Alpacas and livestock guardians

Anyone with an investment wants to be sure they have insurance to cover the investment in case anything should happen.  And so carrying livestock insurance on such a valuable animal as alpacas is a requirement.  Additionally, trying to prevent any catastrophe from happening to your livestock in the first place is something we all try to ensure.

And so, the subject of livestock guardians must be reviewed.   If anyone has any recommendations I would love it hear it.  Right now, I am leaning towards Great Pyrenees based on temperament and ease of maintenance.  It depends on the type of livestock as to what type of guard you want to have in place.  In my own personal research for my situation (and there will always be varying thoughts from others on what is best), it is based on:

type of herd (alpacas)

size of herd (right now, 6)

prevention already in place (tight fence with electric wire top and bottom)

ease of maintenance (housing/feed/health)

any additional training required (can I train, or must I have an experienced trainer to do the job)

any special feed or housing required

size and number of pastures to be guarded (right now we have only 4, about 1/4 acre each)

type of predators in the area (coyotes for sure; we have heard there could be bobcat but we are in the wide open so probably not)

From my own research and in talking with others, I have discovered some pros and cons to various guardians.  The choices I reviewed were: donkeys, llamas, guard dogs.  The predators in our area that would do the most harm to our alpacas are coyotes and loose dogs, including the neighbor’s.  The most common harm to alpacas is from loose neighborhood dogs.  There is an instinct there that if something runs they will chase it.  Alpacas cannot defend themselves so they run, and to a dog this is  great fun, but a deadly game for the alpaca. Some dogs will go into an attack mode at this time.  So if fencing cannot keep out the neighborhood dog, then the battle is already lost.

I wanted guard llamas so they could bond with the alpacas; they are a sentry and will gather up the herd if they perceive a real danger.  They make a real interesting clucking noise and the alpacas will run to them.  My guard llamas have done this a couple of times and taken everyone into the barn.  I never could discern what the perceived danger was, but it was good to see they would react accordingly.  I have one gaurd llama in each pasture, but one llama cannot defend itself or the herd against more than one dog so you need a backup guard for each pasture.  Guard llamas should always be a gelded male, and not all gelded llamas are great at guarding.  Be sure you choose a llama that has already had experience in guarding a herd of some kind and does it well. 

Donkeys are not preferred for alpacas because an unpredictable kick could cause serious injury to the more delicate alpaca or its cria (baby).  Donkeys, if used, should only be one per pasture.  I observed two donkey guards in the neighbor’s cattle herd but they just ran around and played all day.  One by itself should guard well, but not preferred for alpacas.

Livestock guardian dogs would be a preferred backup to the guard llama.  They can all cohabit together easily.  Two dogs per pasture is preferred so they can work as a team and the pasture not so large that they cannot run and capture an intruder.  They must be trained in guarding.  I have heard they will even guard poultry.    They should never be considered a “pet” and so would always live in the pastures with the animals with appropriate food and housing, and never in a house with people.  They work 24/7.  Buy  a dog from a trusted guardian dog breeder.  The pups will learn from their working parents how to guard and some are better at it than others.  Pups will take longer to mature, usually two years as they are large breed dogs.  The dogs do bark as warning to anything they see as a trespasser, so close neighbors may not appreciate the noise even though they are just doing their job.  There are several varieties to choose from; do your research and Google livestock guard dogs to get more information.  Everyone seems to have a favorite type.  Have all the facts (how big does it get, temperament, any inherited disabilities like hip dysplasia, purebred or a mixed guard breed, etc.)

It is easy to feel safe and secure when there have not been any incidents yet, even though the neighbor lets their dog out on occasion.  We have let them know, informationally in a kind way, what the issue is with loose dogs and alpacas.  In fact we had one of our precious  female crias killed when it was only two months old by the dogs of the farm owner we used to board them at.  Our next step is to get guard dogs so we have all layers of security in place.  It does not mean something can’t happen, but it will be peace of mind to know nothing was lacking in the security of the herd. 

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2 Comments

  1. July 28, 2008 at 12:52 PM

    consider rescuing a LGD. This eliminates the wait for the puppy to mature. We have 4, 3 of which we adopted. They literally walked into our barn & went to work. It’s been our experience that the rescue organizations for LGD’s screen the dogs prior to placing to determine the family pet from the LGD. You can see our dogs & find links to rescue organizations on our website http://www.beargardenfarms.com

  2. Rick Carlson said,

    May 6, 2008 at 3:36 PM

    Great info! We raise llamas and our friends find they do make great guard animals, especially for sheep. Fun for pets and kid’s parties, too.


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