Many ranchers have come to appreciate guard llamas for their natural characteristic of
protecting their territory.
Guard llamas effectively cut down coyote and dog predation for the sheep and goat industry. The traditional approach to
controlling predator losses has been to trap and poison them. Because guard llamas
are naturally aggressive toward coyotes and dogs, they
provide a viable, nonlethal, and cost-effective way to reduce predation, while requiring no
training and little care.
How Do Guard Llamas Perform?
Miniature llamas are proving to be effective as guard llamas at controlling predators. Their smaller size makes for easier handling at shearing,
worming, and breeding times. Typical responses of guard llamas to coyotes and dogs are being alert, alarm calling,
walking to or running toward the predator, chasing, kicking, or pawing the predator, herding the
flock (sheep/goats/cattle/alpacas), or positioning themselves between the flock and the predator.
During one study,
145 sheep producers using guard llamas were interviewed to determine characteristics of the
guard llamas and husbandry practices. Some of the results include:
- Most introductions require only a few days or less for the sheep and llama to adjust to each other.
- The average ranch uses one gelded male llama pastured with 250 to 300 sheep in 250 to 300 acres.
- Sheep and lamb losses averaged 26 head per year (11% of the flock) before using guard llamas
and 8 head per year (1% of the flock) after using llamas.
- More than half of guard llama owners report 100 percent reduction in predator losses.
- Llamas are introduced to sheep and pastured with sheep under a variety of situations, few of which affect the number of sheep lost to predators.
- Ranchers report an average annual savings of $1,034 and 86% say they would recommend guard llamas to others.
- Protectiveness of sheep and easy maintenance are the two most commonly cited advantages.
- Problems encountered include aggressiveness and attempted breeding of ewes, overprotection of flock, and sheep interference with llama feeding.
Overall, llamas are effective guards with high sheep producer satisfaction. Make no mistake about it: coyotes kill sheep and goats. In fact, predation is a leading cause of sheep mortality and represents a serious problem for the sheep and goat industry. Sheep losses due to predation in the United States were more than $83 million in 1987, up from $72 million in 1986 and $69 million in 1985. The losses in 1987 represent 5 percent of the total sheep population in the United States. Lambs are particularly vulnerable. Lamb losses from predation average 9 percent and vary from 3 percent to 14 percent of the lambs.
Sheep are found in every state of the union, and losses due to predation vary. In Iowa, the state with the largest number of sheep operations, intensive field studies revealed that 41 percent of all sheep losses were from canine predators (coyotes and dogs). Sheep scientist Clair Terrill calculated economic losses due to predation. In Texas, the state with the largest number of sheep, predation was responsible for 14 percent to 69 percent of all sheep losses. Texas also led the nation in economic loss due to predation on sheep ($12 million) followed by California ($9 million), Wyoming ($7 million), Iowa ($6 million), Utah ($6 million), and Colorado ($5 million).
For an industry operating on a low profit margin, losses due to predation have resulted not only in reduced revenue for the producer, but also in higher prices paid by the consumer for meat and wool products. Predation is a real problem with a major impact on the sheep industry.
Ideal Guard Animals
Recently, the search for a simple, non-lethal technique to prevent coyote predation has led to the experimental and field use of guard animals. The ideal guard animal should protect sheep against coyote predation, while requiring minimal training, care, and maintenance. It should stay with and not disrupt the flock, and live long enough to be cost effective. Llamas fit this description wonderfully. Indeed, during the past 20 years
of growth of the North America llama industry, llamas have been pastured with sheep and goats. To the surprise of owners, they noticed fewer sheep and were being lost to coyotes. As the word spread, producers started
dedplying guard llamas with their flocks. After obtaining their llamas, the producers' losses dropped significantly to an average of 8 head per year, or about 1 percent; half of the producers had their losses reduced to zero.
Owner Satisfaction, Cost and Savings
Nearly 80% of the sheep producers reported that they are either "very satisfied" or "satisfied" with their guard llamas. Predator control and easy maintenance are cited as the top benefits. Two-thirds of the producers report no disadvantages with their guard llamas, and 85 percent indicate they would recommend guard llamas to others.
This page was last updated on June 10, 2009.