The llama is a highly efficient, cost-effective and natural guardian of livestock. Up-to-date flockmasters on three continents have used them for decades to save money from predator losses and protect valuable breeding animals.
Studies conducted by the University of Iowa and University of Colorado have documented the effectiveness of utilizing llamas as guardians to significantly reduce loss of sheep to predators. These studies concluded that llamas are a viable, natural alternative to traditional predator control measures. More than 50% of sheep producers in the Iowa study reported a 100% reduction in predator losses. Sheep and lamb losses declined from 11% flock loss per year to 1% flock loss per year after the introduction of a single llama.
The return on investment continues to improve as the prices of gelded llamas declines. At the time of the University of Iowa study, gelded llamas were selling for $700 to $1200 and the reported average annual savings due to reduced predatory loss was $1034. Today, gelded llamas suitable as guardians are available from reputable breeders for $400 to $500.
Introduction & Care
The introduction of the llama to the flock is a relatively easy adjustment, usually requiring only a few days or less. The innate herd instincts of the llama contribute to their efficacy as guardians as they quickly assume a dominant and protective posture among the flock.
The llama is also a browser and grazer and needs no additional significant dietary care, with the exception of free-choice mineral depending on your geographic location. They require occasional deworming (sub-cutaneous injection or oral) and an annual 8-way vaccination. Their padded feet have four toe nails that may require occasional trimming.
A full-grown llama will require approximately one small square bale of hay per week during the months when not on pasture.
Aside from their utility as a guardian, the llama offers the added aesthetic benefit of their graceful appearance, as they roam the pasture, watching over the flock like a shepherd of old.
If you are raising sheep for their wool, you can enjoy the benefit of the llama’s fiber clip, too. Blended with sheep’s wool, it makes for wonderful spun yarn.
When purchasing a llama as a guardian, look for a reputable llama breeder that offers animals in excellent health and athletic condition. Ask to see the health records in order to see if vaccinations are current and that there are no major health issues. If you end up having to deal with an animal in poor health, there goes your return on investment.
Discuss the characteristics of the llama you are looking at. Certain characteristics of the llama lend themselves to greater efficacy as a guardian, including dominant herd leadership, alertness, and size. When selecting a llama as a livestock guardian, look for llamas that exhibit these characteristics. Be sure to look for characteristics such as dominant posture, large, athletic size and structure, and alertness.
Gelded males tend to be the least expensive choice and the most commonly sold by llama breeders as guardians because they are of little value to the llama breeder. If you are not familiar with llamas, look for a breeder that will offer you after-sales care and support to help you with any problems or concerns you might face once you have your llama guarding your flock.
Most of all, enjoy the wonder of this 100% natural form of predator control.
John and Caer Vitek are the owners of Chessed Hills Fiber Farm and llama breeders located in southern Minnesota. For further information about llamas as guardians, you may contact them at 507-452-5905, or firstname.lastname@example.org