Besides the land or crop, livestock is the most valuable investment a farmer has, and they need a solution for keeping sheep, goats, hens, and other small livestock safe from predators.
Most people have heard of livestock guardian dogs but there are a few other animals that can effectively guard your livestock and have other benefits too!
So what about Llamas?
Are Llamas good guard animals?
When it comes to guarding livestock, yes, they can indeed be good guard animals! Llamas and Alpacas may look cute, fluffy and docile, but many people do not realize the great success farmers and ranchers have in using these adorable creatures for protecting their livestock.
Llamas are known for their great ability to ward off predators for livestock such as goats and sheep. However, there are a few aspects of life with guard llamas that farmers and ranchers need to know before adding a llama or alpaca to their pasture.
History of Protection llamas
Llamas are a domesticated camelid from South America. They have been used for meat and as a work animal by cultures in the Andes Mountains for centuries. They started being used for livestock guarding in the United States in the 1980s.
Llamas are prized guard animals because they are multi-functional since their wool is lanolin-free and very soft. The fine undercoat of the llamas is often used for crafting and garment making while the outer coat is often harvested for rugs, tapestries, and rope.
Livestock Llamas Protect Best
Llamas are very sociable animals that get along well with alpacas and other smaller hooved animals like sheep, goats, and miniature cattle. The most common area of the United States where guard llamas are used is the western regions where there is a prevalence of large predators such as coyotes and wild dogs.
The most effective way to protect livestock with llamas is to use a female, non-breeding llama. Males tend to bond with each other and uncastrated males can sometimes show aggression towards other animals or each other.
One gelded male llama that is over two years old is also likely to bond with the flock or herd and can become particularly protective of lambs.
Llamas can successfully guard flocks of 200 to 1,000 sheep, and llamas are effective at guarding livestock that is forest grazing or in open ranges. Llamas also eat the same food as sheep and goats which is convenient for farmers and saves on costs.
Training a Llama to Protect
Llamas do not need any training to protect sheep or goats. Their natural instinct to protect their territory and their ability to bond with the livestock make them naturally effective at standing guard.
Llamas who will be used exclusively for protecting livestock should be raised with the animals that they are meant to protect. However, they are not usually ready to be an effective guard llama until reaching at least one year old.
Many llamas that are not raised with livestock are still excellent guards instinctually.
Female llamas are best at guarding sheep, especially when there are multiple llamas all guarding the same pasture because they are very aggressive towards canines. Because farmers want the llamas to protect against these predators, they need to ensure that their companion dogs or farm dogs, and herding dogs, do not bond with the llamas.
Whenever llamas are not raised with livestock they are protecting, there are a few steps you can take to make a proper, safe introduction:
- House the llama and the livestock in separate pens that are next to each other for a week.
- Introduce the llama to the livestock on a tether while the boundaries of the pen are separating the animals.
- Allow the llama and livestock to smell each other and check each other out while there is a fence for safety.
- After a few days of allowing the livestock and llama to hang out near each other, release the llama into the pen with the livestock.
- Watch for any signs of aggression or unusual behavior.
- If the llama shows any aggression towards the livestock, they should be separated again.
Guardian Dog vs. Guard Llama: Which is better?
Livestock guardian dogs (LGDs) are popular on farms all over the United States and might be the first thing that comes to mind for most farmers or ranchers that are considering an animal to protect their livestock. While there are many benefits to guard dogs, some farms are much better suited for llamas.
Take a look at these comparisons to decide if a guardian dog or llama is better for your ranch.
A Livestock Guardian Dog is Better for Farms That:
- Are very large, more than 600 acres
- Have a variety of livestock other than sheep or goats
- Need protection from predators other than coyotes or wolves such as humans, bears, cougars, snakes, small mammals, or packs of animals
- Need personal protection in addition to livestock protection
- Want or need multiple guard animals
- Have the time and patience to provide intensive and consistent training for their LGDs
- You have other dogs on the farm such as free-roaming farm dogs or herding dogs
A Guardian Llama is Better for Farms That:
- Have a pasture smaller than 600 acres, or can section their pasture off into sections of less than 600 acres
- Have only sheep or goats that need to be protected
- Need protection from coyotes or wild dogs only
- Do not need personal protection
- Do not want to train or have the time for continuous training with a livestock guard dog
- Want a guardian that is less aggressive and temperamental than a donkey
- Want a livestock guardian that will live for 20 to 25 years
- Have an interest in the wool or fiber industry
One of the downsides of having llamas for guardians is that they are a natural prey animal for bears, wolves, coyotes, and wild cats. While they are proficient at scaring away one lone coyote, wild dog, or bear, a llama will be ineffective at protecting against a pack of canines or large wild predators. They also do not protect against small mammals or rodents.
Llamas are also not well suited for hot or humid climates, but do best in the mountains or cooler places. Llamas also do not bark or bray like dogs and donkeys, so they are not best for alerting farmers to predators. In fact, many Alpaca or Llama farmers will use guardian dogs to protect the llama herds.
Llamas also have a coat that needs a lot of maintenance. Even if a farmer is not interested in working with wool, the coat will need to be groomed.
Male llamas, if not properly socialized, can also be dangerous to humans and aggressive. Guardian dogs also tend to need a lot of socialization to have a relationship with their owners; however, guardian dogs require much more training in order to do their jobs.
Llamas do not need special food that differs from the livestock like dogs need, and also have a reputation for having very few medical problems. This means that veterinary costs will most likely be lower for guard llamas than livestock guardian dogs.
Llamas do need to be inspected for ticks if they are in an area affected with ticks as they can easily die from tick paralysis.
That’s A Wrap!
All in all, llamas are great guardians of sheep and goats for small scale or hobby farms and homesteads. They are most effective in areas where predator threat is low, and there are no large predators such as bears and wild cats.
Llamas are also docile and fun to have around on the farm if they are socialized with humans.