Guard Dog Not Doing the Job? Maybe You Need a Guard Llama

Put away the rifle. Lock up the Taser. Let your always sleeping rottweiler lie. If you're looking to really keep your home safe, consider a guard llama.

The cuddly, four-hooved animal that shares an ancestor with the camel, alpaca, vicuna, and guanaco has a growing reputation as a good guardian of property and livestock. Yes, guard llamas are a real thing.

"Llamas are well-equipped with offensive weapons," says Ken Kalish of Carma Llama Rescue in Park Rapids, MN. "They will approach a predator as though they are curious, as though they want to smell it. Once they get close enough, they strike."

So what does this mean? Hissing? Growling? Bad language?

" Llamas will kick upward first to roll an invading animal over on its back, and then they will swipe back in an attempt to disembowel it," Kalish says. "They grip with teeth, and while holding the predator in their teeth, they windmill with their front feet, and those very, very sharp nails can tear an animal apart."

Yikes! So forget the cuddly part. A llama strike can be deadly, but the mere presence of llamas can deter burglary and theft. When someone drives onto Kalish's farm, his guard llama, named Oscar, walks to the car and stands there, staring down the intruder through the window.

Oh, and Oscar measures 6 feet, 4 inches tall at the head.

"We haven't had any tools or fuel cans disappear since Oscar has been here," Kalish says.

Like any security system, however, guard llamas have limitations. But don't fret over your ferocious pets! We're here to help.

The lowdown on llamas

Before you llama up, make sure you're allowed to pack. If your property is zoned for livestock and allows animals such as pigs and cows, "you should be good to go," says Sonja Boeff, owner of Zander Farms in Arvada, CO.

The University of Vermont and websites such as Born Free USA post links to each state's livestock laws and fencing requirements. California and Maine have rules governing private possession of exotic animals or " wildlife in captivity," which can apply to llamas.

The city council in Wildwood, IL, is considering changing the minimum property size required for llamas. Currently, the animals must be kept on a farm of no less than 5 acres. One llama-owning resident, Julie Wier, wants the law revised so her llamas can be treated like horses -- allowed as "accessory use on a home site" on a minimum of 3 acres of fenced property.

Call off the dogs

Llamas tend to be docile, loyal, and social creatures that often instinctively bond with and protect other pasture animals such as sheep and goats. Because of their affable nature, they have been stealing jobs from dogs for decades.

Unlike many canine breeds, the very sight of an angry llama can be an effective deterrent to human and animal invaders alike. "If you're a fox, a 400-pound llama coming at you and looking eye to eye with you … it's usually enough for the predator to say, 'Enough, I'm out of here,'" Boeff says. She purchased her first llama five years ago to protect her pygmy goats.

Apparently, most llamas have an innate dislike for canines and will chase down and attack such intruders with extreme prejudice. Lucky predators get chased away by the llama's shrill, high-pitched, pulsating alarm call, followed by a flurry of spitting and kicking. Those are the lucky ones.

Not quite man's best friend

While llamas provide protection, think of them more as perimeter deterrents than home watchdogs.

"Their self-protective instincts are directed at predator threats," says Jan Dohner, author of "Livestock Guardians: Using Dogs, Donkeys and Llamas to Protect Your Herd." "They might care about a strange person, dog, or coyote entering their pasture, but they are not likely to care at all about someone breaking into your house."

Basically, llamas like to protect their personal space. That's why a good guard llama can be worth its weight in gold-plated hay bales.

"The economic impact of predation on sheep in the 17 western states probably exceeds $50 million annually," says Guy Connolly of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. "One producer estimated he saved $20,000 per year following the introduction of a llama to his livestock."

The price for a baby llama, a cria, starts at $500 at Figment Ranch in Cypress, TX. Boeff sells llamas from $300 to $3,500. It costs her about $216 annually to buy hay for each of her 26 llamas -- cheaper than the $480 she spent on food for her old guard dog.

You and your llama

Breeders recommend that you introduce a gelded (castrated) male llama between 6 months and 2 years of age to your property and flock. Intact males may try to mate ewes. Females, while equally effective guardians, are typically more expensive.

Buy your llama young so you can mold its personality and help it bond with your livestock. It typically takes four to six (adventure-filled) weeks to train a llama.

Stick with one guard llama per herd. Multiple llamas tend to socialize and bond with one another. Chatty llamas may ignore your flock.

Guard llamas are cool with sharing the pasture with other livestock, so a half-acre is adequate for a lone llama. Boeff admits, however, that she has 26 llamas on 3 acres of land.

"They're addicting, like potato chips," she says."Everyone I know who's started with one or two llamas winds up getting more."