When you’re considering getting sheep, it’s important to consider how you’ll protect them from the various local predators – including canines. Can an alpaca guard sheep and lambs? How would alpacas guard sheep?
Alpacas guard sheep from predators. A single alpaca can protect 50-60 sheep from foxes and a pair of alpacas may protect a larger flock. They protect sheep by alerting the flock, intimidating threats, kicking, spitting, and chasing predators. Some alpacas have trampled foxes to death.
Ready to know more about how the normally meek alpaca can be a great guard option? Keep reading to find out what the research shows.
How Alpacas Guard Sheep (and Lambs)
When I first started researching the idea of alpacas as a dedicated guard animal for a flock of sheep, I was skeptical. After all, alpacas can become prey to large predators or packs. However, against a single or small predators? It turns out they’re fantastic guard animals!
Alpacas protect the sheep by adopting them as part of their herd. Then, they protect the sheep and lambs as they would their own herd of alpacas. Alpacas can defend themselves against small predators or a single, bigger predator by using their natural defense mechanisms, which include the following.
|Watching for predators||An alpaca’s long neck gives them a pretty cool advantage in watching for danger.|
|Calling to the flock when danger is noticed||Alpacas can vocalize. Happy alpacas hum. Angry or defensive alpacas apparently shriek.|
|Intimidating threats and predators||Alpacas aren’t huge, but they’re still much bigger and taller than sheep. As such, that extra height can serve as a natural intimidation factor against predation.|
|Strong legs and feet with toenails||Alpacas have strong legs and they know how to use them! They can kick, stomp, or even trample predators.|
|Chasing predators||Alpacas will combine their strong legs with intimidation – to chase off predators. Smaller predators especially will run at the sight of an alpaca barreling at them!|
|Spitting||Alpacas have to be pretty annoyed to spit. Even so, spitting at predators is totally fair game.|
|Being a barrier||Guard alpacas will also put themselves between the threat and the flock or herd. That way, they can use any and all defensive mechanisms needed to protect their family.|
That’s right – alpacas can and do protect sheep. And they’re actually pretty good at it – as long as the alpaca bonds to the flock. In order to make sure that your alpaca bond with the sheep and protect them, it’s important that you don’t have too many alpacas.
Pros and Cons of Using Alpacas to Guard Sheep
Before you decide to use alpacas as your primary defense animal for your flock of sheep, let’s go over some of the pros and cons I’ve found in my research.
|Barn Space||Alpacas and sheep can share a barn space.||Alpacas may be less likely to guard sheep in a barn.|
|Pastures||Alpacas and sheep are both grazers that eat pasture grasses.||You may need more pasture space to prevent overgrazing.|
|Nutritional Supplements||Alpacas and sheep can each eat hay and grains, making supplemental easier.||Alpacas are sensitive to copper toxicity, so keep that supplement away from your alpacas. This is usually more of a concern if you also keep goats.|
|Fencing||Both sheep and alpacas can use the same kind of fencing. Good fencing may keep out predators who would be a problem to guard alpacas.||Without proper fencing, predators can be a bigger problem.|
|Protection||Alpacas will protect sheep from small predators or single predators.||Alpacas and sheep are prey for large predators or packs of predators, including dogs.|
|Dung||Alpaca and sheep dung is great manure that will fertilize pasture space.||Alpacas don’t like eating near dung – and sheep usually defecate anywhere.|
|Risk for Injury||As long as the alpaca and sheep integrate well, there is little risk of them injuring each other.||Bullying may occur from either species. Injuries may be more severe to cria and lambs than to grown animals.|
|Breeding||Ideally, there shouldn’t be any cross-species breeding.||Male alpacas (even wethers) may try to breed with ewes.|
|Diseases||Some diseases can’t transfer between the two species.||Some diseases and parasites can be shared in either direction between sheep and alpacas.|
|Zoning Issues||You’ll need to know how many animals you can keep in your backyard homestead.||Your neighbors may disagree with your choice in livestock – until they get to know them!|
Generally speaking, the biggest issue I’ve found is going to be space. If you don’t have a good-sized backyard, it’s going to be hard to have enough grazing space for a good number of sheep and alpacas.
Even so, it’s possible to compensate for enough grazing space by using hay or other supplemental feeds. So it doesn’t have to be a huge deal.
But do make sure you’re following your zoning restrictions on how many animals you can have.
We’re limited to four animals, so trying to plan on a single alpaca to guard 50 sheep isn’t even feasible – or at least it’s not legal, anyway. But having one alpaca to guard three sheep? That’s a possibility. We’re trying to figure out what our animal choice and the final herd will look like.
It’ll take some more time and research – and that’s okay. Always better to weigh the pros and cons first – especially when it comes to sheep and guard alpacas.
How Many Alpacas Are Needed to Protect Sheep?
The latest research materials and videos I have watched suggested that, for smaller flocks of 50-60 sheep, a single alpaca (preferably a wether, or de-sexed male alpaca) was ideal. For larger flocks of about 250 sheep, a pair of alpacas is suggested.
These numbers may change, though, as additional research is done on using alpacas to guard sheep.
Now, alpacas are herd animals, so most alpaca farms may not sell you a single alpaca – they may insist on selling them in twos. If that’s the case, it’s worth talking to the alpaca breeder to see if they would make an exception to sell a single alpaca so that it can be the dedicated guard animal for your flock of sheep.
The research I’ve read indicates that, as long as the alpaca does bond with the sheep, then they’ve got a herd. It’s just a mixed-species herd.
Video Proof of Alpacas Guarding Sheep
I also found a Youtube video of an alpaca guarding his flock at night, courtesy of the South African Broadcasting Company. I did embed the video to start at the 8:04/8:05 for a couple of reasons. First, the video is primarily not in English, though it does have English subtitles. Second, it’s nice to skip to the visual proof that alpacas do guard sheep.
In any case, at this point in the video, it is nighttime. This alpaca’s got his flock gathered up to protect them better. Because he’s got a nice, long neck, he can see pretty far – even in the dark. When a small predator (I think it’s a fox) attacks, the alpaca stands his ground. He trills to alarm the herd – and then he goes on the offensive. The predator runs away – and the alpaca returns to guarding the flock of sheep.
It’s incredible! Watch it here on YouTube.
However, it’s not just South African shepherds who are using alpacas as guard animals for sheep and lambs. It’s becoming a worldwide thing.
Will Alpacas Guard Lambs?
Alpacas will most definitely guard any lambs that are part of their adopted herd! You just need to make sure that it’s adopted by the mothers (ewes) first – so that it’ll guard the babies, too.
That doesn’t mean you have to have the alpacas around for a super long time, though. It can be a temporary thing, as this video by the British Broadcasting Company (BBC) shows. The BBC does a quick spot on a shepherd who rents out alpacas just for lambing season.
Why would alpacas be even better to have around the lambing season? Well, a 2004 study by Mahoney et al showed that alpacas could reduce lamb-fox predation by as much as 13%.
In other words, alpacas protect all the sheep – especially lambs. Far fewer lambs get eaten by foxes if there’s an alpaca around to guard them. A guard alpaca, per the research, results in more lambs, a healthier flock, and a better situation for everyone – except the fox.
And that 13% increase in a flock can have a huge impact on a flock – and a shepherd’s income.
Are Alpacas Good for Guarding?
Alpacas are absolutely great for guarding sheep against small or singular predators. A single alpaca probably wouldn’t fare well against a large predator – or a pack of predators.
In the case of a large predator or a pack of predators, you’d want secondary defenses like a solid fence or a guard dog (or several guard dogs). However, since alpacas are camelids that don’t much like dogs, it can get dicey mixing alpacas with guard dogs. As such, it’s best to be careful. And maybe use one or the other – according to the research and anecdotal evidence I’ve read, anyway!
Will Using Alpacas to Guard Sheep Affect Production of Fiber and Wool?
A 2-year study, done in 2002, found the following results.
- During the first year, each species had good weight gain and fiber or wool production.
- In the second year, each species experienced some weight loss and decreased wool/fiber production. However, this was a temporary thing that was followed by another period of weight gain – and increased wool/fiber production.
In other words, as long as your animals are all healthy and growing well, then there shouldn’t be any problems with wool or fiber production even when using alpacas to guard your sheep.
Can alpacas live with chickens? Alpacas can live with chickens safely and will guard them, too. For more information on keeping alpacas and chickens together, read our article on chickens and alpacas here.
Can alpacas live inside? Alpacas can live inside. However, alpacas would prefer to be outside with their herd. Read about keeping alpacas inside here – including what preparations would need to be made.
Can alpacas live with goats? Alpacas can be kept with or in a pasture alongside goats. Alpacas may offer a small amount of protection for goats. Read our full article on keeping goats with alpacas here.
Learning from your own experience is important, but learning from others is also smart. These are the sources used in this article and our research to be more informed as homesteaders.
- Case, Philip. “Farmer Uses Alpacas to Guard Sheep Flock.” Farmers Weekly, Https://Www.fwi.co.uk, 17 Mar. 2017, www.fwi.co.uk/livestock/farmer-uses-alpacas-guard-sheep-flock.
- Cunnane, Catherina. “Alpacas the Best Sheep Guard Dog You Ever Had!” That’s Farming, 21 Mar. 2017, www.thatsfarming.com/news/alpaca-livestock-protection.
- “Alpacas protect lambs!” British Broadcasting Company (BBC), https://youtu.be/PU7t4HDcoJc.
- “Guard Alpacas.” South African Broadcasting Company (SABC), https://youtu.be/6KqtT2nsoGY.
- Lindhorst, Gavin. “Alpacas as Herdguards.” Merino Science, 2017, https://merinosa.co.za/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/alpacas.pdf.
- Mahoney, Sara, and A A Charry. “The Value of Alpacas in Reducing Newborn Lamb-Fox Predation: a Prelimary Survey.” AFBMNetwork Conference, 2004, http://www.coolawarraalpacas.com.au/library/alpaca sentries.pdf.
- Mahoney, Sara, and A A Charry. “The Use of Alpacas as New-Born Lamb Protectors to Minimise Fox Predation.” Extension Farming Systems Journal, vol. 1, no. 1, 2005, pp. 65–70., https://search.informit.com.au/documentSummary;dn=425506662067986;res=IELHSS.
- McElderry-Maxwell, Jill. “Keeping Alpacas with Other Livestock.” PurelySuri, 2015, www.surinetwork.org/resources/Livestock%with%Alpacas%202015.pdf.
- McGregor, B.A. “Comparative Productivity and Grazing Behaviour of Huacaya Alpacas and Peppin Merino Sheep Grazed on Annual Pastures.” Small Ruminant Research, Elsevier, 29 Mar. 2002, www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0921448802000500.
- Nutrient Requirements of Small Ruminants: Sheep, Goats, Cervids, and New World Camelids. National Academies Press, 2007.