Alpacas and Llamas are domesticated camelid mammals from South America. Camelids are known as camels without humps, and there are four kinds of them. Alpacas and llamas are the domesticated camelids and the guanacos and vicunas are not domesticated.
Alpacas and llamas live generally for 15-20 years. The oldest known alpaca lived to 28 years, while the oldest recorded llama lived to 30. Domestic camelids usually live longer than their wild counterparts.
In this article, let’s talk about everything you need to know about how to help your llamas and alpacas have a long and healthy life. And if there’s ever a problem, please make sure you contact your local livestock veterinarian.
Here’s How Long Alpacas Live
Alpacas live for up to 20 years, and the longest lifespan of a domesticated alpaca recorded is 28 years.
There are two breeds of alpacas:
- Huacayas are the more common type and account for up to 90% of all alpacas. They have bright and soft fibers commonly used in knitting and crocheting.
- Suris are known for fibers with high luster and are smooth and silky.
For over six thousand years, humans have domesticated alpacas, and there are over 200,000 alpacas in about 19 countries. They are gentle, curious, and very social. When properly trained, they are also great to have as pets.
When Alpacas are threatened or in distress, they usually spit at a distance of up to 10 feet and when competing with other Alpacas.
Alpacas are so gentle that they do not bite or spit at people, except they are being abused, and they also hum. One of their spectacular habits is using a particular place as their bathroom instead of random spots on a farm.
Here’s How Long Llamas Live
Llamas typically live about 15 years, though many can live up to 20 years old. The oldest known llama is 30 years old.
Llamas are descendants of the guanaco family and a South American camel family known as Camelidae. Llamas also do not have humps like camels. They are slender, with long necks and legs, small heads, short tails, and big pointed ears.
A group of llamas is called a herd. Llamas are intelligent and social animals.
However, they have limits, and when you try to stress or overload them, they will lay on the floor, spit and refuse to move. They are easy to train and can also be domesticated as a pet. They usually do not bite or spit at people, except when agitated, and this is mainly to other llamas, and they wrestle each other using kicks and necks.
Factors Affecting the Lifespan of Alpacas and Llamas
Alpacas and llamas are farmland or domesticated animals, and like every other animal of their kind, many factors can affect or reduce their lifespan. These factors can be psychological, physical, or health-related, but they pose considerable threats to an animal’s well-being and longevity.
Disease factors affecting their lifespan
There are many infectious diseases that can affect your camelid’s lifespan. The diseases vary from contactable diseases, to inherited or congenital issues, and deformities. All these factors may cause harm and/or affect their lifespan. Here are the six most common issues for camelids.
- Jaw misalignment
- Clostridial diseases
- Parasitic worms
- Skin diseases
- Gestational mortality
Disease #1: Jaw Misalignment
The teeth of these animals, especially the alpaca, can also grow too long, causing a jaw misalignment, and too short teeth can lead to difficulties in feeding. Their toenails and teeth can be trimmed, but only by a medical expert to allow them to feed correctly and stay healthy.
Medical experts should also remove their fighting teeth after 18 months to avoid fatalities.
Disease #2: Clostridial disease
After they’re born, crias should be vaccinated against clostridial diseases. The four main clostridial diseases are:
By four weeks of age, they should get the vaccines against those diseases. After that, they can get on the regular vaccination schedule with the rest of the herd.
Disease #3: Parasitic Worms
Parasitic worms in these animals can cause many health complications like anemia and pale skin.
You can check for worms by analyzing animal manure (you can send their manure to a lab to do this – or you can do it yourself). You can also worm the whole herd every six months or so, but it’s best to do so under strict medical guidance.
Your veterinarian can recommend an adequate worming medication based on an analysis of the worms in your herd’s manure.
Disease #4: Diarrhea
Diarrhea, sometimes called scours, can become complicated, especially in crias. If left untreated, diarrhea and scours can lead to dehydration and death. In cases like this, veterinary advice should be sought as fast as possible.
Disease #5: Skin diseases
Shearing your herd, regularly can help notice changes in their skins before it gets critical for you to control the situation.
One common skin condition is caused by flea bites. Fleas can hide under their fiber and cause them constant pain and discomfort.
Injuries might heal slower due to skin breakdown. And in cases where waste materials contaminate the fur, the wounds can get infected and lead to more complications.
Disease #6: Gestational mortality
Alpacas breed once every year, with a gestational period of 242 to 345 days, delivering just one offspring at a time. A New Zealand study recorded a 25.7% rate of pregnancy loss after 30 days of gestation in alpacas and 9.6% to 16.7% losses after 120 days of gestation (source).
So while gestational mortality isn’t a proper disease, it still affects the overall lifespan of camelids.
It takes about 7 hours to complete the birthing process, and their babies are called crias. The crias are weaned at six to eight months of age.
Females are sexually mature and able to reproduce at 15 months; however, the males take longer and can begin to mate at 36 months old.
The abortion rates are due to infectious diseases, and the demographics of this occurrence vary from 10 to 70%, depending on the area.
According to PubMed, a variety of infectious diseases are the causes of neonatal mortality rates in camelids (source).
Physical factors affecting their lifespan
Physical factors affecting their lifespan generates from infected injuries sustained during fights, environmental effects on their health, and activities they are made to perform by their owners. Here are the most common factors that affect camelid lifespan.
- Waste contamination
Factor #1: Habitat
Habitats can be full of poisons, toxins, house diseases, or hide predators that can all affect a camelid’s lifespan.
Alpacas and llamas are from the mountains of South America. That’s where most of them still live, though many now live on farms or ranches in New Zealand, Australia, the United States, and the Netherlands. Alpacas and llamas live longer in herds on farmlands than alone in small pens, while the wild camelids die earlier from constant attacks from predators.
The oldest living alpaca lived with its family in a herd until its death from old age-related complications.
Llamas and alpacas are generally found on farmlands, mountains, or in small pens owned by animal lovers. But wherever they are kept must be free from toxic plants, snakes, paints, freshly fumigated enclosures, lead, copper, predators, and algae infestation.
Factor #2: Waste contamination
Waste means flies, infection, and disease.
The tail and rear end part of their legs should be constantly fleeced, as waste materials can get stuck on the fur in these parts and cause fly strikes. Examine your animal frequently and shear as needed to prevent fly strikes because it makes the animals uncomfortable and restless, which can lead to stress and illness.
Factor #3: Size
Smaller animals are more likely to die from predator attacks, or smaller-sized animals may indicate an underlying issue (disease or absorption issue) that can also affect lifespan.
The smallest member of the camel family is the Alpaca. They are smaller than the other camelids, which doesn’t affect how long they live because they are not reared for strenuous activities. They are up to 4 to 7 feet long, and they weigh up to 143lbs (120 – 225 cm in height and 65 kilograms in weight).
Llamas weigh around 285 to 450 pounds, and they are commonly known to be used as beasts of burden by the peoples who lived in the Andean mountains. They grow up to 6 feet tall and have their average height at 5 feet and 9 inches.
Over the years, studies show that this activity as a beast of burden may reduce a llama’s health and lifespan. Eventually, it may even make them get too weak to go on long treks up mountains. They can safely carry up to 30 percent of their weight and can trek up to 12 miles easily.
Diet factors affecting their lifespan
Alpacas and Llamas are both vegetarians. They only feed on greens and hay. There are precautions to be taken for a Llama’s diet based on its diabetic nature and other diet-related conditions that affect both llamas and alpacas. Here are the four most common dietary issues that affect camelid lifespan.
- Poisonous plants
- Vitamin deficiencies
- Weight loss
Dietary Factor #1: Poisonous Plants
There are many toxic variations of plants available on planet earth. Since alpacas and llamas are vegetarians, there is a very high chance that they might come into contact with them.
Herders are advised to take careful precautions on the grazing areas of their camelids and the kinds of grass that are being fed to them, as this can gravely reduce their lifespan or cause sudden death.
They should also be protected from consuming toxic plants and materials that can cause harm to their health or early death.
Some of the things you should never feed a llama include:
- animal products of any kind
- potatoes (nightshade family plants)
These food items can cause diarrhea and other complications to their health.
Dietary Factor #2: Malnutrition
Malnutrition is an issue for all living things, camelids included.
These animals are covered with fur all around, and when they are malnourished, it might not be as easy to tell. Malnutrition can become chronic and cause them to fall sick or even die.
Therefore, it is good practice to regularly check their weight, run your hands on them to feel their skin, check the back legs for brambles and burrs, and ensure that there are no collections of waste materials in them to avoid fly strikes.
Dietary Factor #3: Vitamin Deficiencies
To avoid bone-related diseases like rickets and poor growth and development (which directly affect their lifespan), it is advisable to make sure your animals get adequate vitamins and micronutrients. You may even want to give them vitamins A, D, and E boosts.
Dietary Factor #4: Weight Changes
Always check your herd’s weight regularly and check for weight loss or gain patterns. This can be a symptom of one of many severe complications about to happen or a related psychological problem.
Weight loss or gain can be especially problematic if it’s a sudden thing. Always consult your veterinarian if you have a concern about weight loss or gain.
How to Care for Alpacas and Llamas Health for Longer Lifespans
The following guidelines are ways to ensure that your alpacas and llamas reach the highest lifespan expected, stay healthy, and produce well. Always seek further medical advice and expertise from authorized and licensed vet doctors as needed.
Llamas and Alpacas vaccinations usually start during the first week of birth, with two boosters at three weeks intervals.
- In habitats where venomous snakes and liver flukes are dominant, vaccines like C novyi, C sordellii, C chauvoei, and C septicum are essential.
- They should also get clostridium perfringens type C and D and tetanus toxoid when due because it is crucial to their growth and dealing with infections or illnesses that may arise.
- At three months, the alpacas and llamas should get their first vaccination against snake envenomation and liver flukes and be given a booster after three days and then regular shots as advised by the vet doctor.
After that, your camelids can get their regular vaccinations as recommended by your veterinarian. Your vet will be able to tailor vaccination recommendations for local needs.
Neonatal Cria Care
Crias are delicate, beautiful creatures who don’t all make it. Therefore, neonatal cria care is vital to minimizing the mortality rate of your herd.
The most essential routine cria check includes:
- checking cria weight
- performing a single dipping on their navels three times within 24 hours of birth
- using tinctures of iodine (%7) or chlorhexidine (0.5%).
Within 2 hours of birth, Crias must be up on their feet and reaching for their mother’s mammary glands (udder) to nurse every one to two hours.
Take their weights at birth, because an indication of a healthy cria is if they have doubled their weight after a month.
Taking blood samples at birth is also a good idea in some circumstances. This is the right time to check for the transfer of cholesterol antibodies for diseases that can be dangerous for crias. This can be done by your vet if they’re on hand for the birth.
Parasites can be found worldwide, and they can make animals sick. Sick animals with parasites may have weight loss, anemia, less lustrous fiber, or other symptoms.
Pyrantel pamoate, fenbendazole, ivermectin, and anthelmintics are currently viewed as safe and effective in controlling parasitic infections in these animals. However, some ruminant species like these have developed a resistance to parasitic infections. This can make parasite control hard if not impossible. In case of parasite resistance, work with your veterinarian to keep your herd healthy.
In places where liver flukes are a huge problem, clorsulon or albendazole are highly effective for alpacas and llamas and need to be used every eight weeks to eradicate them completely.
The above-listed care practices are sure ways to help you keep your herd happy – and prolong the lifespan of your alpacas and llamas. Because as backyard homesteaders, we want our animals to reach their expected lifespan or even surpass them (like the oldest living alpacas and llamas).
On the other hand, neglecting your animals can cause disastrous effects to their health and reduce their lifespan by a huge gap or cause immediate death. So please don’t ever do that. If you can no longer care for your animals, please surrender them responsibly to someone else (or a shelter) who can.
Can Alpacas or Llamas Die from Loneliness?
Alpacas and llamas are herd animals. They thrive by being among a family and having either a dominating figure or being a herd member and will die if they have to live alone.
The animals will be constantly sad and stressed if there is no other alpaca or llama to socialize with. They can develop health complications from not feeding well or moving about regularly and from inactivity, eventually leading to their death. At least three llamas or three alpacas should be together on a farm or be domesticated, to evenly distribute the alpha and supporting herd roles.
But if you just want to know which is nicer between llamas and alpacas? Make sure you read this article I wrote on which one is better (for which situation).
Do Alpacas Get Along With Other Animals?
Alpacas are very social animals. They get along well with other animals of other species and also their kind. They can be reared with other farmland animals, like llamas and sheep.
Alpacas and llamas can be kept with most other animals. You do need to be cautious about spacing while pasturing, especially alpacas. Alpacas are small and can get injured if they get caught up between cows or horses while feeding.
Goats and alpacas get along but should not be kept together because some medicated goat food types might be toxic for the alpacas, and the only way to prevent them from having some is by keeping them apart in separate pens.
Want to know how many alpacas you should get? Read this article I wrote about how many alpacas you really need.
Do Llamas Get Along With Other Animals?
Llamas also get along with other animals, as they are usually used to protect herds of animals like alpacas, sheep, goats, and other farm animals.
They are bold and confident animals that guard against predators and other external factors. Llamas also get along well with some dogs. They are also playful and social around each other and usually have their shared space for exercise and leisure.
For more information about alpacas and llamas living with other animals, make sure you check out this complete guide I wrote about keeping various animals and types of livestock together.
Key Takeaways: Alpacas and Llama Lifespans
Llamas and alpacas are great to have as pets. They help ward off threats to other farm animals, improve the health of humans, are easy to train and care for, and live for up to 15-20 years or more. They also produce great fiber, manure, and other resources that improve everyday living around a backyard homestead.
So not only can they be a great addition to your homestead, but they can also enrich your life for up to several decades.
Speaking of enriching – make sure you read this article next on how to use alpaca poop especially to fertilize your backyard homestead and garden. That way, you’ll be able to enjoy your camelids, your garden, and your whole backyard setup at the same time. Happy homesteading!
Can Alpacas Be Pets? When properly trained, alpacas can be excellent pets. They can be taught tricks and manners. They can sometimes even live inside the home with their owners because they are herd animals that need fellowship with other alpacas constantly to avoid loneliness and its complications. Therefore, they need farmland environments to thrive, but they are cute, fluffy, and social animals that can be well trained like every other pet. Read more about keeping alpacas as indoor pets here in an article I wrote.
How Long did the Oldest Alpaca and Llama live? The oldest alpaca lived on a farm for 28 years before its death, which was natural and not from complications or diseases. In comparison, the oldest llama lived for 30 years before its natural death too. However, some old rearers of the animals have claimed to have llamas and alpacas that lived beyond these ages. These were never officially recorded or proven to be true.
How Often Should Alpacas Be Sheared? Alpaca fleece should be sheared once every year to improve its comfortability. The same goes for the llamas, and in the southern states, the huacayas are shorn twice every year. The factors involved in this are the density of the fleece, and when it’s normal, the adult alpacas produce 10lbs of fleece per year. Shearing their fleece regularly reduces the weight they carry on their body and helps them move about freely.
Learning from your own experience is essential, but learning from others is also intelligent. These are the sources used in this article and our research to be more informed as homesteaders.
- Britannica, Encyclopædia. “Llama.” Encyclopædia Britannica, 7 May 2021, https://www.britannica.com/animal/llama.
- Britannica, Encyclopedia. “Alpaca.” Encyclopædia Britannica, 11 May 2021, https://www.britannica.com/animal/alpaca.
- Cebra, Christopher, et al. “Llama, and Alpaca Care.” ScienceDirect, 2014, https://www.sciencedirect.com/book/9781437723526/llama-and-alpaca-carea/.
- “Health and Care.” Penn State Extension, https://extension.psu.edu/animals-and-livestock/llamas-and-alpacas/health-and-care. Accessed 25 June 2021.
- “Llama: National Geographic.” Animals, https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/mammals/facts/llama-1. Accessed 25 Junethemthem1.