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guard llamas

ENLISTING GUARD LLAMAS TO PROTECT LIVESTOCK

Llamas can be effective in keeping small animals safe from predators

By Colleen Creamer

The loss of sheep, goats, and other small and medium-sized livestock to predators has long been a problem for ranchers and farmers. From birds of prey to cats of all sizes to canines like coyotes and even badgers, predators continue to cause severe damage and losses for livestock owners across the country. Techniques and approaches to predation management vary, and some landowners are testing out an especially creative—and endearing—solution: using llamas as guard animals.

That’s what Ann Schneider does. Ann raises Boer goats in California’s San Fernando Valley and says her farm’s previous owner, who raised the same breed of goats, consistently lost numbers to coyotes.

Ann built an enclosure for the goats to sleep in at night, but she wanted to take extra measures to protect her animals. She did research online, discovered guard llamas, and decided her family needed one.

SO, SHE GOT SPINKY.

“He’s just like a really big curious fellow. He will go right up to anything new and that freaks coyotes out,” she says.

Also, getting Spinky home was considerably easier than she had anticipated.

“The man selling him convinced us that he would load and journey just fine in the back of our Honda,” Ann says. “Spinky hopped right in the back and laid down on the folded down seats. He traveled calmer than any dog I’ve had in a car.”

LLAMAS: A SPECIES FIT FOR THE JOB

Fran Soukup, owner of Sugar River Llamas in Lyndon Station, Wisconsin, says llamas are uniquely equipped to watch livestock.

“They are very curious and very territorial animals, once they learn their territory,” Fran says. “Some of the success has to do with the personality of the particular llama, but generally speaking, llamas can perform the duties of guardian very well.”

Their inquisitive and protective nature makes them ideal for certain duties. Llamas can successfully guard sheep, goats, cows with calves, deer, alpacas, and foul.

But these camelids do have limits, Fran says, and going beyond those limits can get them seriously injured or even killed.

“Obviously, they don’t do well against a pack of coyotes or dogs or wolves. More than one animal against one llama probably won’t work,” Fran says. In addition, llamas shouldn’t be put in a situation where they would have to attempt to ward off large predators.

GUARD LLAMA BASICS

Taking the time to find out if a llama is right for your livestock guarding needs is critical. In addition to speaking with llama farmers and current owners, read up on resources from organizations like the International Llama Association (ILA).

Some of the ILA’s guidelines for enlisting llamas to guard livestock are:

  •  A guard llama needs to be at least 18 months old.
  •  Male guard llamas should be gelded.
  • Guard llamas should never be aggressive toward humans.
  •  Llamas that show little concern about surrounding activity or little interest when an unfamiliar animal approaches them may be slow to recognize the danger of a predator, and likely aren’t a good fit to guard.
  •  It’s important to match guard llamas with jobs they’re physically sound enough to take on. Larger flocks and open and rough terrain require greater physical demands, for which a llama may not be best suited.

FINDING THE RIGHT LLAMA

While gelded males tend to be the more popular choice, females are effective guardians as well, Fran says.

“A guard llama must be healthy and active,” she adds. “Size and gender [are] less important than curiosity.”

However, Fran has a caveat when it comes to using llamas to guard poultry.

“They can successfully guard poultry such as chickens, turkey, or pea fowl, but llamas don’t consider them as being a part of their own herd the same way they do larger farm animals.”

Fran says for the most part, all the llamas she has placed have worked out. One in particular turned out to be hypervigilant.

“I have one that is guarding goats and he won’t even let the cats in,” she says.

Interested in learning more about caring for llamas? Visit your local Tractor Supply, where a friendly associate can help you find feed, equipment, and other supplies for llamas.

Colleen Creamer writes about travel, farming, and health and wellness from her home in Nashville, Tennessee.