The Guanaco is a member of the Camelid family and is, therefore, a cousin to the Llama and Alpaca.
There is a difference, however. The Guanaco is more of a ‘wild’ member of the family, originating from the southern South American region, Patagonia, as well as Peru, Bolivia and Chile. The animal can be a dark or light tan colour and is very athletic. The Guanaco has a double coat, coarse guard hairs on the upper layer and very fine, soft fibre on the lower layer of the fleece. Guanacos are very attractive animals to look at.
I farm Guanacos, as well as Llamas and Gotland sheep, for their fibre. For the last four years, we have pastured our camelids on our 25 acres in Waikawa Valley, but previously we ran them on our 1500-acre home farm further up the Valley. On the home farm, we run beef cattle and sheep, so have a very good set of cattle yards which made handling the more lively Guanacos a little easier.
On our 25 acres, we have had to make many alterations to the existing covered sheep yards. When dealing with the animals for drenching etc we use large, (heavy) steel gates which can be arranged in different configurations, depending on which animals we are dealing with. We also have some larger, steeper paddocks for them, which are more like their natural environment. Like the llamas, Guanacos are browsers, not grazers.
People will ask, do you need higher fences for them? My answer would be, yes, if you have Guanaco males or llama males. These animals need to have a reason to jump fences, and this can be to interact with the females, particularly if they are out of sight. Another reason can be fleeing from more dominant males. We had this happen with a chulengo (a young Guanaco). I found him stuck on an ordinary height wire fence, in an obvious state of shock. He has tried to jump but only made it halfway. His mother was with him, and we can only presume that he was chased by a dominant male. Fortunately, he recovered from his injuries, but we put him and his mother in a paddock away from the Guanaco male.
We are able to keep the Guanaco females contained within ordinary-height wire fences. Ours are in a large paddock, so they have plenty of room to graze in their family groups, with their young, and they have no reason to jump the fence….unless, of course, something was to frighten them into doing so.
From this description, you will get the picture…. that the Guanaco can be a more challenging animal to manage. I believe you need to have had experience with larger animals, such as horses or cattle to successfully manage Guanacos. They don’t need shearing every season, as do alpacas or some llamas. But we shear some of the Guanacos, when I need the fibre, in the same way as the llamas - lying them down, using ropes as a restraint, and a blindfold.
As such, I wouldn’t recommend Guanacos for the average lifestyle block and/or folk who are inexperienced in handling larger, more highly-strung animals.
One thing does come to mind. Guanacos, as well as llamas and alpacas, can be very good guard animals to protect your livestock against predators – for example, wandering dogs. Camelids see a dog as a predator (a wolf, perhaps in the wild) and are very alert. They always sound an alert (a sort of whinny) when a different animal comes into their space, and can strike an invader with their forelegs. This is their defence system. Coming from a wilderness situation, self-defence against the many predators in South America is a natural reaction from the Guanaco.
By Janette Buckingham