Llamas stand guard at this year's Sheep Fest.

Llama Drama 

Llamas stand guard at this year's Sheep Fest.

Cheryl Carey's guard donkey lost its job five years ago -- to a llama.

"We lost three sheep in May, two in July, and four in September to coyotes. Since we got a llama we haven't lost any," she says. Carey's 225 ewe graze a 19-acre pasture 7 miles south of Sterling, Kansas. Two llamas, Bailey's Irish Cream and Dexter, guard the herd. "We only see them once a day when we feed," Carey says. "They guard on their own and keep coyotes at bay."

A rise in the guard-llama population has meant a decline in sheep loss to predators in these parts. The sentries will get some deserved recognition at Saturday's Sheep Fest 2000.

Coyotes and dogs are llamas' natural enemies. "Llamas are territorial animals. If something doesn't belong in their territory, they'll scare it away with intimidation," explains Sharon Hubbard, who owns a llama ranch in Lyons, Kansas.

The intimidation, however, doesn't always work. Chelle Rogers, who runs a Web site dedicated to llamas, posts e-mails from llama owners who have experienced tragedies. "They are great alarm animals but are as defenseless as those they are asked to protect," wrote one. "A friend in Montana had one of his females savaged by dogs. They had to amputate what the canines left of her leg," wrote another.

Still, the guard-llama population is rising. In 1972, as many as 600 llamas worked as guards around the country; now there are around 180,000. "I'm shocked that anyone thinks that llamas shouldn't guard," says Carey.

And Sheep Fest visitors won't necessarily be stepping into a raging controversy. More likely they'll simply encounter the beanlike llama droppings, which are prized worldwide as fertilizer. Since the weekend's events celebrate all things sheep, the llamas will mainly be standing by.

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