Livestock Guardian Options

Goats, sheep and in some cases calves often need protection not only from coyotes, cougars and other predators but, increasingly, from dogs allowed to wander loose that attack livestock.

Goats, sheep and in some cases calves often need protection not only from coyotes, cougars and other predators but, increasingly, from dogs allowed to wander loose that attack livestock.

A predator attack can be devestating. Losses are not just in the form of animals killed - often attacks can trigger stress abortions, leading to a lost year of production for some animals. Animals can be injured and traumatized by attacks. Loose dogs can be devestating in many areas - they pack together and dogs who normally are docile become killers.

Some can be playing, chasing sheep or goats, and still do tremendous damage. Many areas allow shooting of dogs that kill or harass livestock. However, many don't want to kill someone's pet, or there may be neighbors, or concern of hitting the livestock in the shooting. Poison often doesn't kill the animal doing the killing and innocent animals pay instead. The alternative for many is a guardian animal.

The livestock guardian lives with and bonds with the flock. They learn to accept and protect the animal with territorial instincts work to the owner's advantage in keeping intruders out of the flock. In areas with cougar or other aggressive predators this can include calves, killed sometimes before they can get to their feet. A livestock guardian can watch over the herd as well as many flocks.

What kind of guardian do you choose? There are three most common - llama, dog and donkey. There's advantages and disadvantages to each. I've used all three and have some insight.

Many brag on llamas as guardians - they are effective at keeping predators out. Critics say in a pinch the llama is simply a sacrifice to keep the charges from being eaten. With the number of llama herds needing guardians there may be truth to that. I found in my case the llama seller would tailor answers to make it sound like in all ways llamas required the same care, fencing, handling etc that the goats would.

The reality - the llama did not like being handled on a good day - on a bad day it was worse. He'd crash through the fence, tearing it up, then be very difficult to catch. The third time I called the seller telling her to come get him. It took two experienced llama handlers and three animal control people several hours to catch him.

This is a far cry from the gentle curious pet represented that was trained to pack and sought out people. In short, in my experience I was not at all impressed with llamas. Other advice - always use neutered llamas. Unneutered males have been known to lay on sheep or goats in breeding as another llama, and kill their charges. Advantages - llamas are ruminants and do not need to be fenced away from supplements and other feeds for sheep and goats.

Donkeys, on the other hand, I've found very effective, with some conditions. Under NO circumstances should jacks be used, and very few johns (geldings) are suitable. The best bet is a jenny - female. A possible advantage depending on your area and how willing you are to put some time in - the Bureau of Land Management is a source of burros already adept at protecting their territory, and needing homes.

A disadvantage - you MUST take precautions if you use any protein tubs or feed with urea and be extra cautious about anything labelled for ruminants only. It can kill the donkey. They can, however, graze which eliminates buying dog food. A male can turn on their charges - a friend bought a donkey and in error got a male due to cost - he grabbed a good ram lamb by the neck and shook him, causing severe injury.

A kick can equally injure and kill a goat or sheep. For some time I ran a young jenny with the herd and she cut predation to ZERO. Dogs literally detoured around the pasture, going out of their way to follow the fenceline out of her reach. Strange dogs were targets for teeth and feet. Further, on more than one occasion she stood over a young lamb protecting it from larger animals in the field. It's hard to argue with success.

Dogs are a popular choice as well. The disadvantage - dog food of quality to nourish large dogs isn't cheap. They normally aren't interested in the feed sheep or goats eat however. They have teeth to take care of intruders and are more likely to cut losses to theft if that is an issue in your area.

Great Pyrenees are large white dogs that are normally more people friendly than the other popular guardian, the Anatolian Shepherd. The latter is less trusting and sometimes borderline aggressive. The first line of defense is to chase off an intruder - if they don't run they can and will kill an intruder. There are many other breeds capable of defense of a herd - the Kuvasz, Komodor and Maremma are but a few breeds favored by some people for herd defense.

It is never advised to get a guardian and just turn them in with the herd. Remember to do the job they must be bonded with the flock and allow them in the territory. Simply turning them in together they might consider the flock intruders. Irregardless of species fence the guardian near the flock - perhaps in a pen within the fenced area.

They can get nose to nose, they can figure each other out but they can not chase or be aggressive. After a few days they should be aquainted enough to let them in the same area for supervised time. As things go well leave the guardian in for longer periods until they can be trusted unsupervised.

A good guardian can save untold money and heartache in loss of animals. A good guardian is worth the time and effort to do right and is on duty all the time.

Treat them well, care for them like the best employee you'll ever have. They might be!