If you have been following me, you know I LOVE my goats. Goats are wonderful for raising, milking, and clearing brush, but are not so great at protecting themselves from predators. That is where guardian animals come in. Read on for how we chose our guardian for the goats. 🐐
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Goats are definitely one of my favorite animals to raise, but they are solidly in the "prey" category of the animal kingdom. Depending on where you live, predators for goats can range from foxes and coyotes to bears and mountain lions. Guardian animals will help protect your goat herd (or sheep, alpacas, chickens, etc.) from these predators and others that may be local to your area.
WHAT IS A GUARDIAN ANIMAL
Guardian animals live with your herd, stock or flock full time as their protectors. A good guardian animal will bond with its charges (your herd/flock) and naturally work to deter predators to keep their charges safe.
When a threat is near, guardian animals will send out intimidating warning sounds to deter predators (barking, braying, etc.) and will even attack when necessary if the predator still approaches the herd.
CHOOSING A GUARDIAN ANIMAL
As with most things in life, when choosing a guardian animal, you have options. The most common guardian animals are dogs, donkeys, or llamas.
DONKEYS & LLAMAS
From what I have seen, most of the advantages donkeys and llamas are that they live off the same food source as goats and sheep, so they require little maintenance and added feed expense. They also live quite a bit longer than dogs and can protect a herd sometimes more than 15 years. Generally speaking, lone females make the best guardians for llamas and donkeys. They are protective but not aggressive to the smaller stock or babies like some males (even geldings) can be. Getting one donkey or one llama is considered a good idea because if there are multiple, they may bond with each other instead of the stock.
One of the downsides of donkeys or llamas is that they are not as effective at fighting off or deterring large predators like mountain lions or a pack of wolves. They are prey animals themselves and can be viewed as a target by those larger predators. Depending on the predators in your area and your predator load, this may or may not be an issue for you.
Livestock Guardian Dogs (LGDs) are specific breeds of dogs, bred specifically to guard animals from predators. There are many Livestock Guardian Dog breeds but some of the most common in America are Great Pyrenees, Anatolian Shepherd, and Maremmas.
These breeds have instincts bred into them over hundreds of years, so it is super important to get either a pure-bred LGD or ones that are intentionally mixed LGD-to-LGD breeds. For example, a Great Pyrenees-Anatolian mix should still make a fantastic LGD because its full bloodline is passing on the instinct to protect its charges. A Great Pyrenees-Australian Shepherd mix however, is breeding a LGD with a herding dog -- not a suitable mix for a LGD because it has conflicting instincts to chase its stock and guard and protect it.
The advantages of dogs is that they are bred to protect their charges and are not prey animals themselves. You will likely want more than one and they can work as a team to be very successful at deterring and protecting against larger predators or threats that come in packs. Disadvantages as noted above, are that they do not live as long as hooved animals and must be fed. LGDs are all pretty large dogs, so they require quite a bit of food.
WHY WE CHOSE A LGD
After researching the pros and cons of each guardian animal, we quickly decided we wanted a Livestock Guardian Dog as our guardian.
First we eliminated llamas. My grandparents had a llama guardian for our goats when I was growing up and as sweet as it was, I don't know much about caring for llamas and their specific dietary and supplement needs. Yes, I could've done even more research and armed myself to be an expert llama caretaker, but llamas have similar pros and cons to donkeys and donkeys are readily available and easy for us to care for because we already have horses.
From there, we decided we would rather have a dog guardian than a donkey. LGDs seem more reliable to me than donkeys because you train them from puppies and they are bred specifically for this purpose. (Plus let's be real, it is hard to resist a little fluffball pup face!)
Deciding on an LGD as a guardian animal is just the tip of the iceberg as far as research, decisions, and training goes. Check out my blog on buying our LGD puppy. I cover all the decisions we made to end up bringing home our 13-week old full-blood Great Pyrenees puppy, Weller.
What types of guardian animals are your favorites? Tell me in the comments.