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Some breeders had experienced behavior problems from young male llamas who were bottle-fed or otherwise handled a lot as youngsters. It seemed that if these llamas bonded with people, they could come to think that people should be treated the same way as llamas. Normal intact male llamas threaten and attack each other in the process of working out their dominance in the group. It was all very logical from the llama’s point of view but potentially dangerous to people. This situation bears the intimidating name of berserk male syndrome.

If a male is gelded young, before his male hormones come in, he is much less likely to develop problems. Breeders disagree over how much handling would warrant gelding. A female who has been handled a lot when young may be overly friendly, pesky, or difficult as an adult, but she isn’t likely to hurt you. By nature she has less inclination to challenge others than does a male.

I once had an unnerving experience with a ‘berserk’ male. I entered the pasture of a large adult male, with his owner who had just acquired him. The llama came running across the field. I was used to that, as our llamas often did the same, stopping a few feet away. This llama kept coming. He hit me in the head with his neck. I was a little stunned, but I climbed the fence pronto. After more incidents of this sort, the llama eventually had to be euthanized.

So if we could avoid bottle-feeding, it would be for the best, not to mention the work involved in months of regular feedings every few hours. On the other hand, other breeders had told me that crias had sometimes died very quickly. The will to live seemed to vary a lot from cria to cria. They especially seemed to die if taken away from their mothers. We weren’t doing that, at least.

In these early years of llama breeding, people were drawing all sorts of conclusions from their experiences. I phoned around, and I got contradictory advice. Kelly and the vet favored doing as little as possible; the breeders I talked to, who happened to be women, favored doing more, as did I. It seemed natural to me that we women would be quicker to feed, given our biological role.

The next day, Posey was full of milk and the baby was hungry all morning. I noticed that my own breasts hurt. It was nowhere near my period, so I figured it was a sympathetic reaction. I really wanted to milk Posey and feed the baby, but Kelly kept saying, “Let’s wait.”

“I can hold out until noon, I guess.”

A hot spell had been building up during the week. At nearly five thousand feet, our ranch was usually cool. But now it was ninety-four in the barn. Nothing was happening between Posey and the baby. We kept trying to put him under, and she kept trying to sit down.

At noon, Posey was eating hay, humming a little. I didn’t want to disturb her, but I had to do something. I went inside and phoned a minister I knew, asking him to pray with me for the baby llama. “You want to pray for a llama?” He sounded brusque, and though we did pray together briefly, I felt worse after we hung up. I had to remind myself that what mattered was not so much my feelings as what we had set in motion by the act of prayer. Or had we? I wondered on the way back to the barn. This wasn’t the first praying in these days. But I just wasn’t sure about the effect of prayers uttered while upset, tired, and out of sorts.

“How about we give it a few more hours?” Kelly suggested.
I acquiesced, not because I thought it was the best thing to do, but because I was tired of hassling with Kelly. But an hour later, the heat rising, I wanted to go ahead. Kelly agreed; he was equally tired of hassling with me.

We milked Posey, who allowed it willingly, and I fed the little one. I felt great relief, even though we might be irrevocably on the road to bottle feeding. My anxieties about losing the cria diminished. Kelly continued to feel that he hadn’t been in any danger. I just didn’t know.

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