by Dr. William L. Franklin and Kelly J. Powell
Iowa State University June 1993
A Research Report funded in
part by Rocky Mountain Llama & Alpaca Association
Reprinted from RMLA 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:
- Most introductions require only a
few days or less for the sheep and llama to adjust to each other.
- The average ranch uses one gelded
male llama pastured with 250 to 300 sheep in 250 to 300 acres.
- Sheep 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.
- More than half of guard llama
owners report 100 percent reduction in predator losses.
- Llamas are introduced to sheep and
pastured with sheep under a variety of situations, few of which affect
the number of sheep lost to predators.
- Multiple 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.
- Protectiveness of sheep and easy
maintenance are the two most commonly cited advantages.
- Problems encountered include
aggressiveness and attempted breeding of ewes, overprotection of flock,
and sheep interference with llama feeding.
- Overall, 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
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
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
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
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