Lama Proves Effective Guardian on Arkansas Sheep Flock | Business
A new guard at the Milo J. Shult Agricultural Research and Extension Center is only 4 years old, but she is over 6 feet tall and endures without drama. He’s a llama.
Madder Akka is a Guardian Lama who has been the vigilant protector of a flock of sheep since April. “Maddie,” as she is also called, watches over a flock of around 70 sheep used at the Research and Extension Center (SAREC) and deters predators like coyotes and stray dogs.
“They have a natural instinct to protect the animals they bond with,” said Dirk Philipp, associate professor of animal science at the Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station, the research arm of the Agricultural System Division at the University of Arkansas.
Sheep are monitored in experimental station digestibility trials, metabolism studies, cardiovascular health research, prenatal and gestational studies, muscle biology research, finishing trials and carcass studies. They are also used in forage research.
Before Madder Akka, predators killed several sheep at SAREC. Traps were introduced, but the herd still suffered losses, Philipp said. And trapping was not Philipp’s preferred method of flock protection. Sarah Shelby, a program technician in the animal science department, suggested a guardian lama. Philipp became convinced.
Shelby and Philipp said they must have been looking for a while before buying a good Guardian Llama from a family in Missouri. Maddie was chosen for her height, age, personality, and those special qualities that make her a good tutor.
Madder Akka now weighs around 240 pounds, but is expected to gain weight as she ages. One of the many attributes of llamas as keepers of farm animals, Shelby said, is their longevity. A healthy llama can live up to 25 years. Llamas also eat the same things as sheep, and their fiber can be used for fabrics. Dogs and donkeys require different food and care, and do not produce fibers commonly used for fabric. Raised as pack animals, llamas can also carry around 25 percent of their body weight if needed.
Since arriving, Maddie has proven that she has what it takes to keep predators at bay. The research farm flock contains approximately 36 ewes, one ram and more than 35 lambs on 17 acres.
In addition to serving as a tutor, Maddie also helps with other chores and maintenance.
“She is excellent for leading the sheep to the next paddock for grazing when she is walked by her keepers,” Shelby said. “We can also hear him humming the sheep and lambs softly when we work with them, checking that they are okay.”
During these shifts and babysitting, Maddie is occasionally given apple slices or crispy horse treat nuggets. Her favorites are apple horse treats, Shelby said. Maddie also enjoys eating the large, crisp brown leaves that fall from trees in the fall. Shelby calls them her “potato chips”.
Shelby advised never to feed a llama unless they are comfortable with you.
“You’re more likely to spit out a giant stream of green stomach contents instead of a friendly pet,” Shelby said.
FROM ZOO TO FARM
Madder Akka was born in a small petting zoo in Missouri and lived there for two years. When the zoo changed owners, many farm animals were scattered, including llamas which were not ideal for the petting zoo. However, Maddie displayed a protective nature and distrust of strangers, which made her a perfect fit as a babysitter, Shelby said.
The name Madder Akka is apt for his role as Guardian Llama, Shelby said. The name comes from an ancient mythical goddess of the Sami tribes who was considered the divine protector of children and vulnerable people.
As a good guardian llama, Maddie takes on a leadership role in the herd and often finds herself standing a short distance from the herd, seeking higher ground to observe the entire environment.
Shelby said that when Madder Akka sees a threat, she starts to lay down and look before she gets physical. It can drive the herd away, spit, sound a shrill, piercing alarm cry, then charge, chase, or strike the threat. With sharp hooves and teeth, guardian llamas can seriously injure or kill a coyote, but they can usually deter the threat first through intimidation, Shelby said.
Only one sheep has been lost to a predator since April, but that was when Maddie first arrived and was not yet linked to the search flock, Shelby said.
Philipp said: “The success has been very good compared to before.”
Madder Akka is a 4-year-old Guardian Llama who was purchased in April to protect the flock of sheep at the Arkansas Agricultural Experimental Station.
Madder Akka the Guardian Llama watches over a flock of sheep at the Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station.