Guard llamas, yes they’re real. I didn’t believe it at first, but when I saw this video on YouTube, I had to do a little research. I had to make sure guard llamas were a legitimate thing before spouting off how ridiculous and absurd the idea sounds. Much to my surprise, guard llamas are common guard animals of sheep herds in the west.

Predators

The #1 predator of sheep is coyotes. According to Iowa State University Extension, in 1994 field studies revealed that 41 percent of all Iowa sheep loses were the result of coyotes and/or dogs. Losing sheep to predators is detrimental  especially because the sheep industry operates on a low profit margin.

There’s two general methods of preventing predation: a) preventative methods and b) control methods.Preventative methods are non-lethal approaches like fences, penning, frightening devices and guard animals.  Control methods usually occur after damage takes place. Control methods include poisons, trapping and shooting.

Guard animals

The use of guard animals in protecting livestock originated over 2000 years ago, according to Wikipedia.org. Shepherd’s needed a way to protect herds and flocks while the animals slept, grazed and traveled.

Ideal guard animals should protect the herd while requiring little training and

photo of a llama

I wouldn’t mess with this llama…

maintenance. Dogs are often used because, as puppies, guard dogs become attached or “imprinted” on the animals they’re to protect. Though dogs are the most popular guard animal, donkeys and llamas can also protect herds.

Why guard llamas?

Llamas were domesticated in South America and are still used as a meat and pack animal in many cultures. Interestingly, llamas originated from the central plains of North America, but migrated south during the last ice age.

North American farmers and ranchers began using llamas as guard animals during the 1980s. That timing correlates with the growth of the North American llama industry, according to the University of Iowa Extension.

Owners noticed fewer sheep were being killed by coyotes when llamas were pastured with the sheep and thus the guard lama was born. Llamas are hardy, intelligent and have evolved strong herding instincts, good traits for a guard animal. They also have a innate dislike of coyotes and dogs, a very important trait for protecting flocks of sheep.

Llamas also live longer and learn to guard flocks quicker than dogs.

Lastly, caring for llamas is very similar to caring for sheep.

Do they work?

Yes. Three major U.S. studies have been conducted on using llamas as guard animals. A study by Laurie Meadows and Fredrick Knowlton that appeared in the Wildlife Society Bulletin suggests guard llamas are effective at controlling predators.

The study relied on interviewing sheep producers throughout Utah. Producers were contacted every two weeks and asked questions about their predator control practices.

Here’s the responses:

After 32 months of using guard llamas, 93% of sheep producers surveyed agreed that llamas reduced the number of sheep lost to predators. 93% would also recommend llamas to other sheep producers.

Yes, llamas are effective, but are they as effective as dogs? I have those statistics too.

Here’s the data compiled from several surveys:

llamas vs. dogs

Pros and cons

Here’s a short list of pros and cons from the Vertebrate Pest Research Unit’s study, “Guard Animals for Livestock Protection.”

Pros:

  • Longevity. The active working life of an alpaca or llama is 10-15 years.
  • Minimal training requirements. Achieve guardian status in 4-6 weeks.
  • Minimal special management for maintenance and food.
  • Can be managed similarly to sheep and goats.
  • Need minimal supervision.
  • Can be used with other non-lethal predator control methods.

Cons:

  • Llamas may jump fences to join other groups of sheep or other llamas.
  • If single llamas are in adjacent paddocks they may spend more time socializing with each other than protecting the livestock.
  • They may occasionally injure or harass lambs.
  • Intact males may injure ewes by trying to mate with them.

Conclusion

Though it seems absurd at first, guard llamas are actually a very legitimate alternative to guard dogs and other pest control methods.

If you’d like to more information follow a few of these links:

National Geographic News- “Guard Llamas Keep Sheep Safe From Coyotes

Iowa State University Extension- “Guard Llamas: A part of integrated sheep protection”

Vertebrate Pest Research Unit- “Guard Animals for Livestock Protection

Will is Farm and Dairy's newest writer. He's recently moved to Lisbon, Ohio where he lives in a church turned community theater. He enjoys writing (of course), theater and hiking.
Will Flannigan
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