authorities recommend not less than 25% of a llama's diet be roughage to reduce the possibility of gastrointestinal ulcers, especially in C-3 duodenal ulcers.
In general, if you want to put weight on a llama, feed it grain. If you want to take weight off, feed it poor quality hay.
Individual animal needs will vary. We all seem to separate our animals into the established categories of required protein in the old 8-10, 12-14, and 16% schedule. But within those categories we need to consider body conditioning. Some of those full figured gals are, in reality, overweight, and need to be thinned down. And often you can find one or two that are underweight.
If at all possible, a change of diet, in amounts and/or type of food, should be done gradually. For instance, if it was 1 can of dairy chow and you are changing to a can of llama feed, at one point it should be 1/2 can of each.
Recognize that a pasture's nutritional values decrease during the summer. Pasture grasses use up ground nutrients, and are affected by summer droughts. Rotation, fertilizing, and watering can reduce the effect, but it can't be stopped.
Rain, ultra violet rays, and heat will degrade nutritional values of rolled hay. Also, one should understand that heat can and will reduce the protein content of sheltered hay, so having it in the barn (or covered with a tarp) doesn't ensure maintaining its quality.
This may also be the place to mention that nutrient digestion through metabolic action generates heat. This can be helpful in keeping the animal warm during the winter, but it can create problems with thermo regulation during the summer. Some foods take more energy to digest (generate more heat) than others. An example is whole corn (corn that isn't cracked or rolled). It generates relatively high digestive heat.
If you have animals that ignore free choice vitamins and minerals, you might consider adding powdered molasses to increase the taste or palatability, and to increase consumption. This"sweet tooth" hint is found in an article by LaRue Johnson, and he says to ensure that the mixture is protected from the weather.
Water: Many publications forget to emphasize that water represents 10-80% of the composition of foods. Llamas may be camelids and able to get along for a period with only one good drink a day. However, daily they will (on average) require 5-8% of their body weight. Water weighs about 6.5 pounds per gallon, so if a 100# cria drank at 7%, he would need over a gallon a day, only some of which can be made up through food sources.
Green forages are important sources of Vitamin A & E, so when llamas do not have access to pasture (snow covered, flooded, long show circuit, whatever) vitamin supplements may become essential. Selenium deficiencies may also be in this category.
There can be danger with too much of a good thing. It's not only overeating that causes llamas to be overweight; over-ingestion of certain vitamins or minerals can also cause physical problems. As an example, it is thought that llama diets should have calcium and phosphorus in a ratio not to exceed 2:1. So, if general diet is grass hay, there is a distinct possibility of a calcium deficiency in the diet. However if alfalfa is the principle, it is possible that the diet is phosphorus deficient. It is essential to recognize the animals' diet components, even if the study is only adding component values off the labels on the bags and using a general average nutritional basis on the forages being offered.
Other than articles by LaRue Johnson, I have been unable to find any data on the caloric needs of llamas. Dr. Johnson indicates a llama has a daily requirement of around 75 Kcal of body weight. Because efficiency of maintenance increases as the body size increases, the per unit of body weight is expressed as a metabolic weight (MW). As a reference, a 55 pound animal has a MW of 12, a 220 pounder is about 32, and a 440 pounder has a MW of about 51. He also states that llamas require about 5.36 Kcal daily per gram of desired growth. Those studies are in "The Veterinary Clinics of North American Food Animal Practice" March 1989, and July 1994. Unfortunately, there is not sufficient information to develop a caloric dietary table in the same pattern that can be developed for other forms of livestock and pets.
Animal foods are scientifically evaluated in a process known as proximate analysis, where water or moisture is first removed, making it what is termed as dry matter. A text, Feeds & Feeding 4th Edition, Cullison Lowery, shows most hays are between 90-95% dry matter, whereas pasture sources can be as low as 30% dry matter - that's why grass is green and juicy, and hay is yellow and dry. For example: Bermuda grass fresh (pasture) averages 29% dry matter (or 71% water). When it becomes sun-dried hay, it averages 91% dry matter. This means a 100-pound llama eating 2% of his weight daily, will consume about 2 pounds of dry matter feed. That would equate to 2.2 pounds of the hay (2.2 x .91 = 2) or 6.9 pounds of grass (6.9 x .29 = 2 pounds dry weight), or a combination of same. See, I told you most of us are nearer a feedlot type of operation. Think about it, 7 pounds of pasture daily for a cria. However, this does not account for, nor address the nourishment content of supplemental grains, vitamins, salt blocks, etc. that you might offer. It is also why your vet laughs at you when you say you give 1 can of feed to the gals and 1/2 a can to the guys. The feedbag has an analysis (which may or may not be accurate) on it expressed in units like pounds - not cans.
I offer this article not as an inclusive guide, but rather a means of provoking thought by the reader. I want to point out that like most things dealing with llamas, nutritional needs are not well understood and that while too little is dangerous, too much is also possible and equally dangerous. It is essential that llama owners continually review their llama nutritional programs. if you have any doubts, or don't feel confident, get your vet involved.

No comments:

Post a Comment