Allocation of llamas

We have four llamas who work together to protect the sheep on our farm — Martin, Howie, Summer, and Orbit. For most of the year, we run two or three groups of sheep. At the beginning of each year, we have three groups in place: the adult rams on one side of the ram pen, the ram lambs on the other side, and all of the ewes in the Sheep Barn ready to deliver their lambs. It stays this way throughout lambing until the grass begins to come in and grazing begins. At that point, our sheep shift into two groups: the ewes and nursing lambs in one, and all of the rams in the other. When the new lambs are weaned, we have three groups moving from pasture to pasture: the lambs, the ewes, and the rams. Late in summer, we combine them back into two groups: all of the ewes in one group and all of the rams in another, the two kept separate before breeding season.

During this entire time, from January through mid-September, the allocation of our llamas is fairly straightforward. With four llamas to cover the groups, we assign one llama to each group based on their personality and likes/dislikes, and then put the extra llama into the group we feel needs them — or where they best fit. For example, Howie and Martin are best with the lambs. They not only do an excellent job protecting the youngest members of the flock, but they also enjoy their task. They will play king-of-the-mountain on the manure piles with groups of lambs or play a running tag through the fields at dusk. This type of joy and exuberance is good for all concerned, so we typically put at least one of these boys with the youngest flock members.

Our llama Summer is very good with the rams. She can hold her own when things get a bit rough; she is tough and the sheep know it. Despite how they treat the other llamas, the rams can’t bully her! Yet she isn’t particularly good with young lambs — she would rather step on them than wait for them to move out of her way. Because of this, we have to make sure there aren’t very young lambs present when she is guarding the group. Orbit works well with pretty much any of the groups but prefers the older sheep. He is easily annoyed by the pestering and play of the lambs, so he’s typically in with one of the older sheep groups where he can relax and enjoy himself.

Since all of our llamas work fairly well together, we can place them in groups based on their likes and dislikes and their behavior with our sheep. For most of the year, all of our sheep are well protected with one or more llamas in each group. You will notice that I said, “For most of the year….” When we are running breeding groups, it’s not quite so simple.; so at this time of year, we have a guarding issue.

We currently have six breeding groups plus two groups of non-breeding rams (adult rams and ram lambs, some of which are being kept for breeding next year) for a total of eight groups of sheep — but with only four llamas to protect them. Each breeding group is in a separate field, so a llama in one field cannot very well protect those in the neighboring field, since there is no way to reach them during an attack. The first year we encountered this dilemma, I panicked! How would I keep our sheep safe while breeding? The solution isn’t as all-encompassing as I would like, but it seems to do the trick. The idea is to give the impression that every field is covered during breeding. and then make sure to do a good job covering every field during the rest of the year.

The only way I could figure out to protect the largest number of sheep during breeding was to spread out our llamas. We put one llama (Summer) in the Timber at our western boundary to keep the neighbor’s dogs from coming in. Then we put Martin in the Pond Pasture to cover both the southern and eastern property lines closest to our other neighbor with wandering dogs. That leaves us with two llamas, and where to put them is always hard for me to determine.

This year I put Orbit with the ram lambs in the ram paddock along the northern property line. My thinking was that the lambs in that group who are breeders (intended for breeding groups next year) are our very best genetics — which I don’t want to risk losing. By putting a llama in with them, I’m not only protecting those genetics but also placing a guardian at the highest point of our acreage where he can sound the alarm if necessary. (They make a whooping noise when a threat is in the area.) Not only that, but I figured that if something bad were coming and saw a big, mean, screaming llama staring at it, perhaps the danger would go elsewhere. We can only hope this is true!

Finally, I placed the last llama (Howie) along the southern boundary at the road, thinking that the cattle and horses to the north might also keep predators from getting to our acreage from that direction. I’ve noticed that dogs, coyotes, and foxes all tend to use the road as a trail for getting from place to place, so I put a greater number of llamas along there, trying to cut off predators from getting onto our farm in the first place.

Whether this is the best way to allocate our llamas is anyone’s guess. So far, so good, however! We have only three or four more weeks of breeding to go, and then I can pull the sheep back into only three or four groups — easily covered by our four protector llamas. Until then, we keep our fingers crossed and hope for the best!

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