Thursday, 22 October 2015

Guard Llama's

Do Llamas really work as flock guardians? 

Let me start this blog off with a big “I DON’T KNOW”.
We do not use llamas for our flock protection.

I have done a fair amount of reading on them and the little research  I have done,
 does indicate they do play a role in keeping sheep safe.

I have read reports that some llamas  are effective, and I have read reports saying they are marginally effective to totally ineffective.
I think the jury is still out on this one.

This website:  states:
 “Over half of the llamas guarding sheep are 100% effective. An additional 40-45% of the guard llamas are highly effective while only 5-10% of the guards were ineffective.
Large predators such as bears and mountain lions may be too large or aggressive for the llamas. However, llamas have been known to alert herders of large predator attacks.
No training or previous association with sheep or goats is required for the llama to be an effective guard.
Any age llama, except those under one year, have been proven to be effective at the time of initial introduction.
Intact males are effective guards along with geldings. Females are also very aggressive toward canines. However, there have not been many studies using only female llamas.
One llama per flock is more effective than two or more llamas. Several llamas tend to bond to one another rather than with the sheep or goats and may ignore the flock.

Most reports do state that a number of conditions need to apply,
for llamas to be effective guardians, things like smaller flocks, open terrain, small predators, low predator pressure, only one llama per flock etc.

In a study done in 2000 (,
the conclusions indicated that llamas do provide a certain amount of protection to sheep flocks. primarily in the first year.

After reading  the various reports, I was curious to see some llamas in action.
 No better place to look than in massive crowd sharing sites such as You Tube.

I found a few videos, some very unclear, of llamas working,
two of these videos caught my eye.
One from the Swiss folks (  testing Llamas in the Alps
 and another of a llama protecting a week old calf from some pet dogs (

Watching the llama with the calf, I felt that the llama was showing protective behavior, similarly to how it would protect its own young,
 however in reality,
I think that a momma cow would actually have been more effective.

The llama did stomp and chase somewhat.
I can see that a pack of coyotes or even a few determined pet dogs,
would easily overwhelm the llama.
  The Swiss video starts off by saying that none of the llamas had yet encountered a wolf, and they were not sure if they would be effective.  They thought, that  llamas may only be really effective on small (20-30 sheep) operations, but no conclusions yet, as they were still being tested.

In Alberta, it is actually fairly common for sheep ranches to have a llama or two in with the sheep as protection, often combined with one or two livestock guardian dogs.
I have spoken to people who say that the llamas do seem to be effective, until serious predation sets in and then the llama is merely, another prey animal.

I often wonder how things come to be?
 Nowhere, in the traditional livestock guardian dog countries does one see people using llamas or other camelids for livestock protection.
How did it happen that llamas were being promoted to be used as guardian animals?
Perhaps, long time ago someone had a llama, that chased a pet dog away from the sheep,
the person saw this and decided to promote llamas as guardian animals for sheep?
I don't know.
 But, it does seem strange that one would use a prey animal to guard other prey animals.
It is undeniable that a llama can bond to the sheep and will place itself in between the sheep and the predator in some cases,
 just as LGD do , and  of course most mother animals will do.
They do charge and stomp at canines,
but how effective is, this if a serious predator attack occurs?

All prey animals have similar responses when encountering a predator it is flight or fight. If the opportunity arises to flee from a predator, then most prey animals will.
If however, they are cornered and trapped, or protecting young, the response is to stand their ground and fight.
For a sheep it would mean a display of some foot stomping, perhaps a charge and a head butt.
The do not have much more in their arsenal against predators.
Their safety is really the flock.
A llama does not have too much in its arsenal either, it can stomp, kick, spit and charge.
The average ewe weighs about 160-200 lbs, a mature llama weighs between 286- 440 lbs, and other than its feet, has not "weapons" as such.
Alpaca or llama, some people advocate using alpacas as guardian animals.

When it comes to dealing with large predators, the odds against a llama succeeding becomes smaller. If ones looks at what wolves actually eat,
and what they are faced with,
then a llama is no match.

Moose,  and elk are some of the traditional prey species for wolves. The average moose weighs 1000lbs, can be as high as 2 meters at the shoulder ( 6.5 feet) has a kick that could send a wolf to never-never land, the males has an antler set that are deadly, they can stomp and charge,
and to top it all off,
 a momma moose has a bad attitude. 

An elk is incredibly fast (faster than any llama or sheep), weighs about 800 lbs, stands 1.5 m at the shoulder, has  daggers for horns ( the males), can kick, stomp, and of course charge with those antlers,
and yet,
 they all fall prey to wolves.

These animals are way better equipped to deal with predators than any llama, so it would seem reasonable to assume that a llama may not be able to protect a flock of sheep from bigger and very determined predators.

In fact, perhaps placing a momma cow with a young calf in with the sheep flock, may provide even more protection to the sheep, than a llama.
A cow will run down, stomp on, kick, toss in the air, mash down with its head, paw, pierce with its horns and charge at a perceived threat,
with 1500 lbs of mad momma behind it,
she becomes quite the protector,
and yet, we rarely hear of people using cows to provide protection to sheep flocks.

I do believe that because of the added height and size of a llama, they do have a role as a sentry. They are hyper aware, can see far, have big flexible ears
 and in that role,
 I believe that can be effective.

As llamas are not native to North America or Europe, I can imagine that a wolf encountering a llama for the first time would be flabbergasted. They would not know what to make of this animal, would be cautious to approach and would be highly suspicious of this strange animal.


A wolf or coyote may not even recognize a llama as food, simply as it has no genetic memory or imprinting telling it, that it is food.
So, the llama certainly has the element of surprise in its favor.

A friend of mine, who does not use guardian dogs, but has a llama and donkey has been suffering regular predator attacks on her sheep flock.  Almost daily, she losses a sheep. I asked her how the donkey and llama were doing and her reply was that they were not working. The donkey stands at the gate and the llama does nothing. 

I have other friends, who breed show llamas, they use guardian dogs to protect the llamas from predators.
Before, we moved to Canada, we asked fellow sheep ranchers if they felt llamas were effective, some said yes, but only with smaller flocks in open areas,
others said no they were not, but had them anyway, just in case..

It seems that people feel llamas are effective,
until the day they are ineffective against serious predators.

I am all for, whatever works.
However, I  do feel that ranchers deciding to use guard llamas,
need to have a realistic expectations of what these animals can do.

Even, in the LGD world, it is well accepted that you need at least 2-3 dogs, and preferably a few more, to have sufficient protection for a flock.
Expecting a single llama, that has no real defense mechanisms, to protect a flock of sheep against predators is perhaps pushing the expectation limit too far.

Understanding too,
that these animals may be vulnerable to predation themselves.
Putting a single llama out with a flock is putting the llama at a similar risk as the sheep it is suppose to protect..
Mini donkeys and  alpacas fall into the same category.

As a friend says; " using food to protect food is not logical".

I suppose it is like having a chocolate bar protecting the apple pie,
the chocolate may be a temporary diversion,
 but it is no deterrent if someone really wants to eat the apple pie.

So, back to llamas, the little research out there, does indicate that they may play a role, perhaps only a short term role against smaller predators in specific circumstances.
 I am all for using as many tactics as possible to prevent depredation as once the cycle sets in,
it is very difficult to stop.

So, even if they can only provide an ounce of protection, it is always more, than doing nothing!
Even, if they do not work for every situation,
they are still look pretty awesome in among a flock of sheep!

Using a combination of llama, or donkey with guardian dogs,
may provide added protection.
So, it would seem to me that llamas are definitely an option in small flocks with low predator loads,  for people who do not like or want to work with dogs or  for people who understand the limitations that a prey animal has when dealing with serious predators.
They are great sentry animals and will certainly offer some form of minimal protection, however in larger flocks, grazing bushy areas and plentiful predators, then I think, the only serious guardian animals, are dogs.

You may need to fight fire with fire.

Guardian dog on a sheep ranch in southern Alberta.


  1. I have had llamas used for protection for sheep/goat herds. But, this was in Ohio where the major predators we coyotes or dogs. They were quite effective in that capacity. Geldings or females were used. Intact males should not be used as they will try to breed the sheep and goats. Alpacas should not be used.

  2. You summed it up pretty well but I will add a few things. I know of one instance where llamas are used successfully as guards with wolves but rather than one Llama they run a pack of llamas. The herd will still run off canids, and is a lot more effective than just one animal. Just because they hang out in a separate group does not mean they stop guarding the pasture. I'm not sure where the advice to use only one came from but I think it was wrong. Alpacas are NOT useful guardians. They have a very different temperament and are considerably smaller. The older style Llama that sheds is usually a better guardian than the newer heavier fiber producers. I do feel llamas have a place for smaller flocks that have close neighbors, but for serious wolf problems I do agree dogs are more effective. In one instance where I was under siege by a large pack of wolves back in the day when I had just one dog per pasture. The Llama lost 50% of his lambs, while the dogs lost 0 to 12.5% of their lambs. A change in management stopped the losses. Basically the lone Llama figured out he was not for dinner and stepped aside while the dogs gave it their all.

  3. I have a friend who has a llama living with her sheep. One BIG factor in his success is that he will herd the sheep away from threats, actually putting them in the barn and blocking the door with his body.


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