We keep four llamas as guards for our sheep, usually putting one with each group: ewe lambs, ram lambs, ewes, and rams. At different times of year, these groups may or may not be in different pastures. For example, we currently have all of the lambs grazing together, and that then means that there are two llamas in that group: Martin and Howie, who would normally be guarding the ram lambs and the ewe lambs in separate fields, are together with the mixed group of lambs.
We typically rotate each of the llamas through every group of sheep at least once each year so that they all know all groups, yet every llama has his or her favorites; Howie and Martin love playing with the lambs, Orbit finds the ewes to be more to his liking, and Summer is quite at home with the rams, never letting them push her around too much. Each will rotate through the other groups this summer, but they spend most of the year where they feel most comfortable and where we feel they do their best work.
Our llamas each have their own style of guarding their sheep – this isn’t something we can teach them. Martin and Howie have guarded the lambs together for several years, now, so they know each other and their partner’s working style well. Martin is more of a fence patroller, moving around the flock and constantly seeming to try to put himself between any threat and his lambs. Howie, on the other hand, likes to claim the high point of the field, getting a good view of not only the flock, but also the surrounding countryside. This way, he can see what is coming before it arrives and send out a warning alarm for both the sheep and for Martin. Between the two of them, Howie and/or Martin have faced off with neighborhood dogs, coyotes, raccoons, foxes, and even a cougar over the years – and so far, so good. We have had a lot of close calls, but no losses.
Yet, I will admit that when I saw Howie at his new perch yesterday, I had to smile. Howie’s usual spot in the West Pasture is at the top of the ridge, next to the manure pile. In fact, this spot has been claimed by him so often that it is bare of grass – we call it Howie’s Patch. He has begun taking dust baths there now that the grass refuses to grow beneath him! Yet when I looked out yesterday, Howie was no longer in his dust bath pit. No, Howie had moved for a better vantage point. He now enjoys an even better view from on top of the closest manure pile!
Now, the lambs were at first a bit put off by the fact that their llama – their friend – was hogging the top of the manure pile. How would they play king of the mountain? How would they be able to run up one side of the pile and then leap over the top to speed down the other side if he was positioned right at the top? Several of the bigger lambs suggested to Howie that perhaps he might like it better in his old spot. Opus and his friends pushed at Howie with their heads and climbed on him when he refused to move. Eventually, they realized that he was not leaving, and the other manure pile was actually just as much fun, so they left him alone as they went to explore the possibilities the other pile held.
Howie was nothing if not pleased with his victory. His head swiveled back and forth to take in the countryside. From his spot at the top of the manure pile high on the ridge, he could see all of the neighboring farms and their dogs, all of the traffic on either of our two roads, and pretty much anything that moved on our acreage. Yes, Howie has claimed his hill and has no plans to give it up. Not until, that is, the lambs must move again to the next pasture. Then, Howie will have to find a new high point from which to survey the land. For now, however, Howie is plenty pleased with his hill – manure covered and stinking in the rain as it is. Yes, he is pleased.