Alpacas as Guard Animals and Herd Protectors
Alpacas are one of four members of the South American camelid species. Like all camelids they are hardy, intelligent and gregarious animals that have evolved with strong herd social instincts. Both females and males are very protective of each other and especially of their young.
Alpacas are normally gentle toward humans and other animals that are not seen as threatening but they have an innate dislike for canines and foxes.
The instinct for one or two alpacas to bond with other grazing animal herds, and especially their proven ability to protect sheep and goats, has resulted in the growing use of wethered adult male alpacas as sheep flock guardians – especially during and after lambing and kidding.
Greygum Alpacas strongly recommends that alpacas used as guardians for lambing ewe and breeding goat flocks should be at least 18 months to two years old, and that castrated males [wethers] or females are used.
If several alpacas are kept together they may spend more time in each other's company, however, some farmers report success in running up to six guardian alpacas with very large lambing ewe flocks for added protection against eagle and crow attacks, as well as wild dogs and foxes.
After initially patrolling the paddock boundary, the guardians will soon remain fairly close to the flock for companionship, and will normally protect them from predators. A single guardian has sometimes been seen 'minding' a group of young lambs while the mothers spread out to feed.
Guardian alpacas can be readily moved around the property with their accompanying flocks, using dogs as required. Normal care, however, is needed to control dogs in their vicinity, especially in yards.
To avoid undue stress, an alpaca should not be kept alone in a paddock. When not needed as guardians it is preferable to keep at least two alpacas in a paddock near the homestead where they can become accustomed to farm dogs, and with occasional hand feeding they will be easy to handle. They will thrive on normal sheep feed and will tend to be overweight when run with breeding ewes, so they should be kept separately or with dry sheep outside the lambing season.
With normal husbandry, guardian alpacas should remain active and useful for up to 15 years. Alpacas need to be shorn annually, and this is best done after all sheep have been shorn.
Many sheep breeders have reported their best-ever lambing percentages following the introduction of guardian alpacas.
Alpaca wethers are readily available at very low cost in comparison to their benefits and feeding and husbandry costs are also very low. These quiet and friendly animals are rapidly becoming accepted as essential complements to all sheep and goat breeding enterprises where predators cause lambing and kidding losses.
Most alpacas make very good pets if they are treated well and the owners are realistic in their expectations. Given time, most alpacas will eat out of your hand and training them to lead by a halter is a straightforward process. Although alpacas look cuddly they generally don't like being held, and are particularly sensitive to being touched on the head. Alpacas are naturally curious and intelligent and if you let them approach you, rather than rush at them and expect an affectionate response, the interactions can be very rewarding. The main thing to remember is that they are alpacas, and not dogs or cats, and should be allowed to be alpacas.
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