The Other Livestock Guardians: Llamas and Donkeys


While livestock guard dogs (or LGDs) are the oldest and most traditional livestock guardians, other animals have been used to help protect stock. Today we are most familiar with the use of guard donkeys and llamas.

The use of larger and more aggressive, alert, or protective animal species to protect other stock is technically referred to as multi-species grazing. A few goats were often kept in a sheep flock, even in ancient times, because they were more likely to respond aggressively with a dog or another predator. Cattle, especially horned cattle, and horses or ponies may also offer some deterrence to predators. The difficulty with this practice is that often these different species do not naturally graze together in a single group and will separate in pastures.  D.M. Anderson, of New Mexico State University, coined the term flerd to describe the multispecies grazing groups that are created by deliberately bonding lambs or kids with cattle. Keeping these animals together in a pen over a month or two will not only increase their tolerance of each other but the smaller animals will learn to seek out the cattle for protection.

Using llamas or donkeys as livestock guardians is a form of multispecies grazing. Neither of these animals actively work at guarding livestock in the way LGDs do, nor can they provide the same level of protection; but there are several good reasons why a llama or a donkey might make a better choice for your stock or your situation. 

llama and sheepLlamas as Guardians

Llamas and alpacas are from South America, where they were domesticated in the Peruvian Andes 6000 to 7000 years ago. While alpacas were primarily raised for their fiber, llamas were also used a pack animals and sources of meat and leather. Llamas were not used for predator control in their native land. In North America, llamas were primarily viewed as exotic or zoo animals until the 1980s, when the interest in diverse fiber animals grew. Sheep producers noticed that predator losses were lower when llamas shared pastures with their sheep.  By the early 1990s, more comprehensive surveys and studies began to determine just how llamas provided livestock protection.

Llamas have several behavioral characteristics that help them take on the role of livestock protector.  They are highly social animals that don’t enjoy living alone.  If they are the only member of their species in a pasture they will naturally associate with the other animals.  They are also reliably aggressive against canines, including dogs, coyotes, and foxes.  Mature llamas demonstrate protectiveness of their young, their herd mates and their territory.  Although individual llamas may act differently to threats, there are observable steps in their behavior. At first a llama will sound a high-pitched call or scream, often followed by posturing that includes spitting and moving towards the predator. Llamas will often charge or attack an intruder, attempting to kick or paw at it or chase it away. Some llamas have been observed placing themselves between the threat and their companions or they may attempt to herd them away from the threat. Llamas may also use their height to scan the surrounding for potential issues or even patrol their area.

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