Llama keeps coyotes at bay in Kilbride

Barb Sweet
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Howard Morry’s llama Skipper watches over her small flock of sheep in the barn next to Morry’s house. He keeps a llama with his sheep to protect them against coyotes. — Photo by Keith Gosse/The Telegram

Inside an iconic red barn, Skipper, a saucer-eyed, long-necked llama, is watching a small flock at Howard Morry’s sheep farm in Kilbride.

The rest of Morry’s flock, about 200 in total, are on islands off Ferryland and Tors Cove, but five are kept behind to keep Skipper company.

“If you take the sheep away from them, they are lonely, dejected,” Morry said.

Morry has had the llama for seven years, and also owns a four-year-old llama for part of the flock he keeps in Goulds.

One of his sons, Howard Jr., also has a llama, Skipper’s baby. Holly was born on Christmas Day.

The llamas aren’t just for show. They protect the sheep from coyotes.

Skipper and her summer flock of five sheep and lambs are in the barn while haying season is on.

“Once hay is done, the llama lays down in the field and all the sheep lay down around her. They got a sense of security,” explained Howard Sr., who has been raising sheep for 70 years, ever since his father gave him a lamb for passing Grade 1 in Ferryland.

“I don’t know what nature does, but they are always on guard. I wouldn’t be without them.”

According to the website of Llama Canada, a non-profit organization, the aristocratic animal — a South American cousin of the camel — is easy to care for and can live up to 20 years.

They emit a  shrill rhythmic alarm call at the sight of a strange animal, especially coyotes and dogs.

Skipper feeds on hay, but likes treats of bread. Both Skipper and the unnamed four-year-old were bred in Nova Scotia for guarding sheep. He paid $700 for one and $500 for the other.

“I can’t emphasize enough how good they are,” Morry said, adding his sons have heard coyotes howling in the woods behind the farm.

“They watch my flock of sheep like nothing else.”

Morry comes from a line of sheep farmers — his father and grandfather raised them, his sons have taken it up as a hobby and his grandchildren seem keen on it, too.

Morry, who trained at the agriculture college in Nova Scotia, worked in government agriculture research for decades. He used the sheep farm to help support his wife and eight children.

He sells to grocery stores and downtown St. John’s restaurants, marvelling at the $4.50 a pound he gets for lamb.

“I tell people that’s an awful price to pay for it. People don’t mind if they get a good product. (One of the restaurants) asked me out to dinner one day. I wasn’t out yet but I wonder what they charge people a plate? I’d say nothing less than 40 bucks,” Morry said.

“There’s no end to the market. It’s a lot of work, but the boys do most of the work now. My knees are bad.”

Back in the 1930s, Morry said there were about 125,000 sheep on the island, but raising them fell out of favour as economic times improved.

That number dropped to a fraction and coyotes have been trouble in recent years, cutting the numbers down to about 2,000, he said.

He said in one week four years ago he lost 20 lambs to coyotes on pastureland in Ferryland.

“Coyotes are the big thing now. People just can’t rear the sheep, especially out on the Cape Shore where (the coyotes) are running around the cliffs and that,” Morry said.

He doesn’t worry about them at his property in Kilbride, as long as Skipper is around.

“She knows when they are around, don’t you worry. You look out and see her lookin,’ lookin,’ lookin.’ And she snorts too. They fight with their front legs,” he said.

“She herds all the sheep in one corner and stands guard over them. The coyotes have a fear of them — they smell them.”

The llamas can’t guard huge acreages and can’t be paired.

“They’ll buddy up and ignore the sheep,” Morry said.

The wooly-haired llama is content in any weather, even snowstorms, though when really bad weather hits, Morry puts the sheep and the llama in the barn.

The llama seems gentle, but keeps a close eye on the tiny flock when visitors appear. Morry has never seen aggressive behaviour from Skipper.

“They say they spit at you, and I never saw her spit yet. They’d have to prove it to me,” he said.


Organizations: Llama Canada

Geographic location: Ferryland, Kilbride, Kilbride.The Tors Cove Goulds Nova Scotia

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Recent comments

  • vivian pitre
    September 16, 2011 - 22:01

    I 've been sheep farming for the last 10 years we had beef before , we have 2 llamas with the 140 head of sheep and it seems to work good with keeping the coyotes away i dont know if it is the hight and smell of the llama's that keeps them away , if we wanted to use large tending breeds of sheep dogs we would need to live far from our neighbors because these dogs become so protective that if someone crosses your property the dogs may attack to protect the herd , we have visited friends that have these dogs , when strangers come to the fence near the public road I' ve seen the llamas move the herd away Oh! by the way I have been spit on by our adult female llamas when I had to handle her baby cria , not so scary just some gastric jus from her stomach , nothing a good shower could'nt fix a very quite and peaceful animal . We bring our sheep and llamas home every night from the pasture with our border collies .

  • Darlene Underhay
    August 01, 2011 - 16:50

    My husband & I are originally from Newfoundland. We have decided to retire in northern Alberta as our children & grandchildren have settled out west. We started a small farm as a hobby for now but eventually we will raise registered red Angus cattle. One of the first animals we got on our ranch were Llamas. We heard of their great guarding abilities & have witnessed this first hand. The coyotes are in large numbers here, especially in the winter where they hunt in packs. The llamas have become a huge part of keeping everything safe here on the ranch and would advise farmers or hobby farmers to really think about adding this animal to your operation.

  • MudderL
    July 29, 2011 - 11:30

    At least someone is doing something about the coyotes... Keep up the good work skipper! Great job Telegram, loved this article! Love hearing about behind the scene stories about NL business'.

  • Stephen
    July 29, 2011 - 10:22

    Great story about a way of life that is fading away! Good on the rest of Howard's family to keep his way of life going!

  • Wayne
    July 29, 2011 - 09:39

    I confess to knowin NOTHING about sheep farming, but I have often wondered why sheep dogs don't work to protect sheep. There are numerous breeds of dogs that have been used for centuries to guard sheep from wolves and other predators in every sort of climate from dessert to colder than ours. Is there some reason why one of these types of dogs would not work here ? I'm not criticizing...I'm just wondering why.

    • A. F. Butt
      September 15, 2011 - 19:15

      Sheep dogs are no match for a coyote.

  • LindseyT
    July 29, 2011 - 07:24

    A lovely story about a local farming legend! People need to become more educated about our local agriculture industry and the issues they face, bravo Telegram :)