There are special considerations when selecting the type of guard animal for goats. The first is how much care you want to provide that animal. Dogs are the most commonly used guard animals but they need special feeding. Donkeys and llamas can consume what the goats eat but will require other care to remain healthy, including foot trimming and shearing of the llamas. Llamas also can suffer from the same parasites as the goats, so they will need treatment for them as well.
You should select your guard animal from a producer who is willing to work with you and make sure you are satisfied with the animal. Many guard animals need an adjustment period to accept the new location and owners. This is more of a problem with dogs than other animals, and young dogs tend to adjust quicker than older ones. It is also a good idea to utilize neutered males of all types and have female guard dogs spayed. This reduces the aggressiveness towards humans and can decrease some of the problems with donkeys and llamas. Intact male dogs are more likely to roam off the farm, and intact female guard dogs have been known to ignore the herd when in heat, producing many unwanted puppies. So, unless you plan to get into the guard dog business, it is best to have them neutered and spayed.
The choice of guard animal is somewhat personal. Many producers have had success with all types. Training of the guard animal is critical to its success in protecting your herd. Guard animals should have a natural dislike for all other canines. They should be evaluated and selected to make sure they will protect your animals. The best guard animals have been raised with the same type of animal you want them to guard. Select guard animals from other goat producers and give them a test period before depending on them totally. Young guard animals may be more of a problem because they will have a greater tendency to roam. Also, young donkeys and llamas may wish to play with the goats, potentially causing injury to them. This can especially be a problem during the kidding season.
A variety of dog breeds can work for predator control. The Great Pyrenees is the most widely used; but the Komondor, Akbash, Anatolian and Maremma are also used as guard dogs. It is important to remember that guard dogs are not stock or herding dogs. Herding breeds have a desire to herd and can become aggressive with your animals, even killing goats if left alone with them. Guard dogs act largely independent of man, doing what instinct and conditioning tell them to do. You should work to select a guard dog that allows you to catch it, but the dog should not be so friendly that it wants to always follow you and leave your animals.
Female donkeys are often used as guard animals. Intact male donkeys often do not make suitable guardians because they can become aggressive with does and bucks during breeding season. Good guard donkeys will chase and trample a predator, bed down with the goats and sound a fearsome alarm at any strange noise or smell. The donkeys do have a natural dislike for canines. It can be more difficult to find a good guard donkey than a guard dog. Donkeys may be better for some locations, such as near subdivisions and small open pastures, than dogs but each situation needs to be evaluated. An obvious advantage lies in the fact that, since the donkey eats what the goat eats, no special daily feeding is required. It is important to make sure your donkey stays with your goats. In some cases a family unit works well; other times, if you have more than one donkey, they may leave your goats to fend for themselves. Be sure to watch any new additions and make sure they are working well before you put all your trust in them. If a donkey is not working well, it should be immediately replaced or another guard animal added for protection. In some cases, goats may exit a pasture through a hole in the fence or walk under a hot-wire fence that the donkey can’t traverse, thus leaving the goats unprotected.
Llamas are becoming more popular as guard animals. However, research on their effectiveness is limited. Again, intact males do not make good guard animals because they may become protective of does during the breeding season and they may become very aggressive with people. Work at the University of Wyoming with llamas as guardian animals in sheep indicates that their effectiveness comes from their curious and fearless nature, complemented by their size. Sheep that attach themselves to the llama are seldom bothered; those that wander may not receive protection. In almost no cases have they recorded confrontational activity by the llamas. Llamas also have an advantage of consuming forage with goats. Those that are good are very good, but the bad ones can be very dangerous to both livestock and people. Again, the number of llamas is critical. People have found that if they have one in a pen without visual or vocal contact with others, the llama has a greater tendency to stay with the goats or sheep. If they place several llamas in a pen, the animals will tend to form their own group and not protect your livestock. As with the donkeys, a family unit can work well if they adopt the goats as part of that family.
Regardless of the guarding animal that you utilize, it is important to make sure that the animal is trained properly and stays with your animals. The size of the pen and the terrain can have an influence on the effectiveness of your guarding animals. Dogs tend to work better in forested areas where they can depend on their nose to alert them to a predator. Donkeys and llamas work great in open areas where their eyes can detect movement a long ways away. It is also important to remember that you may never see your guarding animal attack a predator, and you may not find dead predators in the pastures. Thus, you will need to measure the success of your guard animal by a reduction in predator losses.
Photo CC public domain