Living off the grid typically includes taking advantage of the benefits of animals. Maybe you have goats for milk and grass maintenance, sheep for wool and meat, or chickens for eggs. Whatever kind of animals you keep, they are probably important for your continued survival. They may provide an important source of nourishment for your family, or they give you needed supplemental income. Either way, you need to be able to protect your animals from predators.
Dogs are a typical choice for livestock guarding. There are several breeds of dogs, like Great Pyrenees and Anatolian Shepherds, who were designed to bond with, live with, and protect livestock. These are not herders, which is a distinct job. They are purely guardians. Donkeys are another choice that many homesteaders utilize. Donkeys and dogs are not the only options for flock guardians.
If you have ever encountered a llama that wasn’t friendly, you know how intimidating and powerful they can be. Coyotes feel it, too. A llama can make an excellent guardian for nearly any kind of livestock that you keep. In fact, in a study conducted by Iowa State University, researchers found that llamas were more effective at keeping cattle, goats, sheep, and poultry safe than dogs or donkeys.
A Natural Instinct
Llamas are a domesticated animal related to the wild guanacos and vicuñas of South America. Alpacas are another related domestic animal. Alpacas are smaller than llamas and are typically raised for their silky coats. Llamas have traditionally been used in South America as pack animals, similarly to their camel relatives. Wild guanacos and vicuñas are adept at protecting themselves and their offspring from predators. They are much larger and have big teeth. They tend to kick and stomp to run off predators. When penned with livestock, domesticated llamas have the same instinct. They naturally protect the flock from coyotes and dogs.
So why should you consider getting a guard llama rather than a dog or a donkey? Using a llama has several advantages over these traditional guardians:
- Because llamas are instinctively territorial and protective, they require no special training. The same is generally true of donkeys, and while certain dogs have the instinct, they still need some training.
- Llamas don’t need any special fencing. They prefer to stick close to the animals under their protection and will not wander off.
- Llamas live for fifteen to twenty years, so you can expect to have an effective guard for your livestock for many, many years.
- Llamas don’t require any special feed. They will eat the same thing as goats or sheep. This means that they cost less to keep than either a donkey or a dog.
- Llamas will happily live with their livestock. They do not need to be supervised.
- Your guard llama can also work as a pack animal for you, carrying things around the farm, like bales of hay.
- Llamas take a mere week or less to bond with and begin protecting its animals. Dogs require at least a year unless they are raised as puppies with their flock.
- Llamas tolerate cold and hot climates, although you may need to shear them as the seasons change.
How to Choose a Llama
I don’t want make this all seem too easy, as you can’t take just any llama and use it as a guardian. Some will be better for the job than others. For instance, an intact male is a bad choice. They may attempt to mate with sheep or goats, which can be very destructive and even fatal for the recipient of the attention. A gelding is the top choice for many, while others swear by a female llama. Either should be suitable, but the llama should be at least eighteen months old before it starts guarding. A younger animal is too small and emotionally immature to guard and lead the livestock.
There are other, less tangible, traits to look for when selecting a llama for your farm. The llama needs to be big enough to be imposing to a coyote or dog. It should also be physically fit enough to live outdoors with the herd or flock and to keep up on rough terrain. A guard llama should show a natural curiosity for its surroundings and an awareness of what is going on around it.
Also look for some traits that you want to avoid when making your choice. Avoid llamas that show no interest in other animals or that ignore an approaching dog, even if that dog is not a predator. If a llama is reluctant to leave the barn or wander very far from it, it is too timid to be a guardian. Never select a llama that is aggressive towards people. An aggressive llama may be a good guardian for your animals, but it will present a danger to you and your family and a liability if anyone approaching the pen is injured. Llamas are supposed to guard against small predators, not people.
Because llamas are not trained to be guards and come by the behavior naturally, it is very important that you put in the time and effort to select the right animal for your farm. If in doubt, find a llama breeder who specifically raises llamas as guardians. The breeder will be able to help you pick the perfect individual.
Getting Ready for your Llama
Llamas may seem like the perfect answer to you, but before purchasing one do plenty of research. As a homesteader, you know how important it is to be knowledgeable about your animals. Llamas are pretty easy to own, but you still need to understand them and have a grasp of what they need. Learn as much about llamas and their living conditions and requirements before getting one.
Although your new llama won’t need to be trained to guard your flock, he will need to be trained in other ways. To make it easier for you, try to find a llama that has already been trained to use a halter. You will want to be able to lead your llama by halter if you will use him for transporting things around the farm. Arrange to have a veterinarian come by to look over your new guardian and give him any vaccinations or shots that are necessary. After that initial visit, your llama should not require much veterinary attention.
To get your llama ready to care for a flock or herd of animals, introduce him by housing him in the same barn. It should take only a few days before he has bonded with your livestock and is ready to go out to pasture with them and guard them. If you have a herding dog, you will need to make careful introductions. Your llama will need to learn that your dog is allowed to be around the animals and is not a threat to them.
Getting a guardian llama could be one of the best decisions you ever make for your farm. Proponents of llamas claim to be saved countless animals and money thanks to their faithful guardians. You may even be able to make additional money from shearing your llama. If you are also considering breeding your llama, experienced users of livestock guardians warn against using a breeding pair to guard. They may bond with each other and ignore the livestock.
©2012 Off the Grid News