When we think of livestock guardian animals, we usually think of guardian dogs or llamas. Donkeys are usually thought of as a reluctant work animal with a grumpy disposition. But the truth is, donkeys can be a very effective and loyal livestock guardian for sheep, goats, chickens, and even calves. They are naturally inclined to defend their territory from single canine predators like foxes, coyotes, and roaming dogs. If you haven’t considered the lowly donkey as a guardian for your herd, you just might be missing out!
A guardian donkey will be protective of his or her territory and be very alert while socializing and grazing with the rest of the herd. When his territory is threatened, he will go on the defensive very aggressively. His front and hind legs make formidable weapons and he will use his teeth as well. Their loud braying could sometimes be enough to scare off a predator, and it will also serve as an alarm to you and the other animals that something is wrong.
Choosing a Guard Donkey
The best guard donkeys are usually raised up with their herd from the time they are a foal. A jenny with a foal makes a great choice because the foal will bond with the herd as it grows up, and it will be a superb guardian. A jenny on her own may work out well, too, as long as she is used to being around other livestock. A gelded male donkey could also be a good choice. Jacks, or intact males, don’t usually work out well as guardians because they can be much too aggressive with other livestock. Just be sure the donkey you choose is a standard size or larger. Miniature donkeys are too small to be effective as a livestock guardian because they will be prey themselves. The same goes for baby or very young donkeys.
When introducing a new donkey to your herd, it’s best to set up a separate paddock for the donkey within your pasture. Keep the donkey separated for several weeks, and use that time to let the donkey get used to you. Introduce the donkey to your other animals slowly over time, and don’t let her loose unsupervised with the herd until they’ve had plenty of time to get used to each other. Don’t ever purchase an unmanageable donkey, especially if you are not experienced with equines.
Pros of Using a Guardian Donkey to Protect Your Livestock
Donkeys will bond with their herd over time and become very territorial. Often, the smaller animals in the herd will come to look at their guardian donkey as a protector over time, and will run to her when threatened. When a donkey’s territory becomes threatened, it will become very aggressive and charge at the threat in an attempt to chase it away. It will use its feet and teeth as deadly weapons, even potentially killing a single canine predator.
Donkeys often live for 30 years or more, so when you find a good one you can count on her for a long time. They don’t cost much to purchase, either. Their fencing and housing requirements are much like sheep and goats. Donkeys are generally calm until threatened, so you won’t need to worry about them being aggressive towards your guests. Unlike livestock guardian dogs, donkeys don’t roam, and they won’t keep you or your neighbors up all night with their barking.
Cons of Using a Guardian Donkey to Protect Your Livestock
Some donkeys won’t confront canines, and will choose to run away instead of standing their ground or charging. Others will only protect themselves and pay no attention when other animals are threatened. Some donkeys can be aggressive toward other livestock, too. Be especially careful of donkeys around lambs and kids. It can be difficult to know if a donkey is going to make a good guardian until you bring her home and try her out.
Donkeys can’t defend against large predators like bears, wolves, mountain lions, or wild hogs. They are not effective against a pack of canines either. They probably won’t pay any attention to small predators, like raccoons, or flying predators, like hawks. A single donkey won’t be very effective in a very large pasture where the herd is scattered in a large area.
Some donkeys will bray a lot if they are lonely, bored, or at feeding or treat time. This could disturb your neighbors and your family as well. Some guardian donkeys may not ever accept your homestead dogs and may attack them just like they would any other predator.
Caring for Your Guardian Donkey
If you are familiar with handling horses, you should do very well with a donkey. Their feeding, handling, and care requirements are pretty much the same as other equines. They require regular hoof trimming, vaccines, and check-ups. Donkeys will drink a lot more water than goats and sheep, so plan accordingly.
Feed your donkey plenty of hay. He will also need trace mineral salts and probably some grain to keep his weight up, especially in the winter time when grass is scarce. Your donkey will need to be fed separately from your sheep and goats. Don’t ever give your donkey access to Rumensin, urea, or other feed or supplements that are meant only for ruminants. Donkeys originally come from desert climates, so they do not grow a warm undercoat like horses do. They will need good shelter from rain and snow.
Don’t ever interfere with a donkey that is defending his territory. If you do, he may view you as a threat as well, and you will get kicked or bitten. If a donkey has attacked or chased off a predator, you should give him plenty of time to calm down before you attempt to approach him.
Donkeys can make excellent livestock guardians in situations where a guardian dog may not be ideal. Donkeys can often be trained for riding and pulling, making them a multi-use animal on the homestead. All-in-all, a guardian donkey is definitely worth your consideration when choosing a livestock guardian for your homestead.