According to a USDA NAHMS study, 45 percent of sheep farms in
the United States use livestock guardians to protect their sheep
and lambs from predation. Of those reporting the use of guardians,
29.6 percent use livestock protection dogs; 14.2 percent use llamas; and 11.4
percent use donkeys.
Guardian dogs (or livestock protection dogs) are the most popular livestock or flock guardian. Guardian
dogs have been used for centuries to protect livestock. The breeds
of dogs typically used to guard sheep originated in Europe and
Asia. They include the Great Pyrenees (France), Komondor (Hungary),
Akbash and Anatolian Shepherd (Turkey), Maremma (Italy), Polish Tatra (Poland), and Mastiff
(Spain and Tibet).
These dogs are typically large (80-120 lbs) white or fawn colored
with dark muzzles. Some breeds (e.g. Komondor) are considered
to be more aggressive than others (e.g. Great Pyrenees). Mixed
breeds can be just as effective as purebred guardian dogs. Research has shown there is little difference in effectiveness among breeds. Greater variation exists within breeds.
Guardian dogs work by staying near the sheep and aggressively
repelling predators. Under range conditions or with large pastures,
more than one dog may be necessary. Guardian dogs work best
in pairs. Neutering of males or females does not seem to dimish
their guarding capability. Nor does sex seem to matter. Males and females are equally effective.
Genetics and rearing are the key factors that affect a guardian
dog's effectiveness. When purchasing a guardian dog puppy, it
is important to purchase from a reputable breeder. Guardian
dog pups should be raised with sheep, with minimal human contact.
A guardian dog's job is to bond with the sheep, not the shepherd.
Guardian dogs are generally aloof towards strangers.
and surveys have indicated that about 75 percent of guardian dogs are
A single llama should be used so that it will bond to the sheep
and not other llamas.
Llamas can offer an effective, long-term, economical alternative
for predator control. They are particularly aggressive towards
dogs and coyotes. Llamas do not require training. Females or geldings
(castrated males) are generally recommended over intact males.
Females are very aggressive towards strange dogs. Intact males
may try to breed the ewes and could cause injuries or death.
A single llama is usually more effective in a pasture as some
llamas may bond with each other and fail to protect the flock.
Llamas should be introduced to sheep in a small pasture or corral.
They do not need to be raised with sheep to be effective. Human
contact with a guard llama should be avoided.
There are many advantage to using llamas as livestock guardians.
Their care and feeding is similar to sheep. They do not require
special feeds. They are live long and are less prone to accidental
death. They do not wander, dig, or bark.
In Australia and Europe, Alpacas are being used as flock guardians.
A donkey's natural herding instinct and inherent dislike and
aggressiveness towards coyotes and dogs make it a suitable guardian
for sheep flocks. Given ample opportunity, most donkeys will
bond with sheep and protect them from predators. If the donkey
isn't raised with sheep, it should be housed next to the sheep
for 1 to 2 weeks.
Donkeys rely on sound and sight to detect predators. The donkey's
loud bray and pursuit will scare away predators and may also
alert the shepherd. If the predator does not quickly flee, the
donkey will attack by rising up on their hind legs and striking
with both front feet.
A jenny and foal probably provide the best protection; however,
jennies also work well on their own. Geldings are also effective
and oftentimes preferred because of their even temperament.
Intact males are oftentimes too aggressive with the sheep and
Donkeys are best suited to flocks having less than 100 ewes.
Not all donkeys make good guardians. Some are too aggressive
with the sheep. While all donkeys dislike canines, the miniature
donkeys may be too small to provide adequate predator control.
It is generally recommended that medium to larged sized donkeys
be used as livestock guardians.
Like llamas, donkeys are long-lived and have minimal upkeep,
although they need different shots than sheep. In addition,
they need to kept away from feeds that contain coccidiostats
(Rumensin®, Bovatec®, and Deccox®), as these compounds
can be poisonous to equines.
There may be some benefit to grazing cattle and sheep together.
Cattle can serve as natural protectors. A mixed group of cattle
and sheep is called a "flerd." The challenge is getting
the two species to bond together. If the sheep have bonded with
the cattle, they will seek protection in the flerd if they are
threatened. If they have not bonded to the cattle, they will
form their own group independent of the cattle when they are
Which Guardian Is Best?
The best guardian is the one that works. Guardian dogs, llamas, and donkeys have all used successfully
to prevent or reduce predation in sheep flocks. At the same time, not all guardian dogs, llamas, and donkeys make suitable guadians. There are advantages
and disadvantages to each type of guardian. Guardian dogs effectively
deter coyote and dog predation on fenced pastures as well as
open range. Llamas and donkeys are considered to be best suited
to fenced pastures.
Guardian dogs are more effective at detering bear and mountain
lion predation, as llamas and donkeys appear to be afraid of
larger predators. Furthermore, it is important to understand
that livestock guardians are not a cure-all for predator problems.
While they can be the first line of defense, they need to be
supplemented by other control methods.
<== SHEEP 201 INDEX