For years we used the llama as a guard animal; they gave us the freedom to go through our day without worry. Day and night, they guarded, alerting those they were protecting to threats both near and far. Llamas are related to the camel family and used widely for meat and as pack animals by Andean people. In the United States and Canada, they’re a domesticated animal raised for protection, wool, meat, and pleasure.
These unique animals are suitable for guarding all types of livestock, much like dogs. We used them to protect sheep and goats and discovered they also kept predators away from our chickens. With exceptional hearing and eyesight, they can detect danger from a great distance, which sets them apart from the competition. Llamas are intelligent, making them easy to train through repetition and attention to detail. But, don’t be fooled, older animals can sometimes be stubborn and will take additional effort when training them to accept something new, such as a halter, which should really be introduced at an early age since it will make life easier during sheering season or moving a llama to a new location. If you find yourself with an older llama that isn’t halter broke, don’t despair. By introducing a consistent training routine you can teach it to accept one.
Choosing Guard Llamas
Finding the right llama can sometimes be difficult if you live in areas where breeders are rare. Llamas can be found online through craigslist or Facebook groups. Don’t be alarmed if you have to travel 100 miles or so to acquire one. Make sure to research the facility first, don’t go alone, and ask specific questions regarding the animal’s age, vet records, last sheering, diet, pasture set up, and if it has been haltered.
We were fortunate to have access to North Texas Llamas, where large herds of various ages are raised. The owner, Jimmy Dickey, would round up a group of males or females in our price range prior to our arrival. This was so we could view their behavior, color pattern, and features before choosing. This set up also made loading a less difficult process.
Pay close attention to the animals that are aware of their surroundings and keep an eye outside the corral. If their ears are twitching, this is another clue they are paying attention. Other llamas that think it’s feeding time or seem more interested in nipping at one another like children are normally not mature or ready to handle the responsibility of guarding.
Age and Sex a Factor
When it comes to sex and age, my first choice would be two- to four-year-old females. At this point they’ve matured and have outgrown their adolescent behavior. Mature and older llamas will bond quickly with the animals they are going to protect. Our female had an eye for detail and never missed anything. When a threat was present, she first gathered the sheep to a safe area behind her; then moved further out with our ram, ready to take on predators. An attack is impressive, and llamas can kick an obstinate threat to death. Gelded males can also be used to protect livestock and tend to be less moody… or should I say less persistent?
If you run a ram with ewes and lambs full time, he will team up with the llama to guard and there will also be times they may fight. If this happens, remove the llama from the pasture during the day for a couple hours and return her later. Rams get territorial of their females, especially when they are in heat, and view the llama as competition. If you’ve ever been rammed it was for the same reason. The caretaker may be adored one day and then not the next. This doesn’t happen often, but it is something to be aware of.
If you’re going to be using a male llama for sheep and goats it must be gelded; otherwise, it will try to mate at certain times of the year, which could smother and kill smaller livestock. This is something you want to avoid and why most people use female llamas for sheep and goats.
Males can be used to protect large livestock like Dexter cows, which we did. Through this experience we also accidentally discovered that free-range chickens and ducks do not bother some llamas. When sky predators roamed above, they ran them off while the chickens went for cover.
Llamas offer additional benefits outside of guarding. They go to the bathroom in a community pile. This is fertilizer gold that’s easy to scoop up with a shovel and can be used in the garden by adding it directly to the soil or creating liquid tea.
Long-term care for llamas is very basic, much easier than for guard dogs or donkeys, especially when it comes to their diet. They eat less and require minimal vaccinations.
They can forage in the worst pasture conditions. This isn’t recommended, but it’s important to understand they are not picky and prefer trimming the trees than eating hay or grass.
With healthy rotational pastures and access to trees, we only offered them hay during the coldest months at our farm, from November to February. If you live in cold climates with long winters, you may have to increase hay feedings, which help animals increase their body temperature and stay warm. When spring arrives with new grass, llamas will be off to enjoy fresh vegetation with no interest in hay; so don’t over extend your inventory.
During gestation, an eleven-month period, we offered alfalfa pellets to our female in the morning to improve her nutrition. This isn’t necessary, but since we were already offering pellets to the sheep, we didn’t dare leave her out of the mix.
Some llamas don’t like to share their food, so set out a separate feeder away from the animals they protect. This will keep spitting and being selfish to a minimum. Nobody enjoys being around a selfish llama.
Providing some kind of shelter in warm climates for animals the llama is protecting isn’t necessary, but if you live where winters are long and cold, you will need one, especially during lambing or kidding seasons. While the animals are safe inside, the llama will continue to guard them near the entrance.
The wool coat on llamas is soft and also thick, which keeps them warm. It’s the reason why shelters are not necessary. Llama fiber tends to grow at a slower pace than that of other fiber animals, which means one should never sheer late in the season. Sheer in the middle of spring and no later than May. If you sheer late, they may not grow back a full coat before the next winter. We’ve had seasons where we even skipped sheering because their fiber wasn’t that full.
Sheering with electric sheers is the best way to remove their fiber without complications. Fiber should be removed under the belly first because this is where they hold their heat. There’s no need to sheer the neck; focus on the main part of the body only. Many times, hiring someone to do this task is a good action plan if you’re new to sheering.
A llama is a smart solution to protecting the land. You’ll enjoy the freedom and sleep better knowing you have an animal taking care of the livestock day and night.
This article is from the summer 2018 issue of The New Pioneer Magazine. Grab your copy at OutdoorGroupStore.com.
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