Do llamas work? Llamas may be effective against predation. The main problem with llama use (or any other guard animal) in my situation is that the sheep tend to spread out over rough terrain in larger pastures and a single guard animal cannot keep track of the sheep. If possible, bringing the sheep and llama in at night to a bedding area is helpful, since most losses occur at night. Multiple llamas, in a large pasture situation, buddy up together and are not concerned with the sheep as much. Single llamas work best. A guard llama could prove to be a real benefit if the sheep are in a smaller fenced pasture where it can easily keep an eye on things. Naturally a good tight fence will help to keep predation losses low.
The main objective of this project was to see if llamas could provide a non-lethal viable alternative for reducing predation.
Fifty ewe lambs were purchased along with a 4 year old female llama. The sheep and llama were purchased in the late spring of 2003 and bonded together for a week in a small holding pasture. After this time they were turned out onto hill pastures. The llama did bond with the sheep and stays with them always. I found the llama to be very alert and always patrolling. No predation losses occurred until lambing season in February of 2004. The lambing pasture was continually monitored for carcasses. By the time the first carcass was spotted, it was estimated that coyotes had taken about 10 lambs. After the discovery of the losses, each night the sheep and llama were brought off of the hill into a barn lot. This reduced the losses significantly. The llamas’ presence seemed to be effective during the day. The problem with using a guard animal in my situation is the hill pastures are large, steep and very brushy. The sheep spread out and do not stay together. This means that a guard animal cannot keep track of all of the sheep.
Benefits or Impacts on Agriculture
Because of the small number of sheep involved in this project, there are no significant monetary amounts to report on or any significant increases in production. The most beneficial outcome of this project is experiments with alternative sustainable methods and provides information and stimulation to others.
Llamas (or other guard animals) can provide benefits in reducing predator losses. A guard animal must be used in conjunction with other management practices. Most important would be good pasture perimeter fences that would be examined often and maintained. Other methods would include pasturing the sheep where the visibility was not a limiting factor. If a guard animal can keep tract of the entire flock and has good visibility, they will be much more effective. Finally, bringing the sheep and guard animal in at night to a contained area would discourage losses, when predators are most active.
Not all llamas are created equal. Every llama is unique in its personality. It is important to find the right llama for the job. Some characteristics to look for in llama selection: Domineering, aggressive behavior (especially towards strange dogs), active and physically fit, inquisitive an alert, halter broker (manageable), mature enough to guard (2 years or older).
Reactions from Producers
Other sheep producers in the area have been interested in the project. In addition to giving a presentation at the fall Humboldt County Woolgrowers meeting on my project, several local newspapers have written articles on the project. Several other producers in the area are using llamas with their sheep as guard animals. The two that I know of do employ other strategies such as good fences and bringing their animals in at night to a secure area. All of the comments in regard to this project have been positive. Most people are very glad we have added sheep, are diversifying, and trying different approaches.
Recommendations or New Hypotheses
I think that other cooperators (other producers engaged in the same project) would have been great! The benefits of more cooperators would have meant getting more producers involved with trying new ideas. The project results would have been more conclusive, offering more & perhaps different results.
Local newspaper articles written on the project include: The Press Democrat, Santa Rosa, CA, “Llama’s the muscle for Ferndale flock”, September 23, 2003. The Times Standard, Eureka, CA, “Rancher hopes woolly beast will bring back sheep ranching”, July 21, 2003. Capital Press, “Humboldt rancher studies llamas as coyote deterrent”, August 1, 2003.
On October 19, 2003, at the Humboldt County Woolgrower’s Associations fall meeting I gave a talk on my project. I showed pictures and supplied information about SARE. About 50 people attended the meeting.
On October 17, 2004, at the Humboldt County Woolgrower’s Associations fall meeting I gave a power point presentation on the SARE project outcome (please see enclosed CD). About 30 people attended the meeting.