Chickens don’t like snow. And my hen yard is on the north side of the barn, so it stays snow covered for days after a storm even as other sunnier parts of the barnyard dry out. Whenever it gets like this, my hens huddle together in their coop rather than venture outdoors, and even though this is their choice, I always feel a little sorry for them. So often during really cold, snowy spells I open their coop door and let them free range in the barn to keep them from getting too stir crazy.
One winter, after a week of frigid, snowy days, I got a little complacent and wasn’t paying attention to the fact that it was gradually warming up and the snow was melting outside the barn, so the hens were starting to venture further and further outdoors. Normally I like the idea of letting them free range a bit, but we live in coyote country, and after a particularly cold spell, those coyotes are hungry from lack of good hunting in their territory and they start to get pretty bold. So when I came home one afternoon and found three of my hens dead and half eaten in my yard and one entirely missing, I felt I had only myself to blame.
The worst part about losing hens to a coyote, besides the loss itself, is that the coyotes figure out there is free lunch to be had in your barnyard and come back for more, often bringing their friends along. So when the coyote showed up right at my back gate that evening I knew I was going to have to do something. Of course, I made sure everyone was back under lock and key, but it made me nervous not only for the chickens, but for the goats and my barn cats as well. I contemplated getting a shot gun and taking care of matters myself, but I’m really not the gun type. Besides, I don’t have anything against the coyotes themselves and feel they have a right to be living out there in their dwindling habitat. I just don’t want them coming into my barnyard.
So, I decided it was time to try one of nature’s remedies for such problems and got myself a llama! You may not know this, but most llamas have an instinct to guard any group of animals that they live and bond with (often sheep or goats). When they sense danger, they will sound an alarm, round their wards up and move them to a safe place, and make loud noises to intimidate the unwanted intruder. They’ve even been known to chase down the predator and stomp it to death if they feel the threat is great enough. I figured this was worth a try – and besides, llamas are amazingly cool looking creatures and I thought it would be a neat addition to our menagerie.
After making a few calls to some local 4-H and Llama Rescue folks in the area, I was referred to a local llama breeder, Carolann, who was getting out of the breeding business and trying to sell some of her 40+ llamas. We spent an hour or two together one afternoon and she patiently answered all my questions and concerns about llama ownership. To get us started, she suggested that we “try” a llama for a month or so to see if we liked having one around.
Just about that time, Carolann got a call from the local Llama Rescue that a family was moving out of the area and couldn’t take their llama with them. He happened to be one that was originally from Carolann’s herd. She remembered him fondly and realized he might be just the perfect match for my needs, being a friendly guy that had been living with goats for years.
So on a cold, January day, Seger the llama showed up in my barnyard and made quite an impression on the other animals. The horses had never seen anything quite like this odd creature and stomped and snorted and craned their necks to try to get a better look. The goats were actually pretty scared of him at first, but after a few hours in neighboring paddocks, they settled down and realized he was nothing to worry about. Over the next few weeks, they became better acquainted and the bonding began.
We never did find out what he was agitated about that day, but I suspect it was the sound of cows in a neighboring pasture. Turns out, Seger is a little worried about cows, as he is about strange dogs, certain new people and the garbage men! Anything that he thinks might pose a threat to his herd is suspect in his mind. And when we come to take a goat out of his pen to work with or groom, he paces and hums and tries to watch where we’ve taken it. In fact, he gets so concerned about his babies being out of his sight that when the county fair rolls around and we take all the goats to the fairgrounds for the week, we send Seger to “llama camp” at Carolann’s just so he won’t get too stressed with worry.
The other day, Seger and the goats were in their winter paddock as usual, along with a rooster that has been banished to the goat yard for bad behavior (that’s another story), when Seger heard the cows moving in the field behind our property. He quickly rounded up the goats and moved them into their stall for safety. Then he came back out and got the rooster, carefully nudging him into the stall with the goats. Apparently, llamas will bond with just about anything they think they’re in charge of!
Life Lesson: Protect the Things You Care About