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


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.

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