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Llamas as guardians

Although we have helped to successfully place a number of guard llamas, we do not raise or sell guard llamas ourselves (at least not intentionally). Ideal traits for a guard llama are counter to ideal companion, packing, and driving traits, and thus can't be effectively (or ethically!) combined into single individuals. Because our time is finite, we can't breed good guardian llamas -- in fact, we can't possibly maintain any other separate breeding herds in addition to the small breeding herd of high-caliber performance llamas that we already have.

If you are interested in acquiring a guardian llama, please contact your local llama breeders (remember to be a smart consumer and get the guarantees you'll need).

Llamas are territorial by nature and are instinctively suspicious of canines. Their guanaco ancestors effectively defended their young from wolves, and a number of llamas retain those instincts to pursue and strike at small predators. These llamas can be used to guard sheep, goats, alpacas, mini-horses and mini-donkeys, and occasionally horses or cattle and calves from coyotes and the occasional lone domestic dog.

Unlike livestock guarding dogs, llamas can guard for many years (15 to 20 with good care), usually respect standard fencing, and do not normally require any special feeding. Llamas are also much more easily accepted by dog-fearing livestock.

Most guard llamas consider the flock to be their charges and will also herd the sheep out of danger or stand guard at births. Some guard llamas do not appear to bond to the sheep, but instead defend the general area; such llamas are less effective in larger, open areas. Some llamas do not bond until lambing, kidding, or calving. Most livestock seem to be comfortable with their guard llamas from the outset.

Llamas are capable of making loud noises, but only some individuals give audible warning of dangers they cannot repel. The primary means of defense is to face down, charge, and strike at or stomp on small predators. Larger animals and humans may be charged and either knocked down or kept cornered. A single guard llama will have difficulty deterring a dog pack or coyotes that team up. It is a myth that a guard llama uses his or her canines to repel predators. Fighting teeth on guard llamas should still be removed for safety!

Many guard llamas can learn to work with livestock guardian dogs and to tolerate household pets as long as the pets do not threaten the llama's charges. Some allow herding dogs to work sheep; others do not. Occasionally, guard llamas can be so aggressive that they will not allow other people near their charges. This may be inconvenient or even dangerous if children frequent the area. Most guard llamas must be confined prior to undertaking any activities that may upset their herd.

It used to be true that a single llama guard worked best, but that was when geldings could be used more successfully due to later sexual maturity and lack of inherited hypersexual behaviors. Two or more gelded llamas sometimes fought over sheep or territory; other times a group of geldings would simply abandon the other animals, banding together in favor of each other's company. This is not proving true with pairs of female llamas, who are cooperative and collaborative by nature, and who are also strongly programmed to believe that safety lies in numbers (with the odd exception, of course).

Some sheep ranchers prefer white llamas that blend in with the sheep; others don't care whether there is some color on the llama. If errant hunters are a problem in the area, a white or mostly-white llama will be less easily mistaken for game. A classic llama must not be shorn, but instead should be combed out at least once a year. A woolly llama can be shorn at the same time as sheep or angora goats, and its fleece can sold to handspinners if the fiber quality and cleanliness are good.

Although males are most territorial by nature, the maternal instincts of female llamas make them equally good guarding prospects. Geldings do retain the territorial patterning of the intact male, but unfortunately also retain the breeding triggers as well. This has become exponentially problematic as the bulk of llamas breeders (primarily interested in short-term rapid breeding) have selected for earlier and earlier sexual maturity -- and now it's no longer possible to assume a gelded llama could be an appropriate guard llama. In fact, it's safest to avoid geldings entirely.

Intact male llamas often injure ewes by attempting to breed them -- the scent of ewe-in-heat is much too similar to the scent of female llama. For this reason, intact males and most geldings are unsuitable as sheep guards, or at least for guarding ewes. The only safe solution is to use female llamas for guarding. The sexual odors of goats and other species apparently are different enough from llamas that they are not initially at risk from the average gelding. Be aware, however, that all intact males and most geldings do not discriminate among possible sexual "partners" and can't be trusted to guard any sex or species of animal. And, many, many geldings who are successful guards for a few years "turn pervert" (to use a friend's term) several springs later, go on a "breeding" rampage, and kill one or more of their charges. If you're trying to prevent livestock loss, it is simply not worth the risk to use a gelding llama as a guard.

Not all llamas are suitable guardians. Some llamas ignore dogs; others run from dogs and are vulnerable to attack themselves. Guarding (and flight reactions) are inborn behavioral tendencies -- not things that a llama can be trained to acquire or overcome. Immature llamas do not have the confidence or physical ability to guard successfully. Finally, a guard llama needs to be on duty at all times to be effective, and so cannot double as a pet, or as a pack, driving, or show animal.

* * * Important * * *

If someone tries to sell you a gelding or intact male as a guard with a female llama "so he won't bother the sheep/goats/whatever," DO NOT BUY that "guard"! Not only may the male or gelding not confine his attentions to the female llama, but (1) a male means a baby a year later, for which he will probably drive off your sheep/goats/whatever and (2) the eventual physical damage to the female llama (who is not evolved or selected for constant sex) being bred by a gelding is both massive and unconscionable, and eventually it is often lethal . . . at which point the gelding does bother the sheep/goats/whatever . . .

Desirable Attributes for Guard Llama prospects


  • At least eighteen months old
  • Female, guaranteed not pregnant
  • Confident
  • Respectful of humans
  • Halters and leads; allows examination of body and feet
  • Allows grooming (if classic type) or shearing (if crossbred or woolly type)
  • Alert or even outright aggressive toward strange dogs
  • Physically sound without self-damaging conformational faults
  • Canines blunted or removed (if applicable)
  • Guarantee of guarding ability

Meet Rusty, a rehabilitated llama who found his niche as a sheep guard on a small farm.

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