Peppi and Marko Laine are testing llamas as guardian animals in a southern Finland sheep farm
Location: Salo, Hajala – Finland,
Story by: Peppi, Marko Laine
Peppi and Marko Laine are sheep farmers from Salo, Finland. Over the past years the sightings of wolves has increased from only a few to almost a hundred. Last year two of their lambs were killed by wolves. Now they are testing if llamas would be suitable guardians for their sheep.
Peppi and Marko Laine have been sheep farmers in Salo, Finland over a decade. In 2018 there were 4 sightings of wolves in the Salo area. Last year, 2020, there were 61. This year there has already been 47 sights only until July. They are using fences but last year two lambs were killed by a wolf. The Laine couple were seeking other alternatives to prevent attacks and they heard about WWF Finland’s new project regarding guardian animals. In the project WWF and experts are testing to use llamas as guardian animals. This will hopefully be part of the solution to decrease the amount of hunting permissions based on lifestock damage and will show that coexistence is possible.
After about a 15 minutes drive from the city of Salo, one will arrive in the old town of Hajala. Surrounded by traditional landscape, vast fields and a handful of old farm houses, lies the Mikkolan tila -sheep farm. Shepherd dogs are barking hardly, probably because of the unfamiliar summertime workers on the farm properties. The summer workers are long-necked and they weight about 200 kilos. They have six huge, razor sharp teeth and they have a natural instinct of hating canine.
The black one is Timotei, he is the son of the white one, Jingo. They are 11 and 7 years old. They are always together, says Peppi Laine, referring to the two llamas who are staying close to the sheep.
The llamas will spend the whole grazing period at the Mikkolan tila. The amount of wolves sightings has rocketed over the past years in the Salo area. Two lambs were killed by wolves last year on the farm. The Laine couple had to figure out new ways to tackle the issue. Shooting all the wolves is not the solution in their opinion.
We and our sheep have an important task to take care of the traditional cultural landscapes and rural biotopes by grazing. We want to continue this work and we need to test different ways to coexist with the carnivores such as wolves, says Peppi Laine.
The using of guardian animals could be one way to prevent problems. In the North America and Middle Europe, llamas have reportedly been efficient in protecting lifestock from large carnivores. This is the first time that llamas are used in Finland. Guardian dogs are being used, but there have been challenges with training the dogs to be unaggressive towards people, while they have to run freely around unfenced areas.
Llamas can eat the same grass so their keeping costs less than the keeping of dogs. One has to train a guardian dog for a long time, but llamas naturally don’t like canine and they get along with people, says Teemu Niinimäki, conservation specialist from WWF Finland.
Using llamas to guarding livestock has been tested in various pilots, yet no detailed scientific analysis on their effectiveness and specific conditions are available. WWF Finland is co-operating with the Finnish Sheep Breeders Association in a small two-year pilot project to investigate the possibilities to enhance the use of guardian animals in Finnish sheep farms. In 2021, guardian llamas were tested in two farms. One of the farms is the Mikkola farm in Salo, southern Finland, owned by Peppi and Marko Laine. Wolves have recently settled in the area, and the farm is looking for new possibilities to protect their sheep. Based on the experiences from the first field season, the co-grazing of sheep and llamas works well but it is too early to conclude about the effect of llamas in guarding the sheep.
The guardian llamas are not the golden solution to all the lifestock damage caused by wolves. But this project will hopefully show good results and be one of the solutions on a long run alongside with electric fences, guardian dogs and other measures that prevent lifestock damage.