If you’ve ever lost one of your precious farm animals to a predator, you’ll know how upsetting it can be. You put a lot of love, blood, sweat, and tears… not to mention cash… into raising your livestock, so when a predator comes along and senselessly destroys your hard work, it can be heartbreaking. Having multiple layers of protection is the best way to prevent predators from getting their paws on your valuable livestock. Once you’ve got the most secure fencing and shelters possible, the natural next step is to add a guardian animal to the homestead.
From dogs to donkeys to geese, there are many different types of livestock guardians to choose from. Each one has its pros and cons. It’s best to do some research before you get a livestock guardian to make sure you’re getting the one that best suits your needs. In this article, we are going to focus on the pros and cons of llamas as a livestock guardian.
The Pros of Using a Llama to Guard Your Livestock:
• Llamas will usually bond very quickly with their pasture mates. That means that if you have one llama in with your goats, for example, that llama is going to bond with your goats.
• Llamas will guard sheep, goats, cows, alpacas, and poultry. Sometimes, livestock like goats and sheep fear a livestock guardian dog, but they will quickly accept a llama into their group.
• If the predator concern in your area is coyotes, dogs or foxes, llamas are a great choice because they are naturally aggressive toward canines. Once the llama bonds with his pasture mates, he will guard them just as aggressively as he protects himself. Some llamas will even become the leader in their “flock”. They are very territorial, and will often patrol their territory, observing their surroundings and watching for predators.
• Very few llamas will attempt to kill a predator, but they will do everything they can to chase it off. They will watch the predator carefully and sound off with a shrill alarm call if it comes too close. Sometimes, they will herd their flock away from the predator. If the predator continues to stalk the herd, they will attempt to chase it off, striking out at it and spitting at it in an attempt to scare it away. Often, they will charge at the offender and knock it down, kick at it, or corner it. Sometimes, they will even stomp on it.
• Since their food and shelter requirements are very similar to those of goats and sheep, he will fit right in with your flock.
• If you’ve ever had a guardian dog, you will know that they can be nearly impossible to keep on your property or in a fence because they love to roam. Llamas will not challenge your fencing, and they want to stick close to home and their herd.
• Llamas should be socialized and learn to be handled for shearing, grooming and veterinary care, but they are usually calm and gentle around humans.
• A llama is a great long-term investment. They generally live to be about 20-25 years old, and they will work for their entire lives.
• Llamas have multiple uses because they can produce fiber that can be sold.
The Cons of Using a Llama to Guard Your Livestock:
• Unfortunately, llamas are useless against more serious threats like bears, bobcats, wolves and mountain lions. They can usually chase off a single dog or coyote, but a large pack of dogs or coyotes will consider them prey.
• Llamas usually don’t consider smaller predators like raccoons, possums or hawks to be a threat toward them, so they generally won’t protect against them.
• Llamas don’t bark loudly and repeatedly, which means you may not be alerted to the presence of a predator.
• Llamas will only protect their flock, not your property or family.
• In some cases, a single llama may not adjust well to living without other llamas. In this case, they could be a danger to other livestock or even interfere with the birthing and offspring of their pasture mates.
• Since llamas consider canines to be a threat and will act accordingly, special training and care will be required if you want your guard llama to tolerate your guard or pet dogs. As long as the guard or pet dog poses no threat to the llama or its flock, they can usually learn to accept them.
• Adult intact male llamas can be dangerous to humans, especially if they haven’t been socialized or trained.
Other Things to Know About Guard Llamas:
• Llamas require copper, just like goats. However, copper is toxic to sheep. If you are keeping your llama in with sheep, special care will need to be taken to make sure the sheep don’t get access to the llama’s minerals or salt block.
• While llamas won’t actively challenge fencing, they will often stick their heads through the fence to graze, much like a sheep or goat would. This makes barbed wire especially dangerous for them. The best fencing for a llama is high tensile electric fencing.
• A gelded male llama could make a great choice for a guardian llama. They will be larger and more intimidating than a female. They are usually less expensive to purchase, and are much safer to have around humans than an intact male. It is important to note, though, that sometimes even a gelded male llama will try to mate with female sheep or goats, which can be very dangerous for them.
• Females llamas can also be a great choice. Look for a large female that is fully matured. In fact, females are often more cooperative by nature. There has been some success shown in keeping a pair of female llamas as guardians of a flock. They have been observed to work together, guarding the herd and offering greater security. A pair of females is probably the safest and most effective option.
• When you’re choosing your guard llama, look for one that’s between 18-24 months old. A mature llama will be much better for predator control than a young llama.
• Alpacas, although very similar to llamas, are not used as livestock guardians because of their smaller size.
• The handling and care of a llama is different than that of a goat or sheep. It’s best to spend some time with someone who has experience with llamas before you bring one home.
Llamas have been used successfully throughout the world for guarding livestock. If your predator threat is light, guardian llamas could be a great option for keeping your flock safe.