Are you considering purchasing an alpaca as a herd guard? The following information will help in making the right decision for your situation.

Alpacas as herd guards are a valuable addition to sheep and goat farmers, and can also be used to guard chickens/ducks. With their strong bonding and flock protection instincts they deter and often kill foxes, once they are bonded with the animals that they will be guarding. Many Australian farmers have successfully introduced alpacas into a herd of sheep or goats for flock protection, especially during the lambing or kidding season.

Herd guards work best in pairs and should be at least 18 months or older. Two alpacas could easily guard at least 100 ewes or goats but more alpacas may be needed to larger herds. Alpacas are herd animals and having one alpaca is not recommended.

When buying a herd guard it is very important to ensure that the male alpacas are castrated. Male herd guards MUST be castrated as sexually mature males will spend their time fighting each other and will become quite aggressive towards the sheep or goats they are supposed to be protecting. Additionally castrated alpacas are often calmer and easier to handle. Castrations should be carried out by a veterinarian. Mature female alpacas can be used a herd guards and due to their maternal instinct bond extremely well with the flock.

Herd guards will start protecting as soon as they join your sheep or goat herd but others may take a little time to bond with their new flock particularly if your paddock is large. It is best to  introduce herd guards to your flock prior to lambing or kidding, to allow time for bonding.

To reduce heat stress alpacas must be shorn every year as an unshorn alpaca can suffer, and in some cases, die from heat related illnesses. Alpacas should be shorn by a professional shearer and must be tied down for shearing. This is prevent injury to both the shearer and the alpacas, as alpacas that are not tied down correctly can kick.

Alpacas have basic husbandary needs which include the following:

  • shearing - once per year
  • toe nails cut - at least once per year at time of shearing (white alpacas may need their nails cut twice per year as their nails grow quicker than darker nails)
  • drenching (worming) - in line with the drenching porgram of your flock
  • vaccinations - with a 5 in 1 in line with the vaccination program of your flock and at least once per year
  • Vitamin A, D and E - should be given at least once per year at time of shearing but should also be given to darker alapcas at the beginning of winter

Where possible it is best to purchase a herd guard that is halter trained. A halter trained alpaca is often calmer and is easier to handle.

When purchasing a herd guard it is important to purchase from a registered breeder. The benfits are:

  • the alpaca will be fully vaacinated and wormed
  • you will have after sales support and assistance

Often the cheapest herd guard is not the best and price should be considered only after gaining an understanding of the health of the alpaca and the after sales support that you will be given.

As alpaca owners you have a duty of care to make sure that you provide basic husbandary needs but to get the most out of your herd guard, and allow them to protect your flock to the best of their ability, you need to make sure that your alpacas are well cared for.

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