NO BABY IS A GUARDIAN
By American Donkey and Mule Association Staff
Social media discussions can often get heated and nasty. People post things that make other people mad, and wars ensue over who is right and who is wrong.
When it comes to livestock guardians, there are some simple truths. CAPS used on purpose here, as we cannot word this strongly enough.
NO BABY ANIMAL OF ANY KIND is a guardian. Not donkeys, not dogs, not llamas, not human children. You would not put your five year old child out to guard a flock with a shotgun, would you? Would you put your four week old pup out to guard the henhouse? Your newborn donkey? The answer is no, you would not.
NOT EVERY DONKEY WILL GUARD. Many will not. Jacks should never, EVER be used for guarding. Yes, we know there are people that say their animals are just fine and they have used a jack for years…they are the lucky ones, or they don’t see the missing lamb/kid/calf and realize it might have been the donkey, not the stray dog or coyote. Jacks will often traumatize and kill smaller livestock. There are more records of it happening then ‘’ not ’’ happening. Just as every dog will not guard or scent track or whatever their breed purpose is [not all German Shepherd dogs are good police dogs], not every donkey will guard. Period. Your choice for a livestock guard donkey should be a jennet or gelding over the age of three [past the teen years] that has already been raised around livestock and proven itself.
Young equines of any kind, be they donkey, horse, mule, or zebra hybrid, are overly playful. They haven’t finished growing in body or in mindset. This rough play is what causes injury and death to smaller animals. Don’t use youngsters. Period. Younger donkeys with a steady, reliable mom and contact but not necessarily immersion with a mixed flock are the best candidates for later guard duties.
No guard animal of any size or type is proof against packs of feral dogs. Feral packs can kill for bloodlust and fun, and your guard animal may be taken down as well. For this reason, smaller donkeys, larger slower donkeys, single llamas, all of these animals can be targets. Each situation, location, flock/herd dynamics and potential guard has to be weighed and studied.
Don’t risk the life of your potential guard animal by making mistakes that will endanger lives. We have plenty of reports that show what goes wrong – read them, learn, and don’t repeat.
PREDATOR CONTROL By Kim Baerg www.eaglehillequine.com
The whole guard donkey system revolves around imprinting, the natural social ability of the donkey and the donkey’s natural dislike for members of the dog family. Donkeys are herd animals; if they lack the company of other equines, most donkeys will adopt sheep or other livestock as their own. However only careful selection, training and care will make the project a success. Selection should be based on socialization and acceptance to stock, size, gender and general personality.
Types of livestock that have been successfully used with donkeys include sheep, goats, poultry, cattle, pigs, llamas, horses and fallow deer. Predators that they are effective against are coyotes, foxes, bobcats, eagles, feral hogs, domestic dogs and feral dogs.
Donkeys protect by vision, hearing and smell. They need to be alert and detect intruders with these senses. They physically attack a dog with ears back, teeth bared and savage bray and psychologically by just being an alert presence between stock and a predator. Predators avoid the area. Loud, noisy braying works against bears and cougars and also alerts the farmer, particularly at night. Donkeys are afraid of these larger predators and will not physically attack them, but will bray loudly and run to safety.
SIZE: Most sheep breeders prefer the standard sizes, medium to large, 44 to 50 inches. Smaller [miniature] donkeys are useful in certain situations, but their smaller size may put these animals at risk against larger predators.
GENDER: Jennies are commonly sued with success but can be unpredictable during heat cycles. A jenny with a foal will sometimes chase sheep away from her baby being very distracted with the baby. Foals sometimes chase the sheep in play. One solution to this problem is to temporarily separate for up to one week after foaling. Jennies can be more costly and more difficult to find.
GELDINGS: are excellent and preferred as they are usually stronger, louder and more aggressive in chasing away predators. Placing tow geldings together with the sheep during training works well as they become used to the sheep and have each other to play with. Make sure they are gelded as immature animals, and be prepared to try various solutions during the rough playing stage [1 -3 years]. They are usually cheaper and easier to find.
JACKS are usually too aggressive and unpredictable to be promoted as good guard animals. They should be kept by knowledgeable breeders.
Donkeys are will-suited to most traditional methods of predator damage control and can be used in an integrated management program. For example, snares and poison bait can be used without special precautions to protect the donkey. Donkeys have advantages over dogs in that they permanently live with stock and live a similar life style as an herbivore, producing a more stable and predictable relationship between the guardian animal and livestock. Their working life span is between 10 and 15 years.
Raise guard donkeys away from dogs, and do not test the donkey by teasing it with a dog. Do not allow farm dogs to become too friendly with the donkey. Avoid or limit the use of stock dogs around donkeys. Buying from a specialized breeder might be a little more costly but will reduce the risk to livestock and increase the chance for a successful program. It doesn't take long to recover the cost of the donkey, a calf or two, or a few sheep, and he has paid for himself. Donkey’s aggressive tendencies towards familiar dogs can be tamed, and they will eventually tolerate the farm dog.
PROTECTING LIVESTOCK WITH GUARD DONKEYS
Alberta Agriculture, Food and Rural Development
Farmers are increasingly turning to non-lethal techniques for predator management including electric fencing, electronic guards and guardian animals.
In Alberta, guard donkeys have become popular as protectors of sheep and cattle and perform very well under certain conditions.
Advantages of guard donkeys
• Guard donkeys are more accepted by the public for livestock protection than poisons.
• Under certain conditions, they provide around-the-clock protection against predators and other pasture intruders.
• Guard donkeys cost less to purchase and maintain than other guardian animals.
• Donkeys are compatible with other livestock and share similar requirements for feed, water and shelter. They eat grass and hay and do not require special feed.
• Donkeys are well-suited to most traditional methods of predation damage control and can be used in an integrated predation management program. For example, snares and poison bait can be used without special precautions to protect the donkey.
How guard donkeys work
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. They bray, bare their teeth, chase, and attempt to kick and bite dogs and coyotes. 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 within the herd or flock 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.
Selecting a guard donkey
Consistent and successful guard donkey performance depends on appropriate animal selection, proper training and realistic expectations. Guard donkeys have limitations to their physical and protective capabilities.
A guard donkey is a working animal so it must be sound, healthy and free from any conformational defects. It must be reasonably friendly towards people and easy to handle.
Attributes that contribute to effective guard donkey performance are as follows:
1. Select a donkey from “standard” stock, 44” to 50” (11 to 12.5 hh) at the shoulder. For cattle, the donkey should be a little taller, up to 54” (13.5hh). Do not use small or miniature donkeys or slow, clumsy animals.
2. Not all donkeys are effective guard animals. If one does not work, try another. It is worth the effort even if you have to try several animals. Donkeys live for 30 or more years, so an effective guard donkey will provide protection for many years. Acquire a donkey that is likely to have potential to be a guard animal. The donkey should have some exposure to sheep or other livestock it is to protect. Get a guarantee or replacement clause on the bill of sale if you buy from a guard donkey breeder.
3. Use only females (jennies) or gelding. So not use a mature intact male (jack or stallion) unless it has been raised with stock. Some jack donkeys may attack smaller animals including dogs, coyotes, calves and lambs. For the same reason, unsettled jennies, with or without foals, may be aggressive during estrus and could injure young stock.
Training guard donkeys
Halter break the donkey to lead. Train the donkey to lift its feet for veterinary and farrier work and to lead and unload in a stock trailer or truck.
Guard donkeys may need several weeks to adjust to livestock, so introduce them to stock well before predation is likely to occur.
Keep young donkeys with goat, sheep or cattle after the donkey is weaned. Do no allow guard donkeys to run with other donkeys or horses. In this way the young donkey will think it is part of the flock or herd. Ideally, the donkey should be born in the flock or herd and its dam should be taken away at weaning to let the young animal grow up with the stock.
Place a new donkey on the other side of a common fence line with livestock. This gives the donkey and the livestock an opportunity to safely get to know one another.
A week to ten days following this socialization period, lead the donkey around the cattle or sheep where they can smell and touch each other. Then tether the donkey inside the pen with the stock and feed and groom it there for about a week. By this time both will have accepted each other. Allow the donkey to run loose in the pen or pasture and soon the stock will seek the donkey out in times of danger.
Feed the donkey with the stock so it feels like a member of the flock or herd. If stock are fed from troughs, feed the donkey first from a separate feeder or bowl so the livestock can eat unhindered. Always feed the guard donkey something every time you feed the stock.
Keep all dogs away from donkeys and do not test the donkey by teasing it with a dog. Do not allow farm dogs to become friendly with the donkey. Avoid or limit the use of stockdogs around donkeys.
If a donkey is aggressive towards or fears stock (or vice-versa) remove it immediately.
Using guard donkeys
Donkeys are most effective in small, open, level pastures where the stock tend to band together. The maximum number of livestock that can be guarded by a donkey is unknown, but is probably no more than 200 animals. Donkeys will probably be of little use on rolling terrain or rangeland covered with heavy bush where stock scatter widely.
Use only one donkey at a time with livestock. This is important in larger pastures because donkeys may pal up and wander away from the stock.
There is one exception to the single donkey rule; a jenny with an unweaned foal tends to be much more protective than other donkeys. A mother with a foal will give you an extra advantage because young donkeys will be raised with livestock and trained for you use or sale as a trained guard donkey.
When more than one donkey is needed to guard a very large area or large flock or herd, use jennies with unweaned foals only. Some producers are successful with two geldings, but this is rare.
Fences must be in good repair because donkeys may escape through holes when wires are broken or missing.
Remove the donkey during lambing or calving, particularly in confinement operations, as a precaution against accidents or intentional injury or disruption of the mother-newborn bond. Place the donkey in the flock when the young animals are ready to go to pasture.
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