Natural Livestock Protectors: Guard Llamas, Dogs and Donkeys

Turn to these reliable guard animals for a natural, sustainable method to keep predators away from sheep and goats.

| Dec. 4, 2008

  • Maremma
    Some dog breeds, such as the Maremma shown here, will help keep coyotes and wild dogs away from the flock.
  • Donkey and sheep
    A singular donkey pastured with sheep or goats will protect them from predators.
    Michael Westhoff/Istockphoto

  • Maremma
  • Donkey and sheep

My personal introduction to raising livestock has been getting to know my scrappy trio of sheep named Marvin, Maude and Sal. As a farmer-in-training, I depend on them to teach me the ropes of shepherding 101. But sheep aren't my only mentors. Over the past few months I've been in cahoots with border collies and their handlers, and even the occasional donkey or llama. That’s how I ended up at Taravale Farms, where I met my first farm security officer, hot on the job.

Her name was Bella, and she was a maremma — a large white dog of Italian heritage. Maremmas have a goofy look, with floppy ears and a playful smile, but they also possess a true working dog stoicism. I was standing beside Bella near a fence, my fingers stroking her thick white fur. It felt as tough and weatherproof as the wool on the backs of the Scottish blackface ewes we were both watching from behind a gate. And Bella was as fixated on those ewes as a baby on Teletubbies. Intense stuff.

On the other side of the fence, border collies were herding sheep. Barb and Bernie Armata, the owners of Taravale Farms, have a fairly large flock and depend on their dogs to both serve and protect. This duty is split between two breeds. The collies are the farmhands and the maremmas, including Bella, form their own little cabinet of homeland security. The herders get most of the limelight around here, but I doubted Bella was impressed by the sheepdog trial ribbons on the fridge. After all, ribbons can’t offer much protection against a coyote.

Bella had a family to protect, which isn’t some overly dramatic way of stating her duty. Bella and countless other dogs, llamas and donkeys see their stock as siblings, and thus they effectively guard other farm animals, especially sheep and goats, from natural predators.

Why Do Farmers Need Guard Animals?

Farmers and homesteaders are quickly learning that livestock guardians are not only effective in their work, but also better for the flock (not to mention the farmer’s peace of mind). A watchful eye from one of these animals can scan the fence lines for coyotes, feral dogs or even wolves — and tangle with them if need be.

Livestock guardians are also a more sustainable solution to the problem of predation. They keep livestock safe 24-hours a day without farmers having to resort to poisons, lamb collars, rifles or other dangerous deterrents that have mixed results at best. Some ranchers even report that poisons only aid the coyote population around their property, by ensuring that the savviest bait-avoiding ’yotes make up a large part of the gene pool. So instead of putting up with fewer predators, they have to deal with progressively smarter ones.

7/24/2019 10:49:23 AM

My Maremma is so food aggressive he is untrustworthy around the animals she's supposed to guard. He has killed my chickens, turkeys and guineas.

9/2/2009 7:51:31 PM

We purchased a Gt. Pyr. as a yearling from a family...never having been w/animals. She immediately was good w/the goats and chickens...but...really wanted to be with US. Her wandering brought about a broken leg, having collided with a truck, but now that we have secured fences all around the farm, she guards the home. Only the home. We adore her, and wish we'd had the good fortune to have known her at birth, so we could have trained her for the job she was born for. She even housebroke herself, while being confined w/cast on leg for weeks. What an angel is Angel!!!

4/8/2009 9:02:32 PM

Hi All, I have had Pyrenean Mountain Dogs since the 1970's, a great stock guarding breed! They work a treat! I am Welsh, but lived in Norway for many years. About ten years ago I returned to West Wales and discovered our indigenous native Sheepdog, "The Welsh Sheepdog" if you don't know this ancient Welsh breed then see There exist in Wales written records of this breed that go back to 14th century. I am now the proud owner of a red and white male, "Cochyn" and a tri-colour with a dash of merle female, "Brith" Welsh Sheepdogs, are probably, the hardest working Sheepdogs in the World!! they also work a treat! with all this in mind, I really thought that I had found my DREAM TEAM, CO-WORKER'S But, My large, friendly, and wonderful Pyrenean "Iorwerth" want's to dominate my "medium sized, very very brave, "I will not back down, If I am not frightened of bulls, do you really think that a large fluffy pyrenean frightens me!!" Welsh Sheepdog "Cochyn" In the past, and because "Cochyn" will not back down! Iori (Iorwerth) has given him a serious bite (and Cochyn, would still would not back down) if I had not managed to intervene I don't know if Cochyn would still be around today. Individually, both these dog's are well trained obedient dogs who love to please and are good around people and animals! (Iori has been known to have a problem with other strange dog's, having once been bitten on the nose in public, while minding his own business, by a squirrel sized, sausage type dog, Of course, Iori let's "Brith" the female Welsh Sheepdog jump up and lick his face even snap at him if he gets too fresh and does not bat an eyelid, no danger there, as far as I can see! I suppose its a case of us males being suckers for women? So what's the secret? how do you get your Herder's to work in

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