Everyone is familiar with sheepdogs, which have been used for hundreds of years to help humans protect flocks of sheep, goats, or cattle1. But what about the guard lama? If this idea seems bizarre to you, it is because you do not yet know the many herding qualities of this fascinating camelid. So, let’s take a closer look at what precisely a guard llama is.

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What Is a Guard Llama?

Even today, the guard llama is little known to shepherds and most llama breeders. A guard llama is used in agriculture to protect sheep, goats, chickens, or other livestock from coyotes, stray dogs, foxes, and other predators. In fact, llamas have a natural aversion to canines and small predators. This characteristic is used in many countries for the protection of herds.

Guard llama and flock
Guard llama and flock (Image Credit: Paul Keleher, Wikimedia Commons CC BY 2.0)

What Is the Origin of the Guard Llama?

A llama is a domesticated form of South American camelid. In the early 1990s and with the growth of the llama industry in North America, llamas were sometimes placed in pastures with sheep to graze. To the owners’ surprise, they noticed that fewer sheep were being lost to coyotes. Thus, sheep farmers began experimenting with llamas as guard animals.

Nowadays, the guard llama is still mainly used in the United States and Australia for the protection of sheep against coyotes, dingoes, and other stray dogs. The protection offered takes advantage of a natural aversion of this species towards intruders, especially canids.

In addition, llamas are able to socialize with different species, which they protect against other animals by biting, kicking, screaming, and spitting. However, breeders find very marked individual differences in their behavior towards dogs: it is therefore very important to choose the “right” llamas.

What Are the Qualities of a Good Guard Llama?

A successful guard llama is an animal that, when placed with a herd, poses a threat to predators. Therefore, the ideal guard llama must protect the sheep (or other livestock) from predation, while requiring a minimum of training, care, and maintenance. Also, the lama must be able to stay with the herd, without disturbing it.

In addition to being able to effectively protect herds, it is essential that llamas behave well with humans, to facilitate care, interactions, and handling.

How Do Llamas Protect Sheep?

The bond of the guard llama with the sheep is the central element ensuring the protection of the herd. It is reinforced by integration, which requires several months and a homogeneous flock of sheep. In addition, a llama alone is easier to integrate into a flock of sheep. When more than two animals are used, there is a risk of forming a separate group of llamas, which eventually loses its protective function. Experts also advise against using young llamas with their mothers, as their attention will not be on protecting the sheep. Ideally, it is recommended to integrate only neutered male llamas.

Guard llama and sheep
Guard llama and sheep (Image Credit: Alasdair McLellan, Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 3.0)

Can Llamas Protect Goats?

It is possible to integrate llamas into goat herds. However, this integration is more complex than with sheep and requires a longer adaptation time. Goats sometimes attack llamas. In such cases, it is important to initially protect them from goats by means of a fence. In addition, it is strongly recommended to seek advice from experienced people before placing a llama with a herd of goats.

Guard Llama vs Guard Donkey

Donkeys can also be used as guard animals to protect sheep, goats, and even cattle. They have the same advantages as the llama, in terms of bonding quickly with livestock and requiring little training. They can also protect against common predators like coyotes, foxes, stray dogs, and even wolves!

However, donkeys can be a little moody, but then again, so can llamas. In fact, the main advantage of donkeys over llamas is their lower acquisition cost. Also, it may be easier in some areas to acquire a donkey than a llama.

guard donkey
Image Credit: ChiccoDodiFC, Shutterstock

Guard Llamas: Pros and Cons

What are the advantages and drawbacks of guard llamas? Are llamas better choices than traditional herding dogs? In short, it depends on the situation of each livestock farmer. Let’s see the main pros and cons of the guard llama:

Pros
  • The investment of time and money for keeping llamas is relatively small.
  • Joint keeping with sheep, whether in summer or winter, does not cause additional difficulties.
  • Llamas are hardy, not very susceptible to disease, and can live to be 20 years old.
  • Llamas can also be used in tourist areas, as they generally react calmly to humans.
  • Llamas have a great potential for sympathy and have a positive image both among farmers and among the population.
  • Llamas display a particular sensitivity towards weak, sick, or isolated animals.
Cons
  • Animal welfare regulations for llamas are not the same as those for sheep. This sometimes requires adapting the height of the sheepfold, the possibilities of outings as well as the water supply on the pastures.
  • The protective effect of llamas against large predators (pumas, wolves, bears, lynx) has not been scientifically demonstrated.
  • It is difficult to increase the protective effect of a guard llama by increasing the number of llamas. Indeed, the use of more than one llama can lead to an independent group away from the herd. That means that the guard llamas would no longer have any protective effect on the sheep.

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Final Thoughts: Guard Llamas

Having a llama as a sheepherder instead of a Border Collie might seem like a silly idea to some, but their skills as a guardian of livestock impress many. Perhaps one of the greatest advantages of llamas over sheepdogs is their ability to bond with livestock, which shows a high degree of empathy. In addition, these hardy and endearing herbivores will not hesitate to defend sheep or other animals from predators, whether by spitting, kicking, or giving an alarm call to alert farmers.

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Guard llama (Image Credit: Alasdair McLellan, Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 3.0)