Franklin got wind of scattered groups of U.S. ranchers using llamas to protect their flocks. "It made a lot of sense," he said. "It kind of caught on and spread by word of mouth. People tried it and it worked," he said.
Llamas are being used to guard a range of domestic animals from cattle to poultry. "What's intriguing to me about what people are doing with llamas is that people use them for so many things," Franklin said.
Franklin said that South Americans think using llamas to guard livestock is crazy.
But it seems to be working. Nearly 80 percent of the sheep ranchers Franklin surveyed were "very satisfied" or "satisfied" with the guard llamas they used to protect their sheep. Average sheep losses dropped from 26 sheep per year to 8 sheep per year when guard llamas were put into place.
Franklin, who has kept his own llamas, cautions that while the animals may be extremely successful, not every situationor every llamawill work. "It's not like a magic wand," he said.
Dan and Dale Goodyear run Berry Acres Llamas, a llama farm in Robesonia, Pennsylvania. In 1988, Dan Goodyear suffered a serious spinal cord injury that left the couple searching for new activities to replace their active hobbies. They found llamas.
Now the couple travels to shows across the country with their llamas, as well as breeding animals for other llama lovers.
Llamas, which have been used as therapy animals at hospitals, might seem unlikely candidates for security jobs. "When their mind is set, they seem to be fearless," said Dan Goodyear. "The llama is a natural guardian. They're herd animals, so they're very aware of distractions."
Each state and area can have different regulations for those who keep llamas. Camelids are considered livestock animals, just like cattle and sheep.
Llamas, however, may be easier to care for than some other four-footed farm animals. Harry Mollin, who raises llamas at Shangrila Farm in Callaway, Virginia, said that llamas are much more efficient in terms of feeding than other livestock. Llama droppings can also be used as high-quality compost, he said.
These llama farms are two of hundreds of llama breeders in the U.S. Sheila Fugina, president of the Oregon-based Llama Association of North America (LANA), estimates that their group has several hundred members across the country.
LANA, founded in 1981, is a resource for llama owners, providing information about many of the animal's uses. Many, like Fugina, are especially interested in spinning and felting the llama's fine fiber. Others use llamas as pack animals, guardians, or family pets.
All of these uses for llamas fit into the animals' temperament, said Fugina, who also raises llamas at Shady Ridge Farm in Wisconsin. "Llamas like to have a job."
One of LANA's programs is the Llama Lifeline, which rescues llamas from difficult situations and tries to find them good homes. Recently, LANA put a large group of llamas from California with a herder in Texas. The llama guardians were so successful at their job that the rancher's grandson contacted LANA a year later, to learn how he could incorporate llamas into his own ranch.
Llamas seem to be doing well at their work, but the idea hasn't totally caught on. "I think that a lot of people who are raising livestock aren't really aware of llamas as guardians," Fugina said.
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