Guarding Your Livestock

— Written By

This topic may not apply to all goat and sheep producers but I hope you will find it interesting nonetheless. Predator control and guardian animals have always been a concern for small ruminant producers. The predator species may be easy to figure out but keeping them out 24/7/365 when you can’t be with your animals all the time is a struggle. Many have found the answer and solution to predation with guardian animals.

Guardian animals are just that, guardians for your livestock. They don’t herd the animals but rather live with them, among them, and provide protection from predators. The animal you choose often depends on the land, facilities, location, and size of your herd. It may also depend on the type of predation you are experiencing. Essentially there are three animals that are the most commonly used to protect sheep and goats: guardian dogs, donkeys, and other ruminants like llamas or alpacas.

The effectiveness of your guardian animal depends on its training, instincts, temperament, and the bonding it has with your herd. There is no guarantee, even after the investment of time and money, that they will be successful so it’s important to be aware of the risk before you make that decision. No one predator control method will be 100% effective so it’s important to employ as many other practices that you can, in addition to the possibility of a guard animal.

Guard dogs are full time members of the flock, often large mainly white breeds. The temperament of the puppy should be assessed at various points in training to be sure the animal will protect and bond with the livestock. An animal that turns aggressive towards the flock it is supposed to be protecting will be no good to anyone. The most common breeds in the US are the Great Pyrenees, Anatolian Shepherd, Kuvasz, and several others.

Donkeys can be valuable predator protection because they naturally hate dogs and coyotes. Donkeys often take 4-6 weeks to bond with their flock but they are social animals who like to associate with other livestock. However, do not put two donkeys in one area to guard a flock/herd, if there are multiple donkeys they will not bond properly with the sheep/goats, instead they will bond with each other. Use jennies or jacks when picking a donkey and try to find a medium-large sized animal.

Llamas and alpacas can be effective in predator control, since they bond very well with sheep and goats. Llamas are aggressive towards dogs and coyotes but usually only successful against single animals. If the llama is not “scary” enough, it can often become prey itself because it is almost as defenseless as the sheep/goats.

These are just a few of the ways you can protect your livestock from predation. The combination of fencing, good husbandry practices, and possible livestock guardian animals will go a long way in the comfort and safety of your herd!