When considering livestock, do not underestimate the power of having a livestock guardian animal. While dogs are very common livestock guardians, they are not the only animals equipped for the job. Donkeys and llamas tend to make great livestock guardians as well. No matter what animal is used for guarding livestock, they need to be trained to guard the intended animals. If you have pet dogs or other animals that you want to remain safe in the area, your livestock guardians need to understand the distinction between threats and your pets. Livestock guardian animals are not a cure all for predator attacks. However when properly trained, they make a great tool for helping provide a safe environment for your livestock.
Livestock guardian dogs are often referred to as LGDs. Many dog breeds are used for livestock guarding, but the most common in the United States is the Great Pyrenees. Great Pyrenees make great choices in Alaska because they have been bred for colder climates. Other breeds commonly used for guarding include: Anatolian Shepherd, Kangal, Komondor, Tibetan Mastiff, Pyrenean Mastiff, Maremma, and Akbash. Proper socialization of these dogs are important so they can distinguish the difference in human threats as well. When training, they are often placed with the animals when the dog is around 8 to 16 weeks old. The key is for them to feel bonded to the livestock so they are a part of their pack. As we know, dogs are protectors of whoever is in their pack.
Most LGDs are going to weigh around 100 pounds so the cost of feeding them needs to be considered. It is important to note that their training might be the most extensive and time consuming compared to donkeys and llamas. LGDs were bred to watch sheep and goats. When trained accordingly, they are ideal for watching over poultry as well.
Donkeys are becoming more popular as alternatives to dogs when guarding livestock. Like dogs, you must bond the animal to the intended livestock. This means only having one donkey or one with a new foal to protect. Donkeys used for guarding need to show aggression for canine species as this is the most likely predator for sheep and goats. Donkeys are very vocal. When they bray at predators, you are more likely to hear it then any other type of guardian. They bray loud enough this alone can scare off predators. Donkeys are the fighters of equine. They will bite, kick, strike, and chase off predators.
Donkeys will eat in the same pastures you are keeping your goats/sheep in, so food isn’t often a needed cost. Over winter, they will need hay just like the livestock as well as feed. The males do need to be gelded as they will show aggression towards whatever livestock they are protecting if they are not gelded. Donkeys are best suited for guarding sheep and goats. They are commonly placed in with cattle and horses as well due to their fighting nature, they will help protect calves and foals.
Llamas are less commonly used in the United States, but they do offer predation control. Similar to donkeys, llamas do not like canines or unfamiliar threats in their areas. If llamas feel bonded to your livestock, they will often stand between them and the predator. Llamas are not afraid of a fight. Often their height is enough to intimidate predators. They have a loud vocal response, will chase, kick, pawn, spit towards, and charge at predators. Llamas do best against smaller predators or small numbers of dogs/coyotes. They are not the best one on one with a large predator such as a wolf or a pack of coyotes. Female llamas are ideal for guarding as the males (neutered or not) tend to be aggressive towards other animals and are more difficult to bond. No matter what guardian animal you chose, be sure to not solely rely on the animals as your only predation control method.