by Dr. William L. Franklin and Kelly J. Powell, Iowa State University

A Research Report funded in part by

Reprinted from Rocky Mountain Llama and Alpaca Association newsletter

Guard llamas offer a viable, nonlethal
alternative for reducing predation, while requiring no
training and little care.

     Coyote predation is a serious problem for the sheep industry. The traditional approach to controlling predator losses has been to trap and poison coyotes. During this study, 145 sheep producers using guard llamas were interviewed to determine characteristics of the guard llamas and husbandry practices. Some of the results include:

bulletMost introductions require only a few days or less for the sheep and llama to adjust to each other.
bulletThe average ranch uses one gelded male llama pastured with 250 to 300 sheep in 250 to 300 acres.
bulletSheep and lamb losses averaged 26 head per year (11% of the flock) before using guard llamas and 8 head per year (1% of the flock) after.
bulletMore than half of guard llama owners report 100 percent reduction in predator losses.
bulletLlamas are introduced to sheep and pastured with sheep under a variety of situations, few of which affect the number of sheep lost to predators.
bulletMultiple guard llamas are not as effective as one llama
Ranchers report an average annual savings of $1,034 and 86% say they would recommend guard llamas to others.
bulletProtectiveness of sheep and easy maintenance are the two most commonly cited advantages.
bulletProblems encountered include aggressiveness and attempted breeding of ewes, overprotection of flock, and sheep interference with llama feeding.
bulletOverall, llamas are effective guards with high sheep producer satisfaction.

Although questions remain to be answered, guard llamas are a viable, non-lethal alternative for reducing predation, requiring no training and little care.

Coyote predation on sheep

     Make no mistake about it: coyotes kill sheep. In fact, predation is a leading cause of sheep mortality and represents a serious problem for the sheep industry. Sheep losses due to predation in the United States were more than $83 million in 1987, up from $72 million in 1986 and $69 million in 1985. The losses in 1987 represent 5 percent of the total sheep population in the United States. Lambs are particularly vulnerable. Lamb losses from predation average 9 percent and vary from 3 percent to 14 percent of the lambs.

     Sheep are found in every state of the union, and losses due to predation vary. In Iowa, the state with the largest number of sheep operations, intensive field studies revealed that 41 percent of all sheep losses were from canine predators (coyotes and dogs). Sheep scientist Clair Terrill calculated economic losses due to predation. In Texas, the state with the largest number of sheep, predation was responsible for 14 percent to 69 percent of all sheep losses. Texas also led the nation in economic loss due to predation on sheep ($12 million) followed by California ($9 million), Wyoming ($7 million), Iowa ($6 million), Utah ($6 million), and Colorado ($5 million).

    For an industry operating on a low profit margin, losses due to predation have resulted not only in reduced revenue for the producer, but also in higher prices paid by the consumer for meat and wool products. Predation is a real problem with a major impact on the sheep industry.

Guard animals

     Recently, the search for a simple, non-lethal technique to prevent coyote predation has led to the experimental and field use of guard animals. The ideal guard animal should protect sheep against coyote predation while requiring minimal training, care, and maintenance. It should stay with and not disrupt the flock, and live long enough to be cost effective. A variety of guard animals currently in use includes dogs, donkeys, kangaroos, ostriches, and llamas. Of these, guard dogs are by far the most common.

     During the past decade and a half, with the birth and growth of the llama industry in North America, llamas were occasionally pastured with sheep. To the surprise of owners, they noticed fewer sheep were being lost to coyotes. As the word spread, producers started experimenting with guard llamas. Today, their use in North America is on the increase, but guard llamas still number only in the hundreds.

Did sheep losses decline?

      Before producers obtained their guard llamas, they had been losing an average of 26 sheep per year to predation, or about 11 percent of their flocks. After obtaining their llamas, the producers' losses dropped significantly to an average of 8 head per year, or about 1 percent; half of the producers had their losses reduced to zero. Eighty percent of the producers rate their guard llama's ability to reduce predation losses of their sheep as "very effective" or "effective."

Owner satisfaction, cost and savings

     Nearly 80% of the sheep producers reported that they are either "very satisfied" or "satisfied" with their guard llamas. Predator control and easy maintenance are cited as the top benefits. Two-thirds of the producers report no disadvantages with their guard llamas, and 85 percent indicate they would recommend guard llamas to others.

     Some producers report no savings by having a guard llama, while one purebred producer saves an average of $20,000 per year. An average annual savings of $1,034 was reported by 86 producers.

....Futher topics covered in the brochure are.....

Reducing coyote predation
Traditional approaches
Non-lethal approaches
Introduction of llamas to sheep
Do guard llamas really work?
Current use of guard llamas
How and why do llamas protect sheep?
What works best?
Cautions and problems
Guard llamas vs. guard dogs
Not a panacea


A true story, a llama guarding sheep or a 
A Match Made in Heaven
by Bob Riley

     One day I had a call from a 70-year-old lady who lives on a sheep ranch. She said that there are two things she has always wanted ... a 4-wheel drive pick-up and a llama. Her husband said that was nonsense because they didn't need either. He died 6 months ago and now she has a Ford 4-wheel drive pick-up and was on the phone pricing out a llama.

     Meka was not a show llama, nor friendly, nor woolly. In fact, he didn't get along with people or other llamas. The other boys in the field would pick on him and he always lost. He was definitely low man on the totem pole. He needed a new home.

Drawings provided by BUCKHORN LLAMA COMPANY, Inc

    I delivered Meka to the sheep ranch with the elderly lady with the pick-up truck late one evening. She was excited and her daughter and grandchildren were there for the big event. They tried to pet him, but Meka, being Meka, just danced away from them at the end of a firmly held lead. I released him into a corral where the sheep had been herded for the night. Coyotes are an ever present threat to sheep in the high mountains of Colorado.

    Would he spook the sheep or would the sheep spook him? Maybe Meka would jump the fence and if so, this trip would be a waste. Meka was mildly curious and the sheep were mildly cautious. So far it looked promising. The plan was for Meka to spend the night in the corral, then be released the next morning with the sheep into an 80-acre pasture. I left with my fingers crossed. 

    That was two years ago. The lady with her 4-wheel drive pick-up and a guard llama are doing well. She has not lost any of her flock to coyotes now that Meka is on the job. The pasture fence is along a major highway and he keeps his flock safely away from the fence. If a perceived threat approaches (stray dog, coyote, etc.), he will position himself between the intruder and his herd.

    Every night, when the lady comes out at 7:00 p.m. to open the gate to the corral, Meka will herd the sheep in. He's become her only ranch hand, a friend, and a guard llama with a purpose.

    Llamas have a strong herd instinct and they like being with others of their own species. After being taken from their llama herd and placed with the sheep, they will adopt the sheep as their new herd. Being the largest of that new herd, they become dominant and protective. This protective instinct really kicks in at lambing. The llamas will eat the same forage as the sheep do. If the sheep are wormed or vaccinated, be sure to include the llama.

    Research has shown us that llamas are effective at guarding sheep 95% of the time. Losses due to coyote or dogs dropped to zero on half of the sheep ranches with llamas. I feel that the llamas should be a castrated male at least 2-1/2 years old. Younger males will work as well but it may take them longer to become fully effective. Llamas suitable for guarding may be purchased for $700 to $1,200.

2001  Midwest Manufacturing, Inc.
d/b/a Llama Lifestyle Marketing Association