South Dakota Grassland Coalition

by Garnet Perman

Jan 2023

As more producers consider multi species grazing, one of the questions to be answered concerns predator control. The most efficient method of keeping predators away from small livestock such as sheep is to employ guardian animals. Dogs, lamas and donkeys or a combination thereof are all in use in SD.

Dave Ollila, Newell, SD

Dave Ollila, Newell, SD used both lamas and donkeys for 25 years. Because he does intensive grazing in small pastures of about 40 acres, he finds that a single donkey or lama is sufficient. “Two of the same species become a herd,” he said. They may pay more attention to each other than to the animals they guard. He prefers to use gelded animals as intact males can be too aggressive or they may get out in search of a mate.

Dan and Sharon Anderson, Meadow, SD

Also long time sheep producers, Dan and Sharon Anderson  have used all three guardian animals. Running dogs and lamas together has worked well for them. A pro of using donkeys or lamas is that they eat what the sheep eat, no need to buy any extra food. They are easier to keep in a fence than dogs. Donkeys tend to be relatively long lived, 10-15 years. They are relatively easy to maintain from a health standpoint. Donkeys’ feet need to be trimmed every 3-4 months. They need to be watched more carefully if they consume grain. Donkeys are naturally aggressive with canines, including guard or other farm dogs.


Winter hardy but needs to be sheared occasionally with no easily available market for the wool. Worming may be necessary, especially if they are kept on continuous pasture. Finding a lama can be difficult. One needs to watch the sale of barns. Hobby farms may be a source but tend to price their lamas higher than the sale barn. They can be very aggressive, biting and spitting whoever or whatever gets close. They need to be penned separately when working with sheep.


Work well in larger pastures. Anderson likes the Akbash breed as they will kill predators rather than chase them away. They stay with the sheep rather than roam looking for predators. They are also more athletic than the Pyrenees. 

Dallas and Tammy Basil, Union Center

Dogs provide the best protection for young lambs against eagles or hawks. Their pastures run anywhere from a half section to a whole section with a move to new pasture every 3 weeks or so. They prefer Great Pyrenees. Many of theirs have been crossed with another breed such as Akbash, Anatolian or Kommodor. The Anatolian/Kommodor cross tends to be more aggressive. They use two dogs for 500 ewes.

The hardest part of having dogs as livestock guardians is balancing human interaction with their job as guardians. In order to be effective guard animals, they can’t be tame enough to want to follow people home. They also can’t be so unsocialized that they won’t come into corrals with the sheep or be difficult to handle when veterinary treatment is needed. In Basils’ experience Pyrenees are easier to handle. They prefer females or neutered males because they stay with the sheep better. 

All three producers emphasized that any guardian animal needs a trial period as not every animal is suited for the job. Pasture size, grazing management plans, type and size of operation and predator threats all need to be considered when choosing a guardian.

Garnet Perman is a freelance writer and ranches with her husband, Lyle, near Lowry, SD.

Source: SDGC Newsletter

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