July Web Exclusive

Guard Donkeys

        by Wendy Komancheck

        Did you ever think about getting a donkey to guard your livestock?

        According to the American Donkey and Mule Society (ADMS, www.lovelongears.com) in Lewisville, Texas, mature donkeys are effective for safeguarding livestock. For guarding, the society recommends that donkeys be at least 3 years old. They also advise that a farmer should never use a jack (unaltered male) or a miniature donkey (mini).

        Guard donkey facts
        "Donkeys have a natural aversion to small predators, dogs in particular. They're territorial and see small animals as invaders and will chase them off," says Leah Patton of the ADMS. "Guard donkeys will be alert to any animal that doesn't belong, will bond with their herd, and can be used by their owners for other activities, such as riding or driving, if it's not birthing season."

        Jennets (females) and geldings make the best guard donkeys. Jennets are natural mothers, and their nurturing instinct bonds them to their charges. Patton warns that jacks should never be used for guarding because their hormones govern their behavior, and they're considered breeding stock only.

        "They [jacks] can be far too rough with small and young stock. If a jack is not to be used specifically for breeding, he should be gelded, preferably at an early age," Patton says.

        Guard donkeys require no special training for defending livestock. "It's a natural instinct, and one takes advantage of it. Having them raised by a mom that herself is a good guard donkey, and then bonding with their flock or herd is the only way [to "train" them]. If the donkey won't bond and guard, replace it," Patton advises.

        When it comes to maturity, a jennet or gelding should be at least 3 years old and raised around other livestock, according to Patton. "A donkey that has never been around sheep, goats or cattle might guard, but those used to having smaller stock around are much better [at guarding]," Patton says.

        Patton recommends that standard to large standard donkeys are best for guarding. Large standard donkeys measure 48 inches and up at the withers. Mammoth donkeys make so-so guard donkeys, since they're laid-back and can be slow in responding. They usually range in size from 54 inches for jennets to 56 inches for jacks.

        Additionally, Patton doesn't recommend using minis to guard livestock because of their small stature. At 36 inches and under, minis are too small to defend a herd from dogs.

        Mules can also watch over livestock, but Patton advises farmers to take the same consideration in picking a guard mule as they would for a donkey. She also warns against using female mules: "A female mule will sometimes have an overwhelming mothering instinct and steal a calf, so care must be taken if a mule is in with other livestock."

        How much livestock can a donkey effectively guard?
        "It's not so much a matter of numbers, but of acreage," says Patton. "A single donkey and a herd on 35 acres are fine. A herd on 200 or more acres may be too much [for one donkey]. Some people report doing just fine with two donkeys and large flocks, with the donkeys teaming up when a predator is found."

        Watch out for your farm dogs, though. Patton reports that donkeys will attack a dog unless it's accompanied by its owner.

        "I have personally kept donkeys in with livestock for over 30 years," Patton says. "I've seen my yearling stud jack grab a dog and shake it and toss it over the fence when the dog got near the bottle calves in the next pasture.
"My own jennet, Angel, still lays her ears back at the farm dog and chases him out of the pasture. In the 20-plus years we've had cattle, we have lost only one calf, and it wasn't due to predators," Patton says.

        Don't forget about basic care
        Donkeys, like other farm animals, need to be checked over on a regular basis, so Patton says that donkeys must be able to be handled for periodic checks.        

        "This means a halter-trained animal, not just a wild donkey thrown out in the field with some cows. As with any livestock, they need to be checked on frequently, and do need shelter from extreme elements. Fly control and worming do need to be kept up regularly, and the animal should be inspected often for any cuts and also have regular hoof care," Patton says.

        Donkeys and mules are in the equine family, and Patton says that guard jennets and geldings need the same basic care as any equine, such as regular vaccinations, hoof care, tooth maintenance and worming. Care must be taken that they don't eat cattle feeds, which can be poisonous to them.

        Guard donkeys and mules will take care of their flock for as long as they can run, see and hear, which can span over 30 years.

        "It's unfair to ask them to do a job when they are old and infirm, though. So, if the donkey is slowing down, it's certainly time for a replacement while the current animal gets a well-deserved retirement," Patton states.

        Donkeys and mules not only make great guard animals for small livestock, but they can also be used for other farm duties.

        "I currently have four donkeys in our herd; I've owned several more in the past. Who can resist the big, sad eyes and sweet nature of a donkey?" Patton asks.
Wendy Komancheck writes for and about the green business industry from her home in Lancaster County, Pa. For more information, go to her blog at http://wendykomancheckswriting.wordpress.com.
Photos courtesy of Leah Patton, ADMS.

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