How can you offer 24/7 protection for your farm animals? Well, an unconventional choice may be employing guard alpacas. While alpacas have limits as guard animals, they have been proven to be effective against certain predators.
In their natural habitat, alpacas often group together to chase predators away from aging alpacas or crias. Some alpacas are too timid to protect other animals, so take into consideration individual temperaments.
What can alpacas protect farm animals from? Alpacas are great guards for small farm animals, such as poultry, rabbits, barn cats, sheep, and goats. Their main defense mechanism is alerting the presence of predators, but they may chase them away, too. Alpacas are most adept at guarding against foxes. Alpacas will NOT protect your farm animals from large predators like coyotes, wolves, cougars, and bears.
Let’s dive into the benefits of a guard alpaca, what livestock they protect, and predators they can (and can’t) protect animals from. Then you’ll find the best tips for keeping an alpaca as a livestock guardian, a comparison between alpacas and animals commonly employed, and extra predator prevention tips!
Why Choose Alpacas As Guard Animals?
In addition to their guarding abilities, alpacas are popular for their long lifespans, versatility, profitability, and easy maintenance. Here are a few benefits of keeping a guard alpaca.
Alpacas Are Non-Lethal
Livestock guardians are non-lethal methods of keeping predators away. Alpacas are more likely to simply deter or chase predators off than kill them.
Non-lethal methods of deterring predators are rising in popularity. Why? Because they’re legal, much more humane, and according to studies, they’re proving to be more effective – without disrupting the environment.
After all, homesteaders may consider predators as expendable pests, but they are integral to maintaining a balanced ecosystem. If all the foxes are removed at once, for example, a larger predator will simply take their place and the rodent populations spike!
Wolves also increase attacks on livestock when their population is reduced (study). Non-lethal methods are best all around. This is where alpacas make a big impact!
Alpacas Are Best for Deterring Small Predators
Alpacas are excellent guard animals if your area has an issue with predators such as foxes and even eagles.
But a fox is as large of a predator as an alpaca should be used to guard against.
Unfortunately, it’s quite common for people to get alpacas to protect their sheep, goats, and even horses against large predators such as coyotes, wolves, and more. This is a huge mistake since it puts alpacas in danger – and does nothing to prevent attacks on your flocks.
Alpacas are great for deterring smaller predators away. If you need a non-lethal predator deterrent, alpacas might be perfect.
Alpacas Are Vigilant and Alert
Alpacas are known to be exceptionally alert. They have to be, as prey animals themselves. In a herd, one alpaca is always awake to stand guard over the rest of the alpacas.
Their first defense is releasing a shrill scream when they sense the nearby presence of a predator. Since they have long necks, excellent vision, and sharp senses, alpacas are also more likely to recognize a predator’s proximity before other animals such as goats or poultry.
When you hear an alpaca screaming, you need to check on your animals immediately! It often indicates an animal is lurking nearby – even if you can’t visibly see any signs of one.
If a predator invades their territory, many alpacas will chase it off. If alpacas overtake a predator like a fox or small dog, they may kick or trample it. However, often simply having a comparatively larger animal like an alpaca will be enough to ward small predators away.
7 Animals Can Alpacas Protect
So, what animals can you use alpacas to guard? And which ones are alpacas ineffective guards for?
Weasels, hawks, neighborhood dogs, cats, raccoons, foxes, coyotes, and more predators will try to find ways inside your coop and snack on free-ranged birds. While some chickens will try to protect themselves and the flock, poultry are mostly defenseless against predators.
Alpacas offer protection to chickens and other poultry as long as they stay inside the alpaca pen. You can position the coop inside your alpaca’s paddock, often preventing predators from breaking into the coop. Free-ranged birds aren’t likely to stay within the paddock, but they should learn they’re safer there.
Goats face predators such as foxes, coyotes, dogs, wolves, cougars, and more! Their horns are about the only defense they have against predators, which makes disbudded and polled goats even more defenseless. Goat kids and small breeds are especially vulnerable to attacks.
Alpacas can bond quickly to goats and help protect them against foxes, a coyote, or a dog.
Sheep are extremely docile animals and vulnerable to predators – especially during lambing season.
Alpacas can help guard your sheep. Many farmers note that their yearly lamb losses have dropped since adding an alpaca or two.
Additionally, sheep and alpacas often get along tremendously well with each other, and can both happily subsist on pasture, hay, and supplementary feed.
Although alpacas and sheep can coexist well, it’s extremely important to never keep a ram with your alpacas. More on this later!
We all know how defenseless little rabbits are. Even enclosed rabbits are susceptible to clever foxes, raccoons, and weasels that try to sneak inside. If you free-range them on your property, this is even more true.
Already have alpacas? Well, your rabbits will most likely learn to seek shelter with the alpacas from predators. If you keep them enclosed, you can move the rabbit hutches inside your alpaca’s pasture for enhanced protection.
Free-ranging animals comes with a wide range of risks, from increased predation to increased population. I don’t know about you, but I don’t fancy fifty rabbits digging around the property! It’s best to keep them in comfortable enclosures.
5. Miniature Horses and Ponies
Coyotes, wolves, cougars, and other larger predators pose a threat to adult miniature horses and small ponies. Foals and birthing mares are especially vulnerable to predation.
Miniature horses and small ponies may benefit from an alpaca guardian. However, they’re around the same size, and most miniature horses can defend themselves just as well as alpacas with a surprisingly strong kick.
If you’re concerned for the safety of your miniature horses and ponies, you should try a larger guardian like a llama or LGD.
Pigs and alpacas should not be kept together. However, alpacas can help you keep your pigs safe from an adjacent pen by releasing an ear-splitting scream when a predator is near.
7. Barn Cats
Recently, a local shelter had feral cats that they specifically sought to rehome as barn cats. I love the idea of it, but our area has too many predators, so all of our cats are indoors. If you have barn cats, you’re probably concerned about this, too.
Barn cats will be safe from predators inside your alpaca’s paddock, but cats naturally roam. They won’t stay in one confined area. However, they should learn that the alpacas offer protection, so they may tend to flock there in case of danger. If you already have alpacas and get barn cats, they’ll be relatively safer with the proximity of the alpacas.
2 Animals Alpacas Don’t Protect
Now that we’ve covered the livestock alpacas do protect, it’s worth discussing the ones they’re ineffective guardians for.
Alpacas do not protect horses. If anything, a horse will protect an alpaca! Horses are vulnerable to the same predators as alpacas: coyotes, wolves, cougars, and bears. They can usually defend themselves against one coyote or dog, but groups of predators can injure or kill a horse.
Horses can also easily hurt your alpacas by spooking and accidentally kicking or trampling an alpaca. Altogether, you should avoid keeping alpacas and horses together.
Like horses, cattle can pose a danger to your alpacas. Even female cows can become too playful or too rambunctious around alpacas. It’s best to keep them separated.
However, alpacas also do nothing to protect cattle, since the biggest threats to your cows are the same that alpacas face. These include coyotes, wolves, and bears. You should put other measures in place to protect your cows!
Alpacas Protect These Farm Animals (Chart and Ranking)
|Poultry||Excellent||Keep coop inside alpaca’s paddock; ensure alpacas don’t have access to chicken feed|
|Goats||Excellent||Very compatible; alpacas protect sheep from foxes, ravens/eagles, and coyotes; bond easily|
|Sheep||Excellent||Keep goat’s copper mineral away from alpacas|
|Barn Cats||Good||Cats should learn to hang inside the alpaca’s paddock; try integrating other methods, too.|
|Rabbits||Good||Keep rabbit hutches in your alpaca pen for maximum protection|
|Pigs||Okay||Keep alpacas in separate pen; they’ll raise the alarm in case of predators.|
|Miniature Horses||Okay||Miniature horses benefit more from other guards like LGDs or llamas.|
|Horses||Worst||Horses and alpacas shouldn’t be kept together; alpacas don’t “protect” horses.|
|Cows||Worst||Never keep cattle and alpacas together; cows and alpacas are vulnerable to same predators|
Alpacas Against Predators
So, what predators do alpacas actually protect livestock from?
It’s important to remember that alpacas themselves are prey animals. They are best if you have an issue with foxes and eagles – not packs of wolves!
Eagles are magnificent birds, but they’re also lethal to poultry, lambs, goat kids, and other small livestock. One eagle can fly away with a small animal in their powerful talons. Chickens and ducks are most commonly at risk.
However, eagles also exploit ewes in labor by waiting for the lamb to be born, at which point they either kill the babies or carry one off.
Surprisingly, alpacas have been known to keep eagles away from birthing ewes, poultry, and other livestock eagles pose a threat to. So, keeping a guard alpaca may help if you have swarms of eagles after your birds or lambs. This also applies to ravens!
Raccoons look so cute and adorable, right? Many people mistakenly think their natures reflect their appearances. Well, raccoons can be quite vicious, especially when cornered.
Raccoons are extremely crafty and persistent and will find (or create) any way into your chicken coop that they can. They’re also one of the most common carriers of rabies.
Raccoons may be deterred during the day if your chicken coop is inside the alpaca’s paddock. However, they’ll return at night, and they may even sneak through during the day. Alpacas offer little protection to birds from raccoons.
Foxes are remarkably clever and deserve a medal for their patience. Unlike other predators who simply swoop in to snatch a bird as they pass through, foxes usually spend time observing first. They’ll likely hang around your farm for a few days, concealed in the bushes to learn what they can.
While livestock like birds and rabbits most often fall prey to foxes, lambs, crias (baby alpacas or llamas), goat kids, and small goat breeds are also susceptible to fox attacks.
Alpacas are excellent at guarding animals from foxes. As fast runners, alpacas chase foxes off, and sometimes attack them. Having an alpaca will deter foxes from grabbing your animals.
On another note, I’ve observed a red fox in my paddock before, sitting calmly amongst the goats and miniature horses. I have also seen a silver fox lying in my horses’ paddock, with no reaction from the horses. It seems animals might acclimate to their presence!
Coyotes are one of the most dangerous and most common predators to nearly all livestock. They even pose a threat in urban areas or towns. Coyotes can also live and hunt in pairs or packs, making them a greater danger.
An alpaca can often fend off one coyote from your livestock. However, alpacas are vulnerable to attacks from coyotes themselves. Even one coyote can seriously injure an alpaca. They’re the most susceptible to coyotes in packs. You can get multiple alpacas to help protect your livestock instead of one, or use other guard animals and prevention tips.
Wolves are both majestic and ingenious. Unfortunately for homesteaders and ranchers, they’re also notorious for attacking sheep, goats, alpacas, llamas, horses, cattle, and other livestock in packs. Greater numbers makes them more intimidating and dangerous.
Alpacas cannot protect your livestock from wolves! They’re too vulnerable to attacks themselves. Instead, employ the tips and tactics at the end of this article and try Livestock Guardian Dogs. Science-based methods can also help deter wolves from preying on your livestock.
Cougars (Mountain Lions)
Most cougars prefer to stay away from human civilization, but they can pose a threat to livestock. Cougars are tremendously powerful and agile cats capable of jumping heights of fifteen feet straight into the air – which means they can easily clear your fence.
Cougars often hunt alone or in pairs, although on occasion they’ve also been observed in groups! They’re not always as solitary as we like to believe.
A cougar will most likely kill and carry away one or two goats, sheep, or other small animals. However, I know someone whose horse was killed by a cougar, so equine owners should also be alert to these cats.
Cougars can attack alpacas as well as other animals. Do not use alpacas to protect your livestock from cougar attacks! If you have a problem with cougars, try scare tactics listed below, avoid baiting deer, and use other techniques.
Tips for Keeping a Guard Alpaca
Get a Wether or Female Alpaca
Never keep an uncastrated male alpaca with your animals! Intact males will fight each other, bully the other livestock you want them to protect, and be more interested in breeding.
Instead, purchase wethers and/or female alpacas. They’re calmer and more likely to bond with and guard your other livestock.
Keep a Minimum of Two Alpacas
There’s a popular concern that two alpacas will bond to each other instead of the animals they’re supposed to guard. This supposedly reduces their interest in protecting the flock.
However, the Australian Alpaca Association notes that “herd guards work best in pairs.” It also remarks, “Alpacas are herd animals and having one alpaca is not recommended.”
And every study conducted states that both alpacas and llamas are more effective guardians in groups. It seems this concern is mostly a misconception.
Never keep one alpaca alone, even with other animals. They have strong herd instincts and require companionship from their own species to maintain their health.
If you have a problem with multiple coyotes, wolves, or dingos, you’ll need a group of 5-10 alpacas.
Don’t Keep Rams and Alpacas Together
Similar to making sure your alpaca is castrated, you should never keep rams with an alpaca, regardless of the alpaca’s sex. This is extremely important.
Unfortunately, some people remain ignorant of the dangers rams can inflict on other animals. Our Icelandic ram, Houdini (now deceased), used to heabutt anything in sight. With his powerful set of horns, he could easily hurt or kill goats, dogs, horses, or alpacas – especially with their fragile legs.
This also applies to llamas! A family friend kept his ram with all of his animals, including goats (and baby goats), ewes, and llamas. The ram eventually injured one of the goat kids and a llama.
Personally, I like to think ahead and evaluate what might go wrong. We didn’t keep our ram with our other animals. Remember, it may be completely fine – until it isn’t, and then you have an injured animal and an enormous vet bill (or a decision facing euthanasia).
Use common sense! Avoid taking the risk and separate your uncastrated male animals – bucks, rams, stallions, and jacks – from alpacas.
Integrate Your Alpaca Slowly
Don’t make the mistake of bringing in a new alpaca without properly integrating him to your livestock first. Horses, goats, sheep, and other animals need to adjust to a new member of their herd. You’ll also create unnecessary stress for your new alpaca if you skip this step.
Set up a nearby pen for your alpaca, so the animals can view each other safely. Keep them separate for at least one week, then gradually let them interact in small, supervised amounts of time. Sometimes this process takes over a month. Take your time and be patient.
If you don’t integrate them properly, they will most likely fight, causing potentially serious injuries. This period of time in “quarantine” also helps prevent illnesses from spreading to the rest of your animals from the new alpaca.
Keep Your Livestock Feed Separate
Chicken feed, goat grain, sheep grain, and other livestock feeds are often toxic to alpacas. Make sure you keep your livestock feed in a secure place where your alpacas can’t reach it. You should also feed your livestock separately.
Comparison: Alpacas Vs Guard Animals
Alpacas aren’t the only animals used as livestock guards. In fact, Livestock Guardian Dogs have been around for centuries to protect animals. Even ostriches and kangaroos are sometimes used!
Let’s compare alpacas with donkeys, llamas, and Livestock Guardian Dogs.
Alpacas Vs Donkeys
Donkeys are often much better guardians than alpacas. While many alpacas instinctively run from predators, donkeys are renowned for chasing off almost anything, including foxes, dogs, coyotes, bobcats, and even cougars.
However, a more aggressive donkey may become a threat to your animals. Some donkeys have been known to injure or kill smaller animals. Alpacas, on the other hand, are much more gentle around other animals.
Some homesteaders find a way around this, quite literally. Instead of keeping the guard donkey with livestock like goats and sheep, they build a fence surrounding the entire perimeter of the paddock the livestock are in. This way, the donkey can protect your livestock without becoming a risk to them.
Like alpacas, donkeys are quite easy to care for. Follow the same advice found above if you want to keep a guard donkey. Integrate the donkey slowly, and only keep castrated males or females. You may also consider getting two donkeys if you have a problem with multiple predators.
You also need to keep your donkey entertained with some toys and boredom busters. They’re incredibly intelligent animals that need to be kept stimulated. They can also be affectionate and you can form a bond with them!
Alpacas Vs Llamas
Do a quick Google search on guard alpacas and a good majority of the results will claim their contents are about alpacas. Yet once you scan the article, you’ll find the writer is actually mistaking alpacas for their cousins, the llama. Unfortunately, misinformation is abundant and it leads to unnecessary confusion for homesteaders.
Please do not apply information intended for llamas to alpacas. While they’re very similar, llamas and alpacas are vastly different in their guarding abilities.
Llamas are much more adept as guardians than alpacas. Llamas are larger, more effective, and consistently more reliable than alpacas. In fact, if you keep alpacas and llamas together, you’d notice alpacas typically look to the llamas for their own protection. Alpacas are more timid than llamas in nature.
Sheep, goats, and alpacas are especially benefited by a guard llama or two. Llamas are well-known for their strong protective instincts. They’ve been observed to stand watch over birthing ewes or injured animals, and they may try to herd animals away from danger.
In addition, llamas have a disdain for all canines and will often readily charge a fox, dog, or coyote that encroaches on their territory.
However, if you have a problem with multiple predators (packs of coyotes or wolves, and cougars) you should have a group of llamas. As previously mentioned, both alpacas and llamas work best in pairs or groups. If you choose llamas, get either castrated males or females.
Alpacas Vs Livestock Guardian Dogs
Livestock Guardian Dogs are often the best guards for farm animals. They’ve been specially bred for centuries to do their job! If you have a problem with any kind of predator, such as coyotes, foxes, wolves, raccoons, or even bears, LGD’s will protect your animals.
A few common LGD breeds are:
- Great Pyrenees
- Anatolian Shepherd
Just bear in mind that you need to extensively train an LGD. In fact, from my own experience and research, most of the trendy LGD online training advice is harmful to the dogs. Find a qualified and experienced LGD trainer to help you!
These are extremely independent, intelligent dogs that require a different mindset than other breeds. Do not train them like a normal “pet” dog. Livestock Guardian Dogs work better in pairs, and sometimes even trios or groups for large herds or large acreage.
Livestock Guardian Dogs will protect poultry, goats, sheep, alpacas, horses, and other animals. They’re versatile, and surprisingly gentle with their charges.
Alpacas, on the other hand, don’t require as much training as an LGD does. Alpacas are also easier to keep than these large dogs, and don’t require such secure fencing to hold them in their paddock. Livestock Guardian Dogs are escape artists prone to roaming the neighborhood.
That said, alpacas have limits as guard animals. They can’t protect your livestock from large predators or a few predators at once like Livestock Guardian Dogs can. LGD’s also bark incessantly as a way to deter predators, so be prepared for a lot of noise!
Livestock Guardian Dogs also won’t instinctively know how to protect animals on the fly. You need to take time to let them mature and learn their job. If you need an immediate solution and you aren’t willing to put the time and effort in, LGD’s aren’t right for you.
Best Guard Animals Ranking Chart
|Alpacas||Low-maintenance, gentle with animals, best for foxes||Alpacas are also prey animals and instinctively flee from larger and dangerous predators, best in groups|
|Donkeys||Natural disdain for canines, will chase off predators, easy to keep||Can be aggressive with animals|
|Llamas||Excellent protectors, will chase and kill certain predators, will guard ill/lost/birthing animals||Llamas are more effective in groups|
|Livestock Guardian Dogs||Will protect most animals from many predators, including wolves and bears, very gentle with livestock, good-natured, intelligent||Require extensive training and socialization, lots of barking, more expensive, prone to roaming, work better in pairs, independent|
Other Predator Prevention Tips
Getting a livestock guard is a long-term solution, but there are other things you can do right now to reduce the likelihood of attacks on your animals. Try to integrate multiple tactics at once and switch them up every now and then. Predators are clever and will adapt quickly enough.
Here are a few extra predator prevention tips all homesteaders and farmers should apply:
- Don’t leave food outside that will attract animals, including dog and cat food.
- If possible, ensure your cows, horses, sheep, or goats give birth inside a barn rather than in a paddock.
- Never intentionally bait animals on your property or feed wildlife. This includes deer!
- Keep your livestock and poultry contained in a fence!
- Use hardware cloth instead of chicken wire for your poultry enclosures, and include a covered roof for your run.
- Don’t tie or chain your animals – it makes them easy prey. Use portable fences instead.
- Put your animals inside their respective barns at night.
- Use “scare” tactics such as a radio, motion-sensor lights, noisy wind chimes, bright flags, and flashy objects.
- Keep cats indoor and supervise other pets outside.
- Reduce brush and bushes on your property where predators can hide.
- Immediately remove or bury dead carcasses on your property.
- Check out Country Pests for more tips!
Alpacas are excellent protectors for poultry, goats, and sheep if you have an issue with foxes and eagles. Bear in mind that alpacas cannot protect other animals from larger predators such as coyotes, wolves, cougars, and bears.
Alpacas aren’t quite right for my farm yet, but they might be perfect for you. They are intelligent, curious, and docile animals that deserve responsible ownership. Do your research before you decide to get alpacas, either as guard animals or simply for pets!
My Favorite Alpaca Resources and Supplies
Heavy Duty Water Tank that I use for all of my animals. They don’t crack or break in the cold easily and don’t wear out from the sun in the summer. These are the #1 most important supply I have for my animals.
This Water De-Icer is another critical supply that I use for every waterer. I’ve tried the heated buckets, the fancier water defrosters and pretty much everything else on the market. But these work the best. Hands down, especially when we hit -20 below!
Hoof Trimmers that don’t rust or go dull as fast as other brands. Some of the more expensive options out there have dulled much faster. These will last well if you don’t leave them in the weather.
Organic Feed for when you need a treat. Alpacas are great for grazing and don’t need commercial food, but when you want to give them something nice, this is a great option.
Electric Coat Trimmer that will cut the thicker fur of Alpacas and help them cool off in the hotter summer days. These are a great cheaper option that don’t cost $400+ that the really nice ones cost.
Winter weather can lead to overeating, but this slow feeder helps to slow down your alpacas so they don’t overeat. I haven’t tried this one, but it’s on my list.
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