Use of Guard Llamas in an Integrated Predator Control System
By : Natassaja Boham, Makenzie Doherty, and Jordan Johnson, OSU Animal Science Undergraduate Students and Brady Campbell, Program Coordinator, OSU Sheep Team
In our latest Ag-note, Animal Sciences students Natassaja Boham, Makenzie Doherty, and Jordan Johnson highlight a unique ruminants species (pseudo ruminant that is) that can be used in any livestock operation as a means to control for predators. As Ohio legislation begins to reassess the status of the coyote in terms of being a fur-bearing animal and as a result producers may be limited in how they may be able to trap these predators, producers may be forced to find alternative means to manage this controversial wildlife livestock interaction.
The llama, not to be mistaken with the alpaca, is a large framed, cloven hoofed pseudo ruminant (3 chambered stomach) that originates from South American. Due to their size and natural ‘flocking’ instinct, llamas have proven to be beneficial as a guard animal in livestock production systems, especially with small ruminants. Due to their size alone, llamas pose as a threat to in coming predators. Llamas have been shown to be most effective against canine species such as coyotes, red fox, wolves, and of course, the domestic dog. When thinking of llamas, some may remember the time that they may have gotten spit on at the county fair petting zoo, but this is not their only defense mechanism. Llamas, having an innate fear of canines themselves, will run and kick at these predators. Due to the commotion caused by this reaction, others in the flock and herd are made aware of the presence of a potential threat, which takes away the element of surprise from the predator. Llamas have also been known to be very vocal during these interactions, which may alter the producer, as well as place themselves between the threat and their flock or herd forming a protective barrier.
In terms of animal interactions, you may have heard to the old saying “if you have one, you better have two in order to keep the other one company,” regardless of the species that someone is talking about. However, in the case of guard animals, this is not always the case. According to the authors of Guard Llamas – A Part of Integrated Sheep Protection, llamas will perform better when working alone. Prior to flock or herd introduction, it is suggested that young llamas are to be introduced to a small number of animals in a small area as a way to establish an initial relationship. In most cases, this process has shown to take approximately a week. However, to continue to encouraging bond development, it is recommended that animals remain in close proximity for up to 6 weeks post llama introduction.
Some of the greatest benefits of selecting a llama as a livestock protection animals is the minimal cost associated with implementing this strategy in addition to the return on investment. When selecting which sex to use for guarding purposes, the preferred animal is a gelding (castrated males). This is not to say that males or females can not be used, but males may attempt to breed mature sheep or goats when in heat and females will be more expensive upfront to purchase. According to the 2007 NRC, to feed a new world camelid (which includes llamas) at maintenance, llamas are estimated to consume approximately 1% – 1.5% of their body weight on a dry matter basis, resulting in a relatively low daily intake. Most llamas prefer to graze or eat hay, therefore, very little supplemental grain is required. In terms of costs associated with animal care, llamas tend to be low maintenance. According to the authors above, 80% of sheep producers whom use llamas as a guardian said that the daily care for their flock and llama is the same. Therefore, no additional materials need to be purchased when using llamas as an integrated protection animal. Furthermore, due to the structure of their soft padded hooves, llamas rarely have issues with their feet and are adaptable to a variety of environmental conditions.
Overall, llamas have proven to show positive effects when integrated into any livestock system as a livestock guard animal. However, there are cases where a llama may not be suited for your specific needs. The key here is don’t give up! Some llamas may require more time in terms of training than others. If your llama does not work for the intended purpose, be sure to find a fit elsewhere for their expertise, whether that be on your operation or someone else’s. Remember, llamas are helpful guardians, but they should not be your only method to prevent
predation! In order to fully protect your flock or herd from predators a combination of control methods should be practiced.