Using Llamas and Donkeys as
Predator Control
Llama

 

To prevent the predation of their flocks, many sheep producers have turned to the use of guard llamas.  Llamas have an instinctual fear of canines and canine like animals, from their ancestors being hunted by mountain lions and wild dogs.  Llamas in South America are the natural prey of these key predators.  Due to this fear, llamas are naturally cautious of dog-like animals.  Being that dogs and coyotes are among the greatest predators of sheep, a llama can be very effective in alerting and protecting a flock of sheep against such predators.  A good guard llama is very cautious and curious of these predators and will usually charge them, and if the predator does not retreat, kick and stomp them.  For stubborn, lone predators, this could result in serious injury or death of the predator. 

Most guard llamas are gelded males, although females and intact-males are used as well.  Gelded llamas are most common, as females are often used for breeding and intact males have been known to try to breed the ewes.  Apparently, the scent of a ewe in heat is very similar to that of a female llama in heat-resulting in confusion that can lead to death of the ewe due to suffocation during breeding.  Intact-males may also be easily distracted by the scent of the ewes, and leave their charge as guard to the flock.

Llamas work best singly among their flock of sheep.  When two or more llamas are together with a herd, they may flock with each other and ignore the sheep.  One llama is capable of guarding up to 2,000 sheep in up to 300 acres, and can decrease the amount of predation in a flock up to 100%.

There are many characteristics of llamas, besides their guarding abilities, that have attracted producers to them.  Among these is the llama's longevity of use.  A single llama can be used to guard a flock for 10-20 years, whereas a dog can only be used for 3-5 years.  In addition, llamas eat the same food as sheep, use the same vaccines, and adjust to guarding their sheep within hours or days of introduction to the flock.   Dogs require longer training time, different vaccines, and different food than their flock and therefore cost the producer more per year than llamas, although the initial investment is less.  Also, llamas require very little coat maintenance and often will protect birthing sheep and will alert producers to sick or hurt sheep.

Some things to look for when purchasing a guard llama:

-         Cautious of dogs, but will not run away from them

-         If male, castrated between 12 and 15 months, has never been bred, and does not show interest in ewes or female llamas

-         Aware of environment

-         Alert to new things, but not nervous or fearful

-         Halter broken

-         Curious

-         Good physical confirmation, healthy, no lameness

-         Leader of the pack

 Things to avoid when purchasing a guard llama:

-         A male that was gelded late (after 15-18 months), bred, or is interested in females

-         A nervous, shy llama

-         Fears and runs from dogs, or is completely uninterested in dogs

-         Uninterested in surroundings and new things

-         Remains near barn, house, or feed bunk

-         A llama that has been a pet, been around humans a lot and seems dependent on them

Guard Donkeys:

Yet another form of protecting sheep from predation involves the use of guard donkeys.  Many ranchers and producers in Canada, as well as the U.S. and Australia, have used these animals as a guardian from dogs, coyotes and wolves.  Donkeys serve as good guardians from these predators as they severely dislike dog-like creatures.  They will chase, bray at, and severely beat a predator with their front legs.   Their loud alert will not only alarm the sheep, but perhaps the shepherd as well-keeping the herd safe one way or another.

Donkeys require a longer bonding time in order to become one with their flock.  This is often accomplished by placing a jenny with her foal among a sheep flock.  At weaning, the foal is left with the sheep to be the guardian of the flock.  Gelded donkeys can also be used, but must be placed with the flock at weaning to provide the best bonding.  It is possible to place a donkey with a herd later than weaning, if they are penned near the herd for a few weeks prior to being turned out with the flock.  These donkeys require a lot of supervision during the first several weeks with the flock, in order to make sure that they are not butting or nipping at the sheep.  Jacks should not be placed with a flock as they can be very aggressive to the sheep and people.

Donkeys should work alone in a pasture of less than 100 ewes.  They use sight and sound mainly for surveying the area, and therefore cannot maintain large, hilly pastures with many sheep. They are thought of as highly social animals and if paired will most likely keep to each other and ignore the sheep.  Also, guard and herding dogs cannot be used along with the donkey as it will attack them.

A producer must be careful to observe his donkey during lambing and breeding seasons.  Some donkeys become overprotective of their flock, keeping rams from the ewes and killing lambs as they are seen as intruders.  If one is suspicious that their guard donkey may cause problems during these times, the donkey can be penned separately during breeding and lambing seasons.  Obviously, this is not a very convenient method or very useful as many lambs and ewes are killed by predators during lambing times.

A guard donkey can eat most of what the flock eats, but cannot be allowed free access to grain as it could lead to acidosis-donkeys are prone to overeating.  Also, monensin products cannot be fed to the donkey as it can be very toxic and usually fatal to the donkey.  The donkey will require different vaccines than the flock, such as tetanus and encephalitis, and will require regular hoof trimmings to keep its feet healthy.

Purchasing a guard donkey is fairly easy.  Many breeders and auctions sell donkeys. The initial investment for a donkey is around $500, and the donkey will require around $150-200 of additional expenses to pay for hoof trimmings, supplemental food, and veterinary care.  Unlike guard dogs, the donkey can be used as a guardian for 10-15 years, and can pay for itself by saving 2-4 lambs per year.

Things to look for when purchasing a guard donkey:

-         Guarding ability (easily tested by placing a dog in a corral with the donkey)

-         Medium to Large Standard size donkey

-         Jennies and geldings

-         Guard donkeys that were raised away from other donkeys, mules, horses, and dogs

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