This post ends a series on livestock guardian animals. We have interviewed shepherds who use miniature donkeys and shepherds who use livestock guardian dogs, and today, I will share some thoughts on guard llamas. We have one guard llama who lives with our sheep year round on our farm. Since bringing her to VT Grand View Farm, we have not had any trouble with predators getting into our fencing.
What makes llamas a good guardian animal?
Llamas instinctively possess guardian-like traits. In their natural environment, they are the prey animal which has fostered a keen attentiveness and inquisitiveness to their surroundings. Llamas display these traits in several ways. When entering a new pasture, the llama will walk the perimeter of the fence, looking for any signs of danger. When at rest, as guard llama will position themselves at a high point where they have a view of the entire field. If an animal or person approaches the fence, the llama will come over to see if it is friend or foe.
How do llamas defend the flock?
Our llama has two distinct alarm calls. One is her curiosity call. If she sees something she is unfamiliar with, she will make a clucking noise. Llamas also have a distinct high pitched call when they suspect danger and feel threatened. We refer to this as the 911 call. This shrill alarm call warns the sheep of danger, and also scares the predator away. A guard llama will also gather all of the sheep around her and take them to a place that feels safe. Our flock of sheep knows the difference between these two calls. If the llama is clucking, the sheep pay not attention to her, but if they hear her 911 call, the sheep run to her. A few years ago, we had a black bear wandered through our farm. As the llama gave her shrill alarm call, all the sheep ran to her. She pressed the sheep against a metal gate and paced back and forth in front of them. She kept them against that gate until the bear had left the property.
If a predator enters the field, the llama will chase the predator and kick and stomp with their powerful back legs. When two llamas guard the same flock, often, one llama will stay with the flock and the other one will chase the predator away.
Here, we see Alaska discovering our pigs for the first time a few years ago. We had moved the sheep to an adjacent pasture and this was Alaska’s first introduction to the pigs. She sounds her alarm, though must sense no real danger, as she does not gather the sheep to her.
Why do llamas bond with sheep?
Llamas, like sheep, are a social animal. They need to feel a part of a herd or flock. Each llama varies in personality and how they will bond with their flock. We have had a llama that outwardly loved and enjoyed the sheep, playing with the lambs in the spring. Terre would round all the lambs up in the field and play with them.
Then, we have had llamas, that though they possessed amazing guardian qualities, they were more aloof toward the sheep. Whenever we introduce new sheep to the flock, our llama is quite curious and will introduce herself to them. As with any flock animal, there is a hierarchy which exists. In our flock, the llama is the boss and the sheep know this.
Do llamas need special care?
In shopping for a guard llama, you will want one that has been halter trained and is easy to handle. Llamas require time, patience, and an understanding of their fears in order to handle them successfully. Most llamas have the motto of “look but don’t touch”. If you approach them, they will back away from you once you enter into their personal space. Llamas do not like to be touch and petted. They must be trained to allow you to touch them, pick up their feet, halter them, and care for them. None of these are natural instincts to them. (Anyone interested in learning more about handling llamas, should take a workshop in Camelidynamics.)
Llamas, susceptible to the meningeal worm, need a shot once a month to protect them. The meningeal worm, a common internal parasite in deer, causes paralysis and death in llamas. If preventative measures are not taken, llamas are at risk of being infected. We have lost a llama due to the meningeal worm. If caught soon enough, you can treat and cure infected llamas, but you must be diligent to prevent infection.
Llamas need shearing once a year. Their fiber can grow quite long over a year and may tend to mat if left. We shear our llama once the danger of frost has passed in the spring. We also trim her hooves at that time and begin our summer routine of shots.
Llamas graze alongside of their flock, however they love to forage. Our llama loves to be placed near trees and brambles where she can forage the high growing leaves. In the winter months, she eats a good quality second cut hay. Llamas become possessive over their food and do not like the sheep eating from the same place. While on pasture, this does not present a problem, but in the winter, we must feed the llama separately. If the sheep try to eat her hay, she will spit on them.
In the summer, we make sure that the sheep and llama can get to shade to protect them from the hot sun. They need fresh water daily as well. In the winter months, we have three sided shelters where the sheep and llama can get out of the bad weather if they choose to. Often, the llama and sheep though will sleep in the falling snow.
Speaking of spitting, do llamas spit?
Llamas only spit when highly irritated. Our llama will spit at the sheep to let them know they need to back away. Only once has our guard llama spit at us, and that was when trying to give a shot to a poorly trained llama who had not been conditioned to handling.
More Reading on Livestock Guardian Animals:
- Ask the Shepherd-Guardian Animals: Jennifer King of Sachem Farm in Connecticut talks about miniature donkeys.
- Ask the Shepherd-Livestock Guardian Dogs: Hannah Smith of Vinegar Ridge Farm shares her experiences with livestock guardian dogs.
- LLama Ears: Learn about how llamas communicate with their ears.
- Do Llamas Spit: Learn more about when and why llamas spit.