This article provides information about llama guards, statistics on success, how to do it. Our sheep guards are guaranteed!
WARNING TO SHEEP KILLING COYOTES & DOGS: LLAMAS WILL KICK YOUR BUTT
Doyle Markham, Ph.D.
Whether you have a small farm flock or a large commercial flock, llamas may be the answer to your dog or coyote predation problems!
The number of sheep in the United States has declined from a historical high of 56.2 million in 1942 to 8.5 million in 1996. Although declines in price of lamb and wool, age of operators and lack of competent labor have been the primary reasons for the decline, predation has also played a role in the decline. In 1990 21.7 million dollars and in 1994 17.7 million dollars worth of sheep were lost to predators. During the same periods, 5.6 and 5.5 million dollars of goats were lost to predators in the top five goat producing states.
Although I do not have figures on the number of goats in the United States, Texas alone has approximately 2 million head. Increased emphasis is being given to meat-producing goats, both for domestic and foreign markets.
Although predation accounts for only about 43% of the lamb loss and 27% of the adult sheep losses, never-the-less predation can be one of the factors that can mean the difference between profit and loss and thus survival in the sheep and goat industry.
The vast majority of the predator loss to sheep, 77.3%, was due to coyotes and dogs in 1990 and 1994. The next most important predator was the mountain lion accounting for about 8% of the loss during 1994. The only states experiencing significant sheep loss to mountain lions were California and Colorado.
Sheep numbers and losses due to predators are not uniform across the United States. Approximately 81% of the sheep in the United States are raised in the 17 western states. These western states have about 85% of the predator loss. However, only 44% of the producers reside in these states. Although the numbers of sheep affected by predators are highest in the western states, the number of producers experiencing predation problems is more uniform across the regions of the country.
Predation is not usually consistent in an area as many producers suffer no losses in a particular year while others suffer varying degree of losses. Several studies have shown approximately 50% of the producers experience 0-5% loss.
Guard dogs have been shown to be effective in decreasing losses to predators. However, dogs do have some disadvantages and according to a report of a survey conducted by the Sheep Experimental Station in Idaho, dogs can cause some major problems and lack of longevity is an important consideration with guard dogs.
Sheep producers using llamas as guards have expressed satisfaction with their performance. The llamas have significantly reduced predation. In a survey of 114 ranches, Kelly J. Powell (1993, M.S. Thesis, Iowa State U.) reports that after introducing a llama, predation losses dropped from 11% of the flocks to 1% of the flocks; 62% of the 97 producers who were experiencing loses before acquiring a llama cut their losses to zero. Various reports and interviews with llama producers selling llamas as sheep guards indicate that somewhere between 0% and 10% of the llamas do not make effective sheep/goat guards.
ADVANTAGES OF LLAMAS FOR PREDATOR CONTROL
@ Economical Protection
@ Extremely Effective
@ Effective From 10 to 20 years
@ No Special Food Requirements; eat the same as sheep or goats
@ No Need for Training or Previous Association With Sheep or Goats
@ Environmentally Acceptable
@ Don't interfere with traditional control methods
@ Low mortality rates
@ Can be supported by animal rights & environmental groups
As can be seen from the summary, guard llamas offer several advantages to the sheep and goat producer.
It is only recently that llamas began receiving wide spread use by sheep and goat producers as guards. Using llamas as sheep guards likely began in the intermountain area at least 15 years ago. Since an initial report was published on llamas as effective sheep guards (Markham, 1990, Llamas), use of llamas as guards has grown exponentially. The intermountain region, especially Montana, appears to be the hot bed for using llamas as sheep guards. However, due to recent publicity, just about every state now has several to many llamas guarding flocks of sheep and goats. Wool-producing goats, such as cashmere and angora, and milking goats have all been successfully guarded by llamas.
Methods to successfully introduce guard llamas into a flock are simple to
use and follow. No previous training or association with sheep or goats is needed. A single gelding per flock provides the best protection.
We do not know the best age of llamas to introduce as guards. However, age may not be an important consideration as llamas of all ages have been used successfully, but some one-year old llamas are not effective until their second year. Last year, a 16-year old male was initially introduced into a sheep flock in Idaho that has been suffering a 40% lamb predation rate. During his first year, no lambs were lost.
More studies are needed on using llamas as livestock guards. For example, we're not sure of the optimum or maximum numbers of sheep or goats in a flock that can be successfully guarded by llamas. Since almost 97% of the sheep operations in the United States have under 500 head, the majority of the data gathered on llama guard use have been collected on these flocks. However, llamas have successfully guarded sheep flocks with over 1,000 animals.
We also need more data on using llamas as guards in open-range and forests. Llamas have been successful guards in 1,000 to 2,000-acre pastures. Recently the Denver Wildlife Center, Animal Damage Control, USDA began two studies to gather additional data on the ability of llamas to reduce or eliminate predation.
As can be seen in the next two tables, llamas use a variety of methods to protect sheep.
Although many sheep and goat guards stay with the flock or nearby, other equally-successful guards leave their flocks or may remain nearby but not necessarily with the flock.
Why do llamas guard sheep and goats? Llamas were developed in South America by selective breeding of the guanaco about 4500 - 6000 years ago. The guanaco male collects a harem and protects a territory. Perhaps the llamas acquired this trait from their ancestors and use it in guarding sheep and goats. In addition, llamas just don't like canines.
Llamas use a variety of methods to ensure the safety of the flock.
Llamas likely are not as effective against bears and mountain lions as they are against coyotes and dogs. However, the Denver Post reported that a Colorado producer using a llama to guard his 800 head flock of sheep has seen his llama bluff a bear from entering the herd. The llama also ran to a herder's camp when three lions entered the flock "snorting and whistling." The llama's quick action minimized the loss to only nine sheep.
Millions of dollars are spent by federal, state, local and operator to fund predator control, especially for coyote control. In particular, the federal government's role in predator control to protect sheep and goats has both supporters and opponents. However, with reductions in the federal budget and increasing pressure by some groups to reduce federal involvement in predator control, it seems likely that more of the burden for predator control will fall on individual producers. Guard llamas, in many situations, may provide an economical and effective predator control alternative to traditional and expensive control methods. In other cases, guard llamas may need to be supplemented with a reduced use of traditional methods to secure effective and more economical predator protection.
Doyle Markham is Executive Director of the Environmental Science and Research Foundation, Idaho Falls, Idaho, and is a Graduate Research Associate at Idaho State University. He has coordinated and managed a variety of predator-prey research projects. He also farms and is a producer of polypay sheep.
Copyrighted 4/96. Permission to copy is required.
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