Llamas and alpacas are domesticated variations within the lama family. While similar, llamas offer more benefits to those who raise them. The chief differences rest in their fur and their protectiveness.
Llamas Are Great Pack Animals
Llamas hail from the rough and rocky mountain regions of South America, where they are used as pack animals. They are sure-footed and strong, able to carry a third of their body weight on their backs. That weight can be substantial, as adult llamas typically weigh between 250 and 400 pounds.
In the United States, llama ranchers often use llamas for the same reasons, to carry heavy packs around farm or ranch areas.
Some enterprising wilderness enthusiasts have initiated successful outdoor adventure companies that feature pack trips with llamas.
Llamas and alpacas differ greatly in this regard. Alpacas cannot carry much weight.
Llamas Are Excellent Guardians
For people who raise sheep, llamas are excellent guardians. They keep coyotes and other sheep-hungry dogs at bay.
Llamas have sharp eyes and ears and are quite intelligent. They tend to spot a troublesome meddler before people do and will often charge a predator in groups. Because they're naturally curious, llamas stare at unusual things.
This trait not only alerts people to interlopers, it also can alert someone that someone else is in trouble. Seasoned llama ranchers know to follow a llama's long gaze.
Alpacas are not good at protection. Shepherds likely would not keep alpacas around flocks of sheep.
Llamas Have Soft Wool
Because llamas are built to survive harsh mountain weather, their fur is coarse and fibrous. Alpaca fur is similar but softer, which is why people raise alpacas for wool more than llamas.
Llama wool must be painstakingly separated from coarse fibers, making llama wool rather expensive. Clothing-grade llama wool can sell for $2 an ounce, which adds up fast. It is, however, soft and luxuriant and easy to work with, once you get to the soft woolen under layer. Also, unlike sheep's wool, llama wool has no greasy lanolin.
The same, however, can be said for alpaca fur, which is far easier to deal with.
Llamas Make Fine Pets
Llamas are good-natured and like children, despite their reputation for spitting. That's only when they feel threatened or are in a dispute over food, however, and you can train llamas not to spit toward people.
Llamas actually make wonderful companions who like to go for walks and usually enjoy the company of people. They also tend to be healthy and disease-free.
Llamas Are Wonderful Show Animals
Llamas follow a herd mentality, making them idea for parades and petting zoos, where large groups gather.
Llamas are, however, quite nimble and agile as well. They're also easy to train and can be taught to run obstacle courses or perform in competitions, similar to horses or dogs. Llamas are intelligent and curious and like to figure things out, but they like to go with the flow and make their companions happy.
Besides that, llamas are beautiful animals, typically sporting coats of white, beige and brown. With their rich fur and bushy tails, llamas are shoo-ins for any livestock beauty contest.