March 9, 2015: Guardian Donkeys

~by Susi Pittman

It seems that farmers in America and Canada are increasingly turning to guardian donkeys as a non-lethal way of defending livestock like cattle and sheep against predators.Guard donkeys have a reputation that stretch back to Biblical days. Only recently have modern farmers become aware of the donkey’s usefulness in protecting their herds and flocks. Guard donkeys cost less to purchase and maintain than other guardian animals. They are extremely hardy and usually require minimal care and they don’t need special training, just being adapted to a halter is all that is necessary.

The area of Florida that I live in has its large coyote population and they pose a definite threat to my neighboring farmers and ranchers. Several of my ranching friends have a guardian donkey as part of their coyote deterrence and they do their job exceptionally well.

As chief security officer of the pasture, the donkey stands ready to challenge any intruder and will do so especially upon seeing coyotes, foxes or even stray dogs.

The donkey is compatible with other livestock and shares similar requirements for feed, water and shelter as cows and sheep. They eat grass and hay and do not require special feed. The male donkey is a Jack and the female donkey is a Jennet, and both are well-suited to most traditional methods of predation damage control and can be used in an integrated predation management program.

Contrary to popular belief donkeys are NOT stubborn-headed animals. They are actually quite intelligent and cautious. They are cautious of new experiences and environments and will stop to take in all that is around them before proceeding. They are careful to observe their surroundings before carrying out a task. This may be where the misconception of stubbornness arises. Donkeys need companionship, and left alone, they are prone to depression. If you are considering a donkey, you might want to think about getting two

It has been noted that donkeys probably do not deliberately protect livestock. Many donkeys dislike and are aggressive towards dogs, coyotes and foxes and provide indirect protection for domestic animals. Donkeys have exceptional hearing, a keen nose and excellent vision. They use these senses to detect intruders. When approached, sheep will tend to move so that their donkey guardian is between the intruder and themselves. The donkeys’ loud brays and quick pursuit will scare away predators and may also alert the farmer.

They bray, bare their teeth, chase, and attempt to kick and bite dogs and coyotes. If the predator doesn’t retreat quickly, the donkeys will attack them by rising up on their hind legs and striking with both front feet. A good solid blow can injure, kill or at the very least discourage the predator.

Some donkeys will also chase deer, bears, strange livestock, humans and other intruders in a similar fashion.

Donkeys do not intentionally patrol the pasture looking for intruders. They investigate disturbances and will pursue predators or intruders if they detect them.

They are most successful in protecting livestock in small and level pastures, where the donkey can see all or most of the area from one location.

In addition to the aggressive behavior of the donkeys, the presence of a large animal with smaller livestock may be sufficient to cause some coyotes, dogs and other predators to avoid the area.

Not every donkey can be a reliable guardian. They need first to be acquainted with other livestock in order to understand them. It is also good to keep in mind that some donkeys may be aggressive to family pets and care needs to be taken for proper introduction and acquaintance.

Donkeys are extremely long-lived, with a life span of thirty years or more. Donkeys generally have a calm temperament and pose little threat to neighbors or farm visitors. Unlike dogs, donkeys don’t roam, dig, or bark.

In the months ahead as our farm develops, along with purchasing a few ponies for the grandkids and goats for weed patrol, you can bet that a couple of donkeys will be wandering the fields too.

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Susi Pittman is founder of CatholicStewardsofCreation.com and Owner-President of Twin Oaks Publishing; she is author of Animals in Heaven? Catholics Want to Know!; an advocate for the Florida Catholic Conference; a member of the St. Joseph’s Catholic Council of Women in Jacksonville, Florida; an Associate of the Sisters of St. Joseph, St. Augustine;a member of the Florida Publishers Association, Independent Book Publishers Association, the National Association of Professional Women, the ASPCA, the Humane Society of the United States and the National Audubon society.

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