Coyotes are the bane of my existence. I hear them at night calling to each other in the dark. I jump out of bed, throw on some clothes, wake the German Shepherd, and run outside to yell into the pitch black field behind the house, “HEY, HEY, HEY, COYOTES!!!,” and wait for the calling to stop. Then, I go back inside, get in bed, and usually hear the same chorus a few minutes later, put my clothes back on, and go back outside to yell some more. One day, I saw an adult coyote right in the middle of the road, bold as brass, in full daylight, stalking a magpie not a mile from my house! Coyotes will kill a full grown sheep, let alone a little lamb. A neighbor of mine stopped keeping sheep 20 years ago because of all the animals he was losing to coyote attacks and another neighbor had all of her chickens killed by one just a few months ago. Of all the things I worry about, coyotes are at the top of the list.
A farmer can do a lot of things to protect their flock from predators. We have a 5-6 foot fence around the corral and I have motion sensor lights on all night around the house. Like I said, the dog and I barely sleep at night, listening for anything suspicious outside. Despite all this, I was still so anxious about my precious sheep’s safety that I started to look into other protection methods- guard animals! Some common ones are dogs, of course, but they have to live outside and aren’t really pets. Having a working, non-pet dog on the farm didn’t really fit our lifestyle. People also use donkeys and, with my equine background, I did consider this for a while.
Eventually, I decided on a guard llama for my sheep. I have shepherd friends with llamas that swear by them and I had read that they are very effective against predators, reducing or stopping loss of livestock from attacks. Gelded (castrated) males used to be recommended, but more and more people are finding that female llamas are great too because of their maternal instinct and bonding potential with small livestock. Llamas are alert, intelligent, brave, and will alert the shepherd if they suspect an intruder. They will sometimes even stand their ground against one or attack them back! What really sealed the deal for me is that llamas can also make beautiful fiber.
Not long after I decided a llama was the right guard animal for me, an ad came up on Craigslist for a single female llama that was being recommended as a guardian. A vet had recommended this vocation for her because of how alert she is and because she seemed to be happy living with the goats she was with. This poor llama had come from a neglect situation. Her home had been repossessed and, when the new owners showed up to move in, she and two other llamas had been left there with no one to care for them when the original owners moved out. She and the others were moved to a farm down the road from me so that they could be cared for while they found a new home.
As soon as I saw her, I knew she was for me. She is haughty and regal. She looks down her nose at you and glares through her long lashes. She spits big, green globs at you if you get too close or try to catch her (in fact, the folks that rescued her had named her “Tsunami”). I just love her!
She was a mess when I first saw her because of the sad situation she was coming from, but has since been sheared and is all clean now. I named her Hildegarde, “comrade in arms” in German, and we call her Hilda. She is a Suri llama, the rarer of the two kinds. Suris have almost no crimp to their fiber and it is soft, fine, and hangs in long, independent locks. This is as opposed to the Huacaya llamas, which are more common and have more crimp to their fiber, making them look fluffy. I have her beautiful fleece and, even though it is pretty dirty, I am planning to send it to a mill for processing soon. I’ll post pictures ASAP!
Despite the fact that she is a working animal and doesn’t need to be friendly, I work with her on her halter skills often so that she can be led easily in case she needs medical care, etc., and also so that she can learn that not all humans are going to hurt her. She LOVES to go for walks and is naturally curious and smart… the green, fresh grass she gets on walks helps too. This has really helped and she is getting better and more trusting every day.
When she was found, she was with an intact male llama, so she may or may not be pregnant. I asked the vet if I should get her pregnancy checked, but she said that would stress her out. As long as she is getting good quality food and is up to date on her vaccinations, I don’t need to do anything differently whether she is pregnant or not. Their gestation period is 11 months and I have read that it is very hard to tell if they are pregnant just by looking at them, so I’m hoping I’ll walk out to the corral one day to find a little llama! Either way, she LOVES the lambs and baby goats, is gentle and patient with the sheep, always scanning the fields and road for intruders, and has found her forever home guarding my sheep at the farm.