Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Llamas and Donkeys, the Guard Dog Alternatives

For as long as people have been breeding and keeping livestock, protection of the herd has always been an issue. Domesticated animals don’t usually have the instincts to avoid predation and they are often at risk of being killed by coyotes, wolves, big cats and wild dogs while grazing in the open. Since long before the invention of firearms, ranchers and shepherds have used guard dogs to protect their herds. Always vigilant, these dogs keep a watchful eye for unwelcome visitors and will place themselves between the hunter and the herd to protect it.

As effective a guard dogs are, there are some other unlikely choices you may not be aware of.

Guard Llama - Photo by Paul Keleher
 Llamas have proven to be very effective at guarding sheep. They are naturally alert and can be very territorial. If an intruder approaches, the llama can make a variety of loud calls and will herd the animals it is watching over into a small group, placing itself in between them and intruder. Llamas will chase and kick those who get to close and have even been known to kill coyotes and dogs to protect the herd. They are fairly low maintenance animals and usually work best alone. The below video shows a guard llama with its herd of goats and sheep.
Donkeys are another popular choice as a guard animal as they are naturally wary of strangers and harbor a strong dislike of predatory animals, even domestic dogs. Donkeys have fantastic hearing and good eyesight as well as a loud bay that can be used to warn the herd. Like llamas, guard donkeys can and will attack threats if necessary. The video below shows a guard donkey attacking a ranch fence when strangers approach in a car. It may seem funny, but these donkeys take their jobs pretty seriously!
According to an Iowa State University study, the use of these unconventional guard animals is extremely effective, in some cases reducing predatory losses to only 7% of the herd.

While wildlife lovers will always view coyotes and dingoes as rightful residents of their habitats, to ranchers they represent a significant problem as pests. Using effective guard animals such as llamas and donkeys allows ranchers to protect their herds from predators without resorting to killing the predators, which seems like a win-win situation for everyone.

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