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Guard llama protects flock at Arkansas Agricultural Research Station in Fayetteville

Llamas are used as guardians because of their longevity, diet and threat deterrence.

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — The Milo J. Shult Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Fayetteville has a new guardian, and it's not what you think it is.  

Standing six feet tall at 4-years-old, a llama named Madder "Maddie" Akka puts up with no drama.

Maddie has vigilantly protected a flock of about 70 sheep since April.

The sheep are used at the research and extension center (SAREC), and Maddie helps deter predators like coyotes and stray dogs.

"They have a natural instinct to protect animals they bond with," said Dirk Philipp in a press release, associate professor of animal science for the Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station.

Maddie was brought in for protection after several sheep were killed at SAREC. Program technician Sarah Shelby suggested getting a guardian llama to solve the problem.

After a long search, they purchased Maddie from a family in Missouri. They say she was chosen for her size, age and personality.

Credit: University of Arkansas Agricultura Department
Maddie, the UA's guard llama

Maddie was born in a small petting zoo in Missouri and lived there for two years. When the zoo changed ownership, many of the livestock animals were dispersed, including the llamas.

Right now, Maddie weighs around 240 pounds, but she's expected to grow as she gets older. 

Shelby says llamas make great guardians for farm animals because of their longevity. A healthy llama can live up to 25 years, and they eat the same things as sheep. Bred as pack animals, llamas can also carry about 25% of their body weight if needed. 

When Maddie sees a threat, she begins posturing and staring before she gets physical. Shelby says she may herd the flock away, spit, sound a shrill, piercing alarm call, then charge, chase, or strike out at the threat. With sharp hooves and teeth, guardian llamas can severely injure or kill a coyote, but they usually can deter the threat first with intimidation.

Maddie isn't just used as a guardian. She also helps with other work as well as caretaking.

"She is great at leading the sheep to the next paddock for grazing when walked by her caretakers," Shelby said. "She can also be heard gently humming to the sheep and lambs when we are working with them, checking in to make sure they are okay."

Shelby says only one sheep has been lost to a predator since April, but it was when Maddie had first arrived and not bonded with the research flock yet.

Click here for more information about the research program.

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