Donkeys: The New Guard Dog

When considering protection for your livestock against coyotes and other dangers, consider investing in donkeys.

| Summer 2012

  • 4 Month Old Donkey
    Instead of guard dogs or llamas consider raising a donkey with your sheep for protection.
    Photo courtesy
  • Donkeys with Ewes
    Donkeys protect sheep by putting their ears back, heads down and chasing predators away.
    Photo courtesy
  • Donkey Grazing
    The more time donkeys spend with your other animals, the more comfortable they will be which is why it is important to start training your donkey when they are young.
    Photo courtesy

  • 4 Month Old Donkey
  • Donkeys with Ewes
  • Donkey Grazing

When we decided those many years ago to raise sheep, we were counseled by many well-meaning folks to be sure and bring some llamas or guard dogs in at the same time or we’d most certainly lose the flock to coyotes and other predators. We thought about it some, and while listening to several coyote packs sing for territorial rights around the farm every night, we knew we’d need to do something. And then there was that big cat attack on a 600-pound heifer.

Karen and I have nothing against llamas, and our neighbors four miles away have them and they are interesting, lovely creatures; we just don’t relate to camelids the way we do more traditional livestock classes, like cattle, sheep, goats and hogs. And since we already had a pack of four dogs, we really weren’t too keen on disrupting the delicate and mostly stable balance our group found. We also weren’t keen on raising a pup with the first lambs and trying to train it properly. What to do?

Another shepherd and good friend came to the rescue with the suggestion that we consider keeping some donkeys with the various sheep groups to keep them safe. This friend has a pair of miniature donkeys that really dislike canines and an ornery mule who dislikes intruders of all kinds, and he rarely loses even one lamb to coyotes or other predators in a season.

As luck would have it, another acquaintance who raises goats was tired of “dealing” with her guard donkeys and was switching over to guard dogs and just so happened to have a pair of donkeys for sale — and they already had a bad taste in their mouth for dogs of all kinds. It took a minute for us to settle on a price and a pickup date — when we arrived with the trailer, the female jumped out of her enclosure to get to her baby (baby wasn’t part of the deal) and the jack was pacing and bucking and generally not happy.

It took a little trickery and coaxing to get the young female into the trailer. A bit of hay, leading her baby to the trailer and a bit of gentle rope work and the donkey we now know as Valentine was secure in the stock trailer’s front compartment. The 18-plus-year-old donkey we knew as Jack was not so easily tricked into loading until we brought out the mint candies. Turns out Jack had a powerful sweet tooth and in spite of a powerful suspicion with everything that even looked like it had something to do with the trailer, he succumbed to a neat little pile of mints that he simply could not reach without putting all four feet in the trailer. The trailer door still has a little crescent-shaped dent where he let us know how he felt about getting tricked.

By then it was quite dark — we drove the hour and a bit home to our farm, listening to an eerie braying and occasional slam from the trailer. I’ll admit to wondering more than once whether I just made the biggest mistake of my life — well, actually I knew it couldn’t be the biggest because I’d already lived through that one. I was glad that our corral was goat tight and bull strong. After telling ourselves the critters would calm down in time, we unloaded them into the corral. There was a little bucking and kicking and racing around, but they both eventually fell to munching hay. Valentine and Jack were completely different by morning—they were affectionate — almost demanding when it came to begging for attention.

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