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Llamas as guardians
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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
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 . . .
for Guard Llama prospects
- At least eighteen months old
- Female, guaranteed not pregnant
- 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
- Physically sound without self-damaging conformational
- Canines blunted or removed (if applicable)
- Guarantee of guarding ability
a rehabilitated llama who found his niche as a sheep guard on
a small farm.
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