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Furry sheep guardians are getting the once over from Paige

Sheep Central, September 13, 2019

UNE student Paige Matthews with some of her alpaca research subjects.

SHEEP producers who use alpacas as flock guardians against wild dogs and foxes are needed to help with a University of New England research study.

University of New England (UNE) PhD student Paige Matthews is conducting a comprehensive study of how Australian sheep producers use alpacas as guardian animals, including a world-first survey.

The UNE Environmental and Rural Science student said alpacas have become a popular form of wild dog and fox deterrent, but she was quite shocked to discover that no-one had considered how they are being used and how successfully.

“I’m keen to find out how many alpacas are run per sheep, whether producers introduce male or female alpacas and of what age to their flocks, and to gain an understanding of how effective the alpacas are at reducing sheep losses, especially at lambing times.”

Paige started her research last year, but a survey https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/guardalpacasurvey is still open for interested sheep producers.

“We are wanting to get at least 50 more responses until we start analysing the data, so still trying to get it out there to as many sheep producers as we can.”

Paige said here study had shown there was individuality in alpaca behaviours, with a male with lambing ewes being more dominant and confident male compared to another, however it is unclear how this relates to guarding effectiveness.

“We can see that there is individuality between alpacas, example some may act more bold, agitated, scared, inquisitive than others and this individuality could correlate with guarding effectiveness however it has not been tested.”

Paige said interesting behaviour observed in the field and reported by producers included alpacas showing interest toward lambs and even staying with them. She said alpacas’ attraction towards lamb stimuli and staying in close proximity with live lambs supported anecdotal observation from sheep farmers and has given insight into one aspect that could make alpacas suitable guardian animals.

“We did also test male vs female but do not have results for that yet, but would be interesting to see if they acted significantly different towards the lambs.”

Paige said once data was analysed it was hoped to find out more about male vs female alpacas and their effectiveness.

“We have done temperament testing with males and females and found that males had a calmer temperament than females, but it is unclear at this stage if that relates to how effective they are as guardians.”

Paige’s research is being conducted under the supervision of Dr Wendy Brown, Dr Amanda Doughty, Dr Emma Doyle and Dr Jamie Barwick. She is asking sheep producers using alpacas across Australia to respond to her survey within the next six months. Go to https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/guardalpacasurvey to complete the survey.

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