Those who raise farm animals and livestock will be familiar with LGDs or Livestock Guardian Dogs. There are several breeds that are bred specifically for living with and protecting livestock on the farm. One of the most common that immediately comes to mind would be Old English Sheep Dogs. You often see these fluffy white giants patrolling the field boundaries or laying with a group of lambs while their mamas graze. It is their job to protect their flock. That is what they live for.
But did you know there are other animals that can also do the job of a livestock guardian? You might be surprised at just who or what, can fill these shoes – and do it well!
The use of donkeys, both standard and miniature, as livestock guardians or companions is not a new thing. Descended from the wild ass in southern Egypt and northern Sudan, these animals were domesticated by the ancient Egyptians thousands of years ago. They are still used as beasts of burden in many countries throughout the world and now, also as guardians.
Livestock guardian was never one of the donkeys’ primary jobs. This “side job” possibility evolved when the donkeys were pastured with goats and sheep. The territorial behavior that is inherently strong in the donkeys is a benefit when they are in multi-species grazing situations. While they aren’t necessarily defending or protecting their pasturemates, they are defending their ground – and the critters that are with them on that piece of ground.
Donkeys, especially a jenny with a foal by her side, can be a vicious protector. Coyotes, dogs, and wolves are their top enemy. The jenny will bite, kick, slash, and tear apart canines (or other perceived threats) that dare to get too close to her baby – and ultimately, her herd or flock. While they are usually a solitary animal, the donkeys will bond over time with their pasturemates and consider them part of its own herd.
Llamas were domesticated as pack animals in South America, right around the same time as donkeys in Egypt. Llamas were essentially a novelty or fiber animal in North America for several centuries. It wasn’t until the 1980s, that US sheep farmers began noticing that their flock losses to predators were reduced when they had llamas grazing with their animals.
Llamas tend to be a social animal that enjoys being a part of a herd or group, they don’t like to be alone. If you keep just one llama with your smaller livestock, the llama will bond with those animals and ultimately become their protector as well as herdmate.
While llamas definitely have size going for them, their alertness is one of their main defenses. They are constantly scanning the area and monitoring their pasturemates. If they sense a threat, the llama will let off a high-pitched scream that gets the attention of everyone – everyone. At times, this alarm alone is enough to scare off the intruder.
If their scream doesn’t get the job done, the llama will assume a threatening posture, approach the danger, and start spitting. The llama may place itself between the smaller animals and the threat. As things escalate, it may even attack the intruder by kicking or pawing at it, even stomping it to death if necessary.
Along with the goats and sheep, many producers run a llama with their calves, deer, and poultry flocks. They are definitely a multi-species guardian that bonds with their charges.
Emus, Geese, Guineas, and Ostriches
While these last creatures aren’t really a livestock guardian, they could easily be called barnyard “alarms/alarmists”, “protectors”, or “watchers”. All four of these bird species are notorious for being noisy and obvious when sensing something unusual or threatening.
Anyone who has lived with any of these birds knows that when they start acting up, something is amiss. Of course, it could be a mouse they have cornered or a fox, they don’t always differentiate or prioritize the danger. Whatever it is, they’ll let you know it’s there.
It is not uncommon to see geese engaged in a standoff with a stranger in the driveway or a group of guineas chasing away a stray dog at full speed. The ostriches and emus are extremely intelligent and nosy and will see everything going on. When they become agitated and defensive, it is a good idea to investigate and find out what has set them off.
No matter what type of animals you have or are planning on getting, you must have some type of protection in place. Along with secure fencing and shelter, a livestock guardian might be just what you need. Having multiple layers or lines of defense will keep you and your animals happy and safe.
So what kind of livestock guardian do you have?