August 8, 2011

Photo by Sue Weaver
Istar is not a guardian donkey.

When I told Ishtar, our donkey, that I wrote about Feyza and livestock guardian dogs in my blog, she tossed her head and said, “Humph, donkeys guard, too!” Uzzi and I looked at each other. Ishtar hangs out with the horses and sometimes even chases the sheep.

She saw our expressions, then she shook her ears and added, “Some donkeys guard. It’s not my job. My job is being a horse.” Uzzi muttered under his breath, “Mom picks weird animals, doesn’t she?” That pretty much sums it up.

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Because Ishtar is the only donkey we’ve ever known, and she definitely isn’t guardian material, Uzzi and I decided we’d check to see if she’s telling the truth. So we crept into the house last night and Googled livestock guardian donkeys. Here is what we learned.

Donkeys have an inborn hatred for anything that looks like wolf. (Uzzi nodded. Ishtar chases our dogs, too.) Because of that, some donkeys make great herd guardians where coyotes and prowling dogs are a problem. They chase them away while braying, biting, and sometimes pawing or kicking the interlopers. Donkeys have keen hearing and good eyesight, so nothing sneaks past a donkey on guard.

Healthy, well-cared-for donkeys live 25 to 30 years, and they don’t cost much to buy or keep. But to become guardians they have to be standard (burro) size or larger because things that sheep, goats, and alpacas can kill Miniature Donkeys, too.

Gelded (castrated male) donkeys make the best guardians. Jennets (females—some people call them jennies), especially if they have a foal, are good, too. But sometimes jacks (intact males) savage animals they dislike. Some jacks have even been known to stomp newborn kids, lambs, and crias. A few misguided jacks try to breed the does, ewes or female alpacas they’re hired to protect, sometimes causing serious—even fatal—injuries.

Another bad thing is that donkeys prefer the company of other donkeys (or in Ishtar’s case, horses) because unlike guardian dogs, donkeys haven’t been bred for generations to look after other livestock. Some simply aren’t interested in bonding with animals not of their kind.

Chances are, however, a carefully chosen donkey will do the job. W.F. Andelt, author of the USDA publication “Livestock Guard Dogs, Llamas and Donkeys” says that 59 percent of Texas producers who use guardian donkeys rated them good or fair for deterring coyote predation and an additional 20 percent deemed them excellent or good. And 9 percent of the sheep and goat producers polled for a 2004 National Agriculture Statistics Service livestock predation survey kept and endorsed livestock guardian donkeys.

And, let’s face it, donkeys are cute. Mom has kept donkeys for just about a million years and she wrote a book all about them, called The Donkey Companion. If you’re thinking of getting a donkey, check it out!

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