Ranchers and farmers in Nanyuki and the Mount Kenya region have turned to a South American animal, the Llama, as a new multi-tasker of farming, warding off wild dogs and predators from their livestock, carrying heavy loads, and able to provide wool, meat, hides and manure as well.
There are now some 200 llamas in Kenya, with some farmers suggesting the animal has the potential to change Kenyan farmers’ fortunes. In South America, the animal is used as a beast of burden as successfully as the camel in North Eastern province, and is able to carry a load of 110lbs for 26 kilometres a day at an altitude of over 16,000 feet.
With a life span of 15 to 29 years, a mature llama stands at 100cm to 130cm and weighs 100kg to 200kg. Females (dams) can breed from two to three years old, although first breeding can be as early as 16 to 24 months of age. They can then be rebred two to four weeks after giving birth, with the young, called the cria, weaned at 4 to 6 months of age.
Although the farmers and ranchers in Mt Kenya haven’t yet moved to rearing the animal for wool or meat, the llama is now providing a solution to the problem of hyenas attacking their livestock.
Kimongi Ing’ote who owns Ing’ote ranch in Nanyuki, has two llamas that he got from a friend. Rearing a breed of sheep and cows, Kimongi was overwhelmed by packs of hyenas and wild dogs that hounded his livestock. In one period of just two weeks, he lost six sheep.
“I was toying with all manner of ideas, including getting a gun and waiting for the wild animals when they pounced at night, but the processes involved in getting the gun discouraged me. I had also tried my hand in night guards ,but that never worked too because at even one time one of the guards got attacked by the dogs while chasing them.
So you can imagine my moment of relief when I heard about the Llama,” said Kimongi, who has recorded not one case of livestock attack since he introduced the two llamas to his ranch.
Having now lived with the Llamas for a year, Kimongi says he cannot compare the relief he has got through being assured of the safety of his livestock.
“The llama are very social and friendly to my other animals and they even feed together. Of course, at the beginning, the animals were scared of them, but with time they have learnt to coexist and in case of imminent danger the animals always rush to seek refuge in llama.”
Llamas react to predators threatening herds in a variety of ways, mainly with a posture to alert others in the herd, then sounding a special alarm cry, and often running towards the threat, kicking and placing themselves between it and the herd. At times, they attack the predators, injuring them and even killing them.
The llama is also cost effective in rearing since it feeds on the same feed as the livestock it guards. An adult llama will eat one 25kg bale of preferably grass hay every 7 to 10 days. Llamas have low protein requirements and an efficient digestive system, which means they can be kept on a variety of suitable pastures or hay.
Llamas were first domesticated more than 5,000 years ago in the Peruvian highlands. Early South American cultures bred them for size and endurance. Alpacas of the llama family were selected for their fine fibres, which could be woven into textiles.
Egerton University’s Chuka University College, in eastern province, is now breeding llama in Kenya.
Written by Bob Koigi for African Laughter