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from The Telegraph


Brave Lancelot the llama keeps foxes at bay
By David Harrison, Environment Correspondent
(Filed: 01/09/2002)

On a large sheep farm in Kent, 600 ewes a nd 100 lambs graze indolently in the summer sun. One animal, however, sta nds out: Lancelot, a llama whose job it is to protect the sheep at Shenley farm from foxes.

It is a job he is doing well. Jamie Freeman, the farmer, used to lose up to 40 lambs a year to foxes. Now, with Lancelot and Lloyd, another llama, on patrol, he loses hardly any.

r Freeman is not alone in recognising the llama's usefulness as a protector of sheep. The number of "llama guards" has risen sharply in the past few years and more than 100 are now employed on British farms, according to the British Llama and Alpaca Association.

The reasons are simple, Mr Freeman says: llamas are excellent at scaring away predators, they bond well with other animals and are very protective of them.

They cost about 500 [pounds] each but are cheap to run and good with children. Unlike dogs, they eat what the sheep eat - mostly grass - and do not require much looki ng after.

The demand for llamas, natives of South America and members of the camelid family, could increase even further if the Government carries out its threat to ban fox-hunting in England, say s Candia Midworth, the association's secretary.

"Predation is a serious problem for farmers and nothing has really been sai= d about how they should protect their livestock," she says. "Llamas could be the answer."

Mr Freeman says that llama guards were almost unheard of a few years ago but "the word is spreading and fa rmers have realised how effective they can be".

Llamas, usually placid, become aggressive when they perceive a threat to th e animals they are protecting. "It's impressive to watch," says Mr Freema n.

"They charge towards the fox, making a humming noise, and will kick out if it refuses to go away. Most foxes tend not to wait that long."

Paul Rose, who has 115 llamas at his breeding farm near Tiverton in Devon, says: "Llamas are very protect ive of their own flocks and they seem to have an ability to transfer that to other flocks - not only sheep but also goats and even poultry."

It had been recognised years ago in America that llamas deter foxes but it is only recently that the idea has taken off among British farmers.

Ten years ago Mr Rose returned from= the United States with the results of an Iowa University study of 200 sheep farms. The researchers found that losses from wild dogs, coyotes and bears had fallen from 21 per cent to seven per cent after llamas were introduced.

In Sussex, Sue and Peter Booth are proud of their llama, Spot. "He chases foxes and keeps dogs away," Mrs Booth says. "Even dogs walking along footpaths can upset sheep, and having the llama means that fewer sheep are driven into ditches."

The Booths, after having "terrible problems" with foxes killing lambs, decided to try a llama guard. "We went from losing 23 out of 120 lambs to losing none at all - an amazing improvement," she says.

The British Llama and Alpaca Association warns, however, that not every llama can be used a guard. It has drawn up guidelines for would-be owners.

The llama should be male, and have been castrated between the ages of 18 and 24 months; it must have spent its fir st 18 months with other llamas to ensure that it is a herd animal; it needs to have the right temperament - neither too docile nor too aggressive; it needs a few weeks to bond with the sheep before lambing.

Llamas have other uses too. In the United States, the American Oil Corporation used them to "mow" the lawns at its Chicago offices and found that they also acted as a deterrent to burglars; and some people use them as low-maintenance company for a lone horse.

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