OUR EXPERIENCES WITH A GUARD LLAMA
By Susie Wilson
We use a guard llama and have done so for about 7 years. He has worked well for us. We named him David, after that famous shepherd in the Bible. We usually just call him Dave. He was a 2 year old neutered male who had never even seen a sheep when we bought him from a breeder who said that if Dave didn't guard, he would replace him with a llama who would. But Dave has done well. He definitely has a guarding personality and has never had the temperament of a "pet" llama. He does not enjoy being handled, and foot trimming is always challenging! Once we get a halter on him, however, he will willingly & easily go wherever we lead him. He just loves to be with the sheep and becomes upset if we separate him from them. We have never lost a sheep to predators with him around.
We decided to go with a llama rather than a livestock guard dog because a llama's care & feeding more matched that of the sheep, and llamas were lower in cost to purchase. Also, with neighbors in close proximity, we didn't want a dog barking a lot. There are many coyotes around our place, and a llama seemed like a good animal to begin with. He would be no match for cougars and bears, however. If they were more of a threat, we would need a pair of guard dogs.
How did we introduce him to our flock? Well, on his first day at our farm, we put him in a stall so that he could get a bit used to the sounds and smells. The next day, we put him in a small pasture, separating him from the sheep with some 33" electronet fencing. The sheep were most alarmed at the sight of this unusual creature, and they fled to the farthest corner of the field. After about an hour, Dave had had enough of being separated from the sheep, so he easily hopped the fence and headed toward them. Pandemonium broke out, and Dave finally stayed in one small corner of the field, and the sheep stayed in another corner. This went on for about 2 days. Dave just stayed in about an 8-foot square section of the field corner. The sheep gave him a wide berth. Finally, one of the lambs cautiously crept up and carefully sniffed Dave's kneecap. That broke the ice, and they've been happily together ever since! Dave is right there sniffing each new lamb as it arrives. The ewes don't seem to mind. Once the lambs are about 1-2 weeks old, they will often cuddle up next to Dave, instead of their moms. He even allows them to sleep on top of him! The sheep quickly figure out that he is their protector and friend. If the lambs get scared, they stand underneath him, and then he goes to checkout the situation. Sometimes we see him herding the sheep around the field.
He does not grow wool as quickly as the sheep. I shear him every other summer, all over, leaving about an inch of wool on him to prevent sunburn and to reduce irritation from the flies on his skin. We trim his feet 3-4 times/year, worm him at those times, and give him an annual CD/T shot. Now and then, he will get a sore foot pad in the winter from all the mud and from following the sheep through the foot bath as they all go in and out of the barn. If he gets a foot irritation, we pen him up for 2-3 days and put some salve on his foot. That seems to do the trick. He has never spit at us, in spite of the unpleasantness that he has to put up with during shearing and veterinary maintenance. He just prefers to be left alone to attend his sheep.
When we went looking to purchase a llama, I wanted a llama who was well grown, with heavy bone, and an intimidating size, all the better to do his guarding job. Dave weighs about 325-350 lbs. At whatever point we need to get another one, I will take one of our dogs with us and have her quietly at my side on a leash. I'll buy the llama that is most disturbed by the presence of that dog!
We paid $500 for Dave, and he has been one of the best investments we have made. I don't think we could stay in the sheep business without him. We help him out by keeping a sharp eye and making sure our fences are in good order. He's been healthy and is very low maintenance. He is intensely curious and doesn't miss anything or anyone. Every time we move the sheep into a new paddock, he walks the perimeter of the fence to check it out before he grazes. He's quite a guy, and the sheep think he's one of them!
Jim and Martha McGrath
HC 72 Box 14D
Franklin, WV, 26807