Farm Facts...

The Aging Llama Herd

by Marilyn Loft Houck

At Fancy Creek Llamas we have an aging herd of about 30 llamas.

How long does a llama live?

Into their 20’s would be an adequate answer. Our oldest female llama was born in October 1985 and she passed away in October 2008 at the age of 23 and some months old.
 She was healthy for her entire life.

With proper and sensible care, llamas are healthy animals with few chronic problems.

We began our llama farm in 1985 and have enjoyed the animals very much. We now have an aging herd.

And so with any family aging is a factor. It has been a factor in our human family and in our camelid family as well.


Consider these things with the aging llama/alpaca herd:

1. The aging llama needs some special considerations:

a. The animal(s) may develop arthritis (In fact WILL develop arthritis, as do humans.) 

                                                 i. There are meds you can use for the camelids even though they are not labeled for that use… Equinyl (manufactured by Vita Flex) a natural lubricant supplement… a glucosamine, chondroitin sulfate, MSM product.   It is a powder and can be sprinkled on a grain ration. There are other similar products by other companies.

                                                 ii. Bute (phenylbutazone) can be used… it is an anti-inflammatory and can be used for short periods of time. Consult your veterinarian regarding usage.


  1. The older animals will begin to loose weight and body mass… this is a normal process in animals and humans alike. No matter how much they eat they will still lose weight. So just use your best animal care techniques. Offer the best feed you can to sustain the animal's general health and appetite and lifestyle.


Summer Considerations…Shearing


2. To shear or not to shear the older animals come spring?



                                                              i.      We did an informal survey a couple of years ago and asked members of  Llamas of Minnesota and members of the Wisconsin lama organization (Orgle) to send out our inquiry about shearing our 20 plus year old female who had about a 3 inch fiber covering on her barrel.

                                                             ii.       We had 11 responses. They were as follows:  8 indicated that the old llamas should be sheared with a barrel cut or at least partially sheared such as vents around the legs. One suggestion was to shear the lower part of the barrel only leaving the upper ½ of the barrel intact.  Some suggested leaving ½ to ¾ of an inch on
We did an informal survey a couple of years ago and asked members of  Llamas of Minnesota and members of the Wisconsin lama organization (Orgle) to send out our inquiry about shearing our 20 plus year old female who had about a 3 inch fiber covering on her barrel.

                                                           iii.       What did we actually do? We sheared her with an electric clippers around her barrel. We felt that the heat and humidity was more dangerous for her than the cold winter.

                                                          iv.      What to do with the fiber from an older animal? The fiber will become coarse with age, generally.  We have chosen to make rugs from the more coarse fiber.

                                                            v.      Obviously we shear all of our llamas. When we see unshorn llamas or alpacas in a pasture it breaks our hearts knowing that the heat stress in the animals may ultimately cause death. The stress of heat also compromises the quality of the fiber. If the llama or alpaca owner decides to shear a year later and use the wool the odds of useful fiber are very remote. Heat stress weakens the fiber hair by hair. So do shear llamas and alpacas EVERY year well before the temperatures reach 80 degrees Fahrenheit .



Winter Considerations...


3. Conditions:

a.   Bedding for warmth… We use about 6 inches of hay and straw for bedding. have a sand floor in part of our llama barn and the llamas seem to prefer lying on the bedding in that area rather than on the part where there is bedding on concrete.

b.   Ice conditions… we use barn lime on patches of snow that appears to be slippery. We also throw waste hay on the melting snow and it freezes in place over night and provides some traction for the animals.

c.   Open doors away from the wind … no animals like to be out in the wind. Open doors and windows downwind from the building so that there is plenty of ventilation.

d.   Feed and water for the older llama… a grain ration in winter with perhaps some rolled corn added for extra heat energy.

i.    Good quality hay should supply a very good heat source for llamas of any age.

ii.   Always provide clean water for the llamas. Llamas cannot stick their tongues out so they cannot lick ice or snow for moisture. Water is very important in the winter because the animals are eating dry food exclusively during the winter… dry hay, dry grain ration. They drink much more water in the winter than in the summer months… grass has lots of moisture in it and great vitamins!

iii.    Mineral and salt… we like to feed free choice the Premium Sheep Mineral from Land o’ Lakes. We have mounted wooden boxes at about 3 feet above the floor for the mineral. We also offer a white salt block that the llamas love. They gum it with their jaws and lips and sculpt it into an interesting shape after about a year! A 50 salt block lasts about 2 years before breaking off into pieces.

Winter Arrives in the Upper Midwest!

3. How to keep the older animals warm?

a.   Use plenty of bedding, close doors and windows where wind and snow and rain can enter the building. Keep windows and doors open away from the wind so that the llamas can see outdoors and can venture out when they desire.


b.  A llama coat can be made to trap body heat.  

                                                                                      i.  Even though I sew like I have two left thumbs I did create a pattern and actually made four llama coats for our aging llamas this winter.

                                                                                    ii.  The coats have been very helpful to our older animals.

                                                                                  iii. We have the patterns available for purchase if you can do some basic sewing. It is not a difficult pattern at all.


Contact us if you have other questions about aging llama.