Before we moved to our rural property, we knew we would need some help protecting our future livestock from the local coyotes, black bears, and cougars. Here’s what we learned when deciding if we needed a livestock guardian animal.
We knew that smaller mammals and rodents would also be an issue around poultry. Therefore, we started to search for ways to keep our animals safe. We were surprised to discover a group of animals categorized as livestock guardians.
Different guardian animal groups
There are three main classes of Livestock Guardian Animal that have proven to be excellent protectors of livestock in various situations. Two species of livestock guardian animals — donkeys and llamas — naturally dislike canines and are effective against wolves, coyotes, and marauding dogs.
The third Livestock Guardian Animal class consists of several specific breeds of large dogs with strong instincts to protect their charges and aggressively fend off many types of predators. As a group they are called livestock guardian dogs, or LGDs. Choosing a Livestock Guardian Animal must include consideration of several factors.
What to consider before getting a livestock guardian animal
- Predators in your area
- Stock you want to protect
- Property size and fencing
- What will the guardian animals need
Do you need a livestock guardian animal?
If you have no predator issues, you may not need a guardian animal. Some nuisance animals can be eradicated by other means, such as electric fences and mousetraps. Securely-built chicken coops can deter the entrance of raccoons and weasels.
A good barking farm dog can ward off some would-be intruders. But if you have large predators in your area or regular visits by animals seeking free meals, it might be time to put a livestock guardian animal in with your stock.
How many and what kind of predators do you have in your vicinity?
- Do you see small mammals, packs of coyotes, wandering bears, wolves or cougars?
- A donkey will fend off individual canines and often small packs as well.
- Llamas will fight one canine but are ineffective against a pack.
- Neither donkeys nor llamas are effective against bears, wildcats, small mammals, snakes, or rodents.
- Livestock guardian dogs will oppose anything that does not belong in its territory, including individual canines, packs of canines, wild cats, bears, and most other aerial and ground predators.
Therefore, if your predator problem is an occasional lone canine, any of the three types will do. For small packs of canines, a donkey or LGD will work. For larger canine packs and non-canine predators, a pair of livestock guardian dogs is the best option.
What type of livestock do you want to guard?
- All three guardian types can be used with large livestock (horses and cows) and medium sized livestock (goats, sheep, pigs, and miniature cattle breeds).
- LGDs can be trained to walk among backyard chickens without injuring them, donkeys and llamas may accidentally or intentionally kick or step on birds.
- While donkeys and llamas may bond to their pasture mates, their defensive actions are more to protect their territory than to safeguard the stock.
- LGDs bond to the stock or humans they are to protect, and will fend off any perceived threat or anything that does not belong in the area. More relational and interactive with their charges than are donkeys or llamas, LGDs will assist with goat and sheep birthings and give special attention to stock that is ill or injured.
Do you feel a need for personal protection as well as livestock defense?
- Guardian dogs will bond with and protect humans as well as stock.
- Donkeys and llamas will not normally accompany people as they go about their chores and tasks.
- They will prevent entry of unwelcome people as well as animals. They will patrol your home and yard.
- Some of the LGD breeds are wonderful with children.
How many guardian animals do you need?
- Donkeys and llamas are much more effective individually than they are in pairs. Two donkeys or two llamas will bond to each other more strongly than to the stock they are to protect, and will usually be less attentive guardians than a lone donkey or llama would be. Therefore, for best defensive support, individual donkeys or llamas should be with small flocks and herds of stock.
- Livestock guardian dogs, on the other hand, work best in pairs and teams and will communicate from one to another as they strategically oppose intruders. You can pen multiple LGDs with large flocks and large herds.
What type of fencing do you have or are you willing to install?
- You can easily add donkeys and llamas to most livestock pastures or paddocks. They require the same type of fencing as medium to large livestock.
- A livestock guardian dog needs an effective fence to prevent it from pursuing predators outside your territory and from expanding its territory to include neighbors.
Are you willing to provide separate feed and individual attention?
- Donkeys and llamas will generally eat the same grass or feed as livestock they share pasture with.
- LGDs have different food needs from those of the stock and must be fed separately.
- Raise donkeys and llamas as livestock. They don’t need human guidance.
- Dogs require more time and effort in training and maintenance. For the most successful operation, an LGD must have a working relationship with its human alpha figure(s) — usually one or more family members or a farm manager.
Special donkey and llama breeds?
- There aren’t special breeds of donkeys or llamas that qualify them as livestock guardians. In general, all donkeys and llamas have the urge to fight off canines.
- The livestock guardian dog category includes several specific breeds of dogs. Many other breeds of dogs will bark at intruders and chase them away; however, only the LGD breeds are instinctively wired to bond with stock, relentlessly deter intrusion, and fight to the death if necessary to defend their stock.
The LGD breeds include the Akbash, Anatolian Shepherd, Great Pyrenees, Kangal, Komondor, Kuvasz, Maremma Sheepdog, and Tibetan Mastiff.
Donkey, llama, or livestock guardian dog?
Choosing a livestock guardian animal is a personal one that depends on the individual farm, surroundings, and livestock requiring protection. Many people have their favorites and stories of successful and ineffective guardian animals. The important thing is to consider your predator situation and your resources, planning accordingly to protect your livestock. The basics of caring for livestock may well be to get a livestock guardian animal.
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