Predators can be a big problem for farmers. 647,200 head livestock were lost to predators on American farms and ranches in 2010. That’s an estimated $137.7 million loss (USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service).
Coyote, wild dogs, fox, coons and birds of prey top the list of predators that plague farmers in our region. Livestock guardians keep vulnerable stock safe. Dogs, donkeys and llamas are proven protectors.
A good livestock protection dog is intelligent, hardy to all weather conditions, loves work and has a manageable prey drive so that it does not turn on the livestock it is supposed to be protecting.
Dogs protect livestock by aggressively pursuing predators, chasing-off or taking-out. A single dog may be enough to protect a small herd, but multiple dogs work together to watch over a large herd.
Training. Dogs should be raised with livestock so that they will bond with the stock, not human handlers. Pups are placed with animals at 8-12 weeks of age. They are trained to stay near stock and keep a watchful eye. A dog reaches full protection potential at 18-36 months of age.
Care. Dogs are the most expensive livestock protection animals to purchase and keep. The price of a registered livestock protection breed can cost hundreds to thousands dollars depending on breed and bloodlines. A certified trainer charges $600 – $3000. Food and regular vet care are on-going costs of dog ownership.
Big benefit. Unlike donkeys and llamas, dogs can provide protection on the open range- no fence required.
Despite their nickname and reputation of stubbornness, donkeys are smart and effective livestock guardians. They have great eyesight and hearing to detect predators.
Donkeys are naturally territorial animals that alert farmers of intruders with their noisy “HeeHaw!” They challenge intruders by charging, kicking and biting. Last year a fellow goat farmer boasted his guard donkey for fighting off a pack of wild dogs and saving his herd. A single donkey can protect up to 300 head. A castrated male or female donkey is recommended.
Training. Donkeys require no special training, but takes 4-6 weeks of interaction to bond a donkey with a flock or herd. Caution must be taken during birthing season when a donkey might accidently step on and crush baby sheep or goats.
Care. Donkeys are low-maintenance animals. They require regular hoof trimming, worming, and vaccinations. They can eat the same feed as goats or sheep as long as it is not medicated for small ruminants.
Big benefit. It is possible to acquire a low-cost or free donkey from an equine rescue facility.
Llamas are instinctively herding animals. They bond easily with small ruminants, and fit well in any herd or flock.
When a llama spots an intruder it charges, kicks and spits. It will strike and stomp the predator to death. Camelids reach full protection potential at about 18 months of age. Castrated males or females are recommended.
Training. Llamas do not need to be raised with a herd or flock. They should be introduced in a small and safe setting until bonded.
Care. Llamas can be fed the same as sheep or goats. They eat very little. They prefer grass to grain. Camelids are ruminants with similar health, hoof, and shearing needs to sheep.
Big Benefit. Llamas have a very long lifespan that allows them to put in an average 20-30 years protection service.
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