Annie, the Premier Guard Llama
by Carol Reigh, Buck Hollow Llamas, Inc.
"Annie isn't a good guard llama…(my heart sank because I really thought she was ) she is a premier guard llama," said Olive Higginson, the owner of Ramsden Farm, Birdsboro, PA. She then went on to bend my ear on how magnificent Annie was as a sheep guard. Those are the words I love to hear.
My relationship started with these wonderful people after they came to my farm looking for a guard animal to protect their sheep. I did not have any males old enough to geld to sell to them so I sent Roy and Olive Higginson onto another farm but warned them not to buy anything younger than 18 months of age for guarding. Since they were also interested in fine fiber, I said that if they could not find an animal and wanted to wait until the one they wanted was old enough, I would lend them a female to guard until he was ready. A week or so later they called wanting to wait and eager to get an animal on their farm. Knowing Annie's behavior, I suspected that she would make a good guard, so I confidently took her over to their farm. How fortunate I was to have such a nice and clean place to screen my animals.
It only took the sheep a few hours to get used to her. Poor Annie only wanted to be friends, and the sheep kept running away. We introduced them to each other in a rather small area and that worked well. Now that I have more experience, I introduce the llama in a neighboring paddock. After the sheep get used to her, I allow her to go in with them. The bonding time between the two only took a few hours and soon they were friends. It could take up to 24 hours so I am told, but I haven't seen any take that long. An animal younger than 18 months of age cannot really guard. The animal needs to have time in its own herd to learn guarding behavior and to mature enough to want to guard. A young llama left to guard sheep will only fall prey to the same dangers as the sheep. He, too, will run for his life and most likely get to safety faster then the sheep.
The characteristics that make Annie a "premier" guard animal are as follows:
She would run the perimeter of the field before the sheep went out in the morning
She would never come in at night until ALL of the sheep were in
If one stayed out, she would stay out with it
She would give the alarm call any time a dog came on the premises
She was visibly upset if she thought the sheep were being hurt or distressed (especially during worming)
She stands and looks into the woods for extended periods of time, wary of predators.
Annie is an extremely alert animal and sees everything. Sometimes she worries too much but that is good. She seems to love guarding and being the boss. Her size alone (45'at the withers) makes her a force to reckon with from a predator's standpoint. "Ummmm think I'll go to the neighbor's farm where there isn't this big creature staring me down and ready to stomp me to death if I lay a single paw on the property."
I feel extremely fortunate that I have a sheep farm that I can screen my potential guard llamas to test for their guarding ability. Not all llamas are good guards, some make better guards than others. The wonderful aspect about guard llamas is that their diet is the same as sheep and so is their regimen of vaccinations, worming, shearing, and toenail trimming. In areas where a high population of whitetail deer exist, a monthly dose of Dectomax is necessary to prevent meningeal worms which can cripple and kill a llama. A bushing here or there might be nice, but if you have a light wooled animal, that brushing is a mere 5-10 minutes. The typical CD&T at 2cc per animal is needed once a year along with a rabies shot. Basically guard llamas like to be left alone, but it is nice when one will come over and give kisses occasionally like Annie does. I think that she is really just checking out everyone when she gives those kisses so freely. Annie is an excellent guard llama, and I want to see if she can mentor some others until she goes to her new home to guard alpacas.
Selecting a llama for a guard
Guard llamas should be selected with great care. Buying the cheapest one you can find at an auction will not necessarily work. It may, but you are really taking a great risk. Don't be afraid to spend $1,000 to $1,500 for a proven guard. You will save money in other ways--not having to replace it every few years, and no extra feed expense. If you buy a llama guard, the breeder should stand by it. If he doesn't then don’t' buy from him. Would you spend $1500.00 on a piece of equipment and not get some sort of warranty? It is only fair that there is a time limit on the time of exchange and also some sort of investigation because maybe the animal was not set up for success. Perhaps the owners expected the llama to guard two fields at once with no access to the other field. Rest assured that not all llamas are equal in ability for guarding. Look for the following:
1. The animal should be either a gelding or a female. Never use an intact male to guard. If you use a gelding be sure that he is not put in with his sheep or goats for at least 90 days after castration. Females make great guards but tend to be more expensive.
- An animal 18 months of age or older. An animal under 18 months usually cannot guard. He is not strong enough or mature enough to take on that responsibility.
- Your guard llama should also be in good health with sound conformation.
- A trait that may indicate an animal's guarding ability is a high level of curiosity and awareness.
- Guard llamas should be halter and lead trained for you to be able to handle and vet them. Before picking the animal, ask the breeder if you can walk the llama. He may not be the best at leading but you should be able to lead him/her and load the animal in a trailer. Many sheep owners get around the halter issue by simply keeping the halter on the animal. This should never be done. Most of the time the halters don’t fit properly and the animals cannot eat or give the alarm call when needed.
- You do want to avoid getting a guard animal that is too friendly to humans. In fact, good guards are usually a little more aloof.
- Also, llamas are gentle animals and should never show any kind of aggressiveness towards humans. After all, you need to be in with your sheep everyday without the worry of a big llama coming after you.
Good guard llamas sense danger. One guard animal even permitted a red fox to raise her little ones in the distant pasture because he knew that they were not a threat. So listen to your guard llama when he gives the alarm call and go to investigate. Sometimes the call may be the result of a strange noise or object. One time my one girl gave the alarm call for about 15 minutes as she spotted a hot air balloon lurking over the outer pasture. The alarm call always means something, so it is worth your while to investigate--who knows what you may find--a hot air balloon or a hungry coyote.
Two books which are extremely helpful in learning about llamas are:
Caring for Llamas and Alpacas by Clare Hoffman, DVM, and A Guide to Raising Llamas by Gale Birutta.
My goal as a llama breeder is to match an animal's strengths to a human's wants. It is important that the animal is good at whatever activity (guarding, cart driving, showing, obstacles, nursing home visits, fiber production, breeding to mention a few,) it is being sold to do. My other concern is that all owners are well educated as to the needs of these animals so they can be good caretakers. Please feel free to call, (610 582-9051) visit or write (carol@Buckhollowllamas.com) anytime.
International Llama Association Educational Brochure # 2 (Italic is my 2017 update to this brochure)
Llamas, who are long-lived, can provide an effective, long-term and economical alternative for predator control in a variety of farm and ranch conditions. Sheep and goat producers currently using llamas to guard their flocks are experiencing high levels of protection from predators.
The information presented here is drawn from data collected through questionnaires and interviews with users of guard llamas. Although recent surveys demonstrate that guard llamas are effective in preventing livestock losses to predators, scientific surveys and controlled studies, which track losses to predators in flocks with and without guard llamas are needed.
While bears, cougars, bobcats, foxes and eagles are predators of sheep and goats and may be responsible for substantial loss, a 1990 report showed that coyotes caused 64% and dogs 14% of losses. Previous studies conducted in the western United States indicated that 76-100% of predator losses were due to coyotes. Coyotes also account for over 50% of predator losses to goats in the top five producing states.
In the West, where most predator losses occur, an average 1-2.5% of the ewes and 1-9% of the lambs are killed annually. Twenty to 25% of producers sustained losses that exceeded 10% of their lambs, with some producers experiencing losses of 16% and higher.
Annual sheep losses to predators in the United States were estimated at $21.7 million in 1990 and as high as $32-83 million in previous years. Loss of goats to predators in the top five producing states was $5.6 million in 1990.
Llamas are effective guards
Using llamas as sheep guards in North America began in the early 1980s and some sheep producers have used llamas successfully for that entire time. The use of guard llamas has greatly increased since a magazine article in 1990, when national attention was drawn to the potential use of llamas for guarding sheep.
Llamas have proven to be very effective against canines, especially dogs and coyotes. Over half of the llamas guarding sheep are 100% effective, completely eliminating losses. Many of these producers previously suffered losses of over a hundred lambs per year. Some have not suffered a loss to predators in two to ten years after purchasing guard llamas. An additional 40-45% of the guard llamas were highly effective in dramatically reducing predator losses. Only 5-10% of the guards were ineffective.
Although llamas have been credited by producers with eliminating or reducing losses to large predators such as bears and mountain lions, some predators may be too large or too aggressive for the llama. Llamas have been known to alert herders of large predator attacks.
Attributes of successful guard llamas
Training - No training or previous association with sheep or goats is required for a llama to be an effective guard animal.
Age - Llamas of a variety of ages at the time of initial introduction have proven to be effective guards. Using llamas younger than two years is not recommended.
Sex - Although intact male llamas are effective guards, gelded llamas are recommended. Intact males may attempt to breed the ewes, and could cause deaths or injuries. Gelding a mature intact llama should be completed several months before introducing him to the flock to assure he has lost interest in breeding. Too few individual female llamas are guarding sheep to warrant conclusions on their effectiveness. Females are very aggressive toward strange canines and placing several female llamas with sheep in smaller pastures has prevented predation of sheep. (2017 update--Females make excellent guards)
Ratio - A single llama per flock is more effective than two or more llamas. Several male llamas tend to bond with one another rather than with the sheep or goats and may ignore the flock. (2017 update--This is no longer the thinking. Two llamas often work as a team. One takes the flock to safety while the other goes after the threat. or they "spell" each other of their stressfull duties. )
Method of introduction - At first sheep or goats may be afraid of the llama, and the llama may be cautious of the sheep or goats. Ideally, a llama should be introduced to the sheep while they are in a corral or small pasture rather than on open range or large pasture. The llama should remain in a small area until the sheep and llama seem well-adjusted and attached to each other. This encourages bonding between the sheep and llama. A llama introduced in this manner will be more effective as a guard against predators.
Some llamas appear to bond more quickly to sheep or goats if they are introduced just prior to lambing. Research to date has shown that the presence of lambs or kids at the time of introduction did not influence the eventual effectiveness of the guard llamas. Many sheep and goat producers indicate a special bond quickly develops between lambs and their guard llama and that the llama is particularly protective of the lambs.
Some newly-introduced llamas are comfortable around people and may actually seek out human companionship. Livestock producers should avoid contact with this type of llama and not allow the new llama to become attached to people. The llama needs to bond with the sheep or goats.
Flock sizes and terrain
Many llamas have successfully guarded 200 to 1,000 sheep in a variety of pasture situations. The optimum number that one llama can guard has not been established and may depend on several factors, such as terrain, vegetation, size of pasture and density of predators. Although llamas have been effective in guarding sheep grazing in forests and on open ranges, insufficient data exists to make firm conclusions relative to their effectiveness in this environment.
Llamas eat the same food as sheep and goats. The producer does not need to provide special care or individually feed the llamas each day as they do dogs. Llamas have a well-deserved reputation for having good health and few medical problems. Their calm disposition helps them avoid injury in the field.
If sheep and goat producers provide an effective health protection program for their flocks, they can usually use the same regimen of vaccinations, worming and hoof trimming (toe nails for llamas), etc. for the llama. This usually includes C&D clostridia diseases and tetanus vaccinations at the same dose per pound as sheep. Worming can be with injectable bovine ivermectin. Ask Vet about the dosing. it is different. In humid areas with large populations of white-tail deer, meningeal worms may be a problem to llamas. Guard lama owners are encouraged to purchase a book on llama health care or obtain informational pamphlets from the International Llama Association.
Your llama will need to be shorn every year.
Llamas may suffer tick paralysis and, if ticks are, common in their area, owners should be alert to the llama's condition during tick season. Llamas may be afforded protection during the brief tick season by administering Ivermectin.
Llamas often live to be over 20 years of age. Although data on longevity of llamas used for guards is limited, llamas in their late teens are continuing to be effective guards.
Llamas have a very low rate of mortality as guards. The Iowa State University study reported the mortality of only 5% of the 204 guard llamas in their study. In contrast a national survey by the U.S. Sheep Experiment Station at Dubois, Idaho, has shown that 50% of guard dogs on ranches died within 18 months of introduction and 50% of those on farms died within 38 months. The U.S. Sheep Experiment Station, which developed and promoted methods for the use of guard dogs, recently purchased llamas to guard their experimental flocks.
Most llamas have an innate dislike for canines. When a llama is placed with a flock, he often becomes much more protective as he begins to bond with the flock and to establish and protect a territory.
Most guard llamas stay continually with the flock and prevent it from dispersing widely. They often seek an elevated area from which to watch the flock when it is spread out grazing. A minority of the guards will stay separated, though near the flocks. Many llamas take complete control of the flock keeping them together and moving them to feed, water or shelter.
Llamas are extremely alert and notice most things that happen in or near the pasture. Llamas use a variety or combination of methods to protect the sheep or goats. They may immediately run or walk after a coyote or dog with the intention to either stomp or hit the predator with their legs and chest. They may place themselves between the coyote or dog and the sheep or goats. They may also herd the sheep into a safe area or comer or they may prevent the flock from entering an area where a predator is located. Some llamas will sound their alarm call, a high pitched, pulsating vocalization, during these activities or as soon as they see a predator. Some llamas have been reported to display extraordinary protective behavior such as herding the sheep to safety during snow, seeking help when needed, and lying down by newborn babies to protect them from wind and weather.
Working and family dogs
Although llamas may initially be aggressive toward the family dog or herding dogs that the producer uses to move the flock, they usually learn to tolerate their presence. It is not unusual for the guard llama to chase herding dogs if they cause the lambs to continually cry out.
It is recommended that guard llamas and guard dogs not be used in the same flock.
Guarding other animals
Llamas have been successfully used to protect animals such as cattle and exotic deer. LLamas have been used to guard alpaca herds. Some producers have effectively used llamas to protect their emus or ostriches by constructing a fenced run around the perimeter of their bird pens for the llama. Data regarding these other types of animals has not yet been collected.
Desirable guard characteristics
While further studies need to be conducted to determine the physical, behavioral and breeding characteristics that make the best guards, llamas of many different sizes make effective guardians. A llama significantly larger than the sheep or goats would have some advantages in seeing and frightening predators away from the flock.
Llamas with long body and/or leg wool may need special attention. More frequent shearing may be required as their wool collects burrs, twigs and debris. Once a year should be enough with special attention paid to the leg fiber.
Llamas train very easily. Training greatly facilitates their loading, moving and ease of administration of medications, as well as the working and loading of sheep or goats. Llamas that halter, lead and load easily and also permit handling of their body and legs will be easier to manage.
Llamas that have bonded to humans due to bottle feeding or excessive handling may not make good guards, especially in the proximity of humans. NEVER buy a bottle fed llama.
Guard llamas often drastically reduce, or in some cases, completely eliminate predator losses. The value of livestock saved each year often exceeds the initial cost of the llama and the small annual maintenance. Even for the small producer, a llama is economical when cost is amortized over the llama's effective guard life. Llamas live a long time, have low maintenance, require no training, and protect the flock from other environmental hazards. In addition to increasing profits, they also decrease costs associated with traditional predator control methods used by federal agencies. Guard llamas provide an acceptable environmental method to prevent predation.
Summary of advantages of llamas for predator control
Economical Protection/ No Need to Have Previous Association with Sheep or Goats /No Special Food Requirements Don’t Interfere with Traditional Control Methods/ Extremely Effective Supported by Animal rights & Environmental Groups/ No Training Required/ Environmentally Acceptable/ Potentially Effective for 10 to 20 Years
References 1. National Agricultural Statistics Service. 1991. Sheep and goat predator loss. Washington, D.C. 12 pp. 2. U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. 1978. Predator damage in the west: a study of coyote management alternatives. Washington, D.C. 168 pp. 3. Wagner, F. H. 1988. Predator Control and the Sheep Industry. Regina Books, Claremont, CA. 230 pp. 4. Markham, D. 1990. Llamas, the ultimate sheep guard. Llamas Magazine, Sept. 4: 101-105. 5. Franklin, W. L. and K. J. Powell. 1993. Guard llamas. Iowa State University, Ames. Extension Bulletin Pm- 1527. 12 pp. 6. Markham, D. 1992. Llamas, effective sheep guards. The Shepherd, Aug. 37: 18-19. 7. Markham, D. 1993. Warning to coyotes: this sheep ranch is guarded by llamas. Rocky Mountain Feed and Livestock Journal, Jan. 19: 29-33. 8. Johnson, R. 1992. Brave beast keeps coyotes at bay for sheep rancher. The Denver Post, April 2 1. 9. Green, J. S. and R. A. Woodruff. 1989. Producers rate their guard dogs. National Wool Grower, April. 79: 6-10. 10. Markham, D. 1990. Llamas, the ultimate sheep guard. Llamas Are The Ultimate. Snake River Llamas, Idaho Falls. ID. 286 pp. 11. Acknowledgment. Glen Frame's willingness to share his long-term experiences in utilizing llamas as guards.
"Guard Llamas" ILA Educational Brochure #2 Written by the International Llama Association Guard Llama Committee -1995. Doyle Markham, Ph.D., Chair, primary author; Pat Hilton; Darlene Hochsprung; Dan Schreiner; John Tompkins; Gale Yohe; Cover Design: Patricia Waters Reviewer: William L. Franklin, Ph.D.
For more information or to order additional copies contact: International Llama Association, P.O.Box 1891, Kalispell, MT 59903 Telephone: (406) 257-0282 Fax: (406) 257-8780 Email: ILA@InternationalLlama.org http://www.InternationalLlama.org
© 1995 International Llama Association. This publication may be reprinted if done so in complete form and credit is given. All italic print is my 2017 update.