A shepherd’s dream?

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In the lead up to lambing season, farmers will be considering the different options for protecting their flock against predators. But how many will look at the use of a camelid?

The idea of using alpacas as guard animals originated from America after a significant drop in mountain flock predation was seen after alpacas were introduced. This method has now become hugely popular all over the world.

In fact in Australia, where it is not uncommon to see alpacas among livestock on large sheep stations, predation on lambs has reduced by up to 85%.

Farmers may be surprised to hear such results as the timid and soft appearance of an alpaca often gives the impression of a fragile, vulnerable animal. But for as long as time can remember, the fox and the alpaca have remained mortal enemies. So much so, that in extreme cases they will not hesitate to trample a fox to death.

Originating from the Andes, alpacas are extremely adaptable to different climates, and could make the perfect companions even for a North Wales hill flock where fox attacks on lambs are particularly problematic.

The alpaca’s deep-rooted hatred for foxes is believed to originate from their birthplace of South America where foxes would snatch vulnerable cria. Now, even the smell of an alpaca is often enough to deter a fox.

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In the poultry industry, both egg and broiler producers have seen increased profits since introducing alpacas to their farm. Not only does the company of an alpaca prevent chickens from being mass-slaughtered, but the presence of a fox can cause stress to the chickens, therefore impacting on production.

Due to the alpaca’s soft padded feet, they are surprisingly light footed and will not poach up a field in wet weather. Alpacas have developed an extremely efficient digestive system, in fact one of the most efficient in the world, and only require the same acreage as a sheep, generally being very low maintenance.

A number of Waitrose egg farms are well known for their alpaca pest-control methods and if your land suffers from the RPSCA’s fox ‘relocation’ scheme, having a camelid on board means you can sleep easy during lambing.

A small group of gelded males are most commonly employed and will happily live alongside sheep and poultry.

Of course employing an alpaca security team does not mean that you’ll never see the premature death of a chicken or lamb again, but farmers have claimed that since introducing alpacas, the mass genocide typical of Charlie, is thankfully now a thing of the past.

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This article was published by South East Farmer and can be read online at: http://www.southeastfarmer.net/section/livestock/a-shepherds-dream

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