Saturday, August 20, 2011

Using Llamas as Guard Animals for Sheep or Goats

Not long ago a Llama could command thousands of dollars at a sale in North America, now a knowledgeable buyer can pick one up for under $10. I have even seen people pay to have them taken away.
What was once suppose to be a bottomless market hit bottom, and today, although a few people do still raise them for fiber, one of the main uses of Llamas is to guard other livestock, such as sheep and goats.

Tips on getting a Llama to guard your livestock.
  • Get one that is friendly, and ideally halter trained.
  • Get only one – that way it will stay with your livestock, if you get more than one they form their own herd and do their own thing.
  • An intact male Llama can be mean to your other animals, a gelded male, or female will be much better.
  • Buy a Llama with a low quality fleece, that way you do not have to worry about shearing it.
  • Buy a Llama that has been raised with sheep or goats.
You can tell she is not letting anything near this Jabob lamb.
How do Llamas Protect Sheep and Goats?

Being tall makes it easy for a Llama to see a predator approaching. They tend to be slightly more observant than sheep. When alerted to something new, or out of they usual, a curious Llama will typically approach the intruder. In the case of a coyote, who is not use to being approached in this way, they will usually turn and leave, a fox (more interested in your chickens than your sheep) might be equally confused. A single feral dog might turn and leave at this “threatening” move by your guard animal, who may simply only be curious.

By being observant, bold, and curious, the Llama, often scares away the intruder. If the predator does get close the Llama may try to spit at it (they have foul smelling spit, more likely to deter a human than an hungry predator), or kick.

This year I witnessed a coyote in the neighbors pasture.  The sheep were grazing in tall grass and did not see it, but the Llama did, she started walking towards it, simply looking curious and not aggressive.  The coyote fled.  Coyotes are not use to animals walking towards them, it found this intimidating and decided there was easier food elsewhere.  I am aware that our llama would have been no match against a hungry pack of coyotes. 

All in all Llamas are a fair, to good, defense against the occasional predator, however if you want tougher protection you might also want to add a donkey to your herd.

Llama versus Guard Dog?

I have not used a guard dog, and only have one llama, and one donkey for our small flock of sheep.  A dog requires dog food, and as such are much more expensive to feed than my llama.  As well any dog that is guarding sheep must be properly vaccinated, and protected againsts diseases.  Another fact worth remembering is that llamas do not like dogs - if you introduce a guard dog, or pet dog, your llama might hurt it, so keep introductions slow, and safe!

Only certain breeds of dog work well for guarding sheep, some (such as the Border Collie) will chase the sheep too much.  Some people find that by keeping dogs coyotes are more likely to come around, either attracted by a female in heat, or because they see the dog as an intruder in their area.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Does this Halter Make my Neck Look Fat?

Horse people often consider a donkey to be a rather funny looking animal, they have big ears, a thin tail, no withers, and can kind of look lumpy.  Horse people are well aware of what a fat horse looks like, but few understand how donkeys get fat.  I need to point out that it is fairly easy for a donkey to get fat, especially when kept with horses.  Donkeys are very food effecient, having come from Africa, and do not need as much food to survive, therefor a donkey with little activity, and a fair amount of food - will get fat!

To understand more about donkeys and fatness, we must look at the ships of the desert; the camel!

 Most people have the wrong idea about camels and their humps.  We have been told camels store water in their humps. A lot of children, and some adults, have the image of a camel with a hollow hump and water sloshing around in there, but this is not accurate at all.

The camel's hump is where it stores its fat. The hump is an adaptation to living in the hot desert. A camel's hump is made up of fat cells and muscle.  By storing all its fat in one, or two, humps, rather than distributing it all over its body (as most animals do) the camel can stay cool in the hot climate. Donkeys have a similar adaptation.

The donkey has its fat storage area along the sides of the crest of its neck.  When a donkey gets fat, the top of its neck gets thicker, and fatty.  In extreme cases the crest will even fall over.  At this point it is very hard to correct. 

Above you can see our donkey, Aggie, showing her displeasure at having her picture taken to demonstrate a fat donkey.  You will note how tall the grass is.  This summer we have had so much rain that our pasture is over grown.  This area is one of the more chewed down places, and the grass is still lush and tall. 

Aggie's neck did not get fat like this over night, it was a big bit when we got her (not unusual in our area) and got bigger since, but this year, it has gotten particularly bad.  This afternoon I am going out to give her some exercise to help it from getting worse.

I have seen some donkey's where they neck is falling down and we really do not want that to happen to Aggie.  At that point it is not uncommon for a donkey to get so fat it gets fat lumps all over its body. 

Owners of donkeys must remember that the donkey is adapted to areas where food is scarce, to over feed a donkey (to give it grain) can be cruel - we never give Aggie grain - she got this fat on grass alone!

Read more on Donkeys and Camels - click here.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Chicks, see how they Grow

Hatched on July 12, my little Cochin chicks are growing fast, and looking rather awkward.

Above with one chick (out of nine) showing after hatching.

The first two days they spent hinding under the hen, with the rooster always close by.  As the nesting area is raised I was concerned they would fall out and built a ramp.  By the third day she took the chicks out and started nesting with them under the laying area, so I bedded that with straw.

Young chicks need chick grower ration (which is what is in the dish the chick is standing on in the picture above).  They also will eat the mother hens ration, and scratch.  Chicks must be provided a safe place to drink fresh water. It needs to be a proper system so they do not get wet, as getting wet can be a real problem for chicks whose down will soak up the water (as well as getting a chill they can drown). 

Above we see the two-day-old Cochin chick just beginning to explore.

After a few more days they became quite independant.  The rooster in particular would keep a good eye out and would make a call if he suspected danger.  Rather than running to him, or the hen, the chicks would run and hide.  It was quite interesting to watch as they became invisible in tall grass in a second.

At a month old they have lost most of their down and are not looking quite as cute.  They explore and try to fly, often climbing up on some tall branches they have in their enclosure.  Their feet are getting feathers, and they are becoming quite brave.  If I offer them small bits of bread some chicks will take it from my hand, others wait for mother hen to take it and give it to them.  They also really like dandelion leaves.
Above the chicks at 1 month of age.  There are still  nine of them.

Although they are perhaps not as cute now, its interesting to see how their feathers change.  The one at the bottom of the picture looks proportionately bigger than the others, which is a bit of a trick of the camera but you can see how it has some bigger black feathers on its legs.

I do not Eat Sheep Meat

When I was young we lived in New Zealand for a  year; a country known for its sheep production.  Lamb was not exactly "cheap", but it was a common food in the area - and New Zealand lamb is exported world wide as a prime meat choice.

I never liked the taste of it, I always found it "gamey".  My mom, and everyone else in the family, loved it, and mom served it with mint sauce. Now, back in Canada, I keep sheep as pets, they mow the lawn, and I do not eat the meat.  To me it is no different than eating any other pet.

The term "lamb" is used to refer to the meat of any sheep under the age of one year old.  In some parts of the world the term "hogget" is used to denote the meat of an animal that is young, one year of age or so.  "Mutton" refers to the meat of a more mature animal, and is tougher. 

The age when the lamb is slaughtered can be broken down into more specific terms depending on the country it is slaughtered in.  Baby lamb comes from animals slaughtered between 6 and 8 weeks of age.  Most lamb is "Spring" lamb, coming from animals slaughtered between 3 and 5 months of age.

As I said I do not eat lamb.  I grew up in the city, and never learned the "mental" ability to kill my own meat.  I am a hypocrite in that I can raise lamb, but cannot even eat it, and having kept these animals (and chickens) as pets, I find myself becoming almost vegetarian!  Even so, I understand that some people do eat meat, and as such try to make sure my animals have good lives before they are sold. 

Sheep tend to be one of the luckier livestock animals in that for the most part (except for mulesing) in that they are not subjected to some of the cruel mass farming techniques that other livestock animals endure (such as feedlots). 

One thing we did notice is that the ethnic buyers prefer lambs that are left natural.  They do not want them wethered (castrated), they do not want their tails docked.  This is something producers should keep in mind if they wish to market their lambs to ethnic buyers (those from the middle east).

Lambs are usually slaughtered by being stunned and having their throats cut, being hung by one (or both) legs to allow the blood to drain.  Kosher slaughter is done when the animal is fully alert, meaning its throat is cut but it is not stunned first, they do not want the animals to know they are going to be killed, they do not want the animals to be afraid.

Monday, August 8, 2011

The Grass is as High as a Sheeps Eye

The first seven months of 2011 have been nothing if not wet, and cold. Winter was long, snowy, and colder than typical. Anyone who thought spring would make up for it was wrong, anyone who thought summer would make up for a terrible winter and spring, was also wrong.

Winter was cold and wet, spring was cold, wet and windy, and summer continued the trend. The gloomy cloudy days made everyone miserable, the wind tore most of the sheet metal off my shed and the rain made everything soggy. Weeds were pretty happy, and the pasture did look greener than every.

Two years ago there was a drought in the area. Pigeon Lake, nearby, was way down from its usual, and even 2010 did not bring it up to where it should be.

We sold a few sheep in 2010 due to the drought, pasture was very poor that year, and rather than go through the same worries again it was just easier to sell a few sheep. In the spring of 2011 we sold Baby Katahdin, the ram, and all the lambs, so we were left with 8 ewes, Aggie the donkey, and Crystal, the llama. This seemed like a reasonable number of sheep.

July 28, 2011

The problem being that we had nothing but rain so the pasture did nothing but grow. All of central Alberta, and southern Alberta did much the same, although parts of northern Alberta experienced fires that left the town of Slave Lake ravaged (later it flooded).

You might think the animals were thrilled with all the grass... but no, they were being eaten by mosquitoes if they were not being pelted by rain, the shed had not much of a roof left so they mostly stayed in the old barn poking out only rarely to get something to eat, then going back to get away from the bugs. I have been here now 6 years, the mosquitoes were the worst I have ever seen.

July 28, 2011

For almost one week in July we had sun, but it was tempered with thundershowers at night. The lucky thing being this was the week our cochin chicks hatched at least they had some sun. I am not so sure if there has been a day with no rain, or not.

The sheep cannot keep up with the grass, and nor can we, lawn mowing is a never ending chore. The mosquitoes are not quite as bad and the grasshoppers are assisting in chewing down the pasture. Aggie is getting fatter and fatter (donkeys get fat on their necks) and we see the sheep now from time to time when they poke their heads up above the grass.

If you have been following this blog you know the sheep are Patsy in the front (with 5 horns), Mrs Brown Katahdin, Diamond, with Mrs White Katahdin tucked in behind, Girlie and her mom, Dark Brown, and off to the left is Favorite Sheep.  Blackie is only see in the above picture, where Aggie is also getting in on the shot.  Crystal is actually behind Aggie rolling in the mud/dirt.
To compare I will show you a picture taken in roughly the same spot two years ago.
Patsy in 2009 - same pasture as above.