Guardians of the Flock: Donkey Business

Hi, Friends. It’s Head Hen Lucinda here! I’d like you all to meet Frito. He works on Andy McMurry’s farm in Franklin, Missouri, and his job is to guard Andy’s sheep.

Wait, what? A guard donkey? Seriously?

Yup, totally serious. It’s not just dogs who work on farms looking after livestock. Donkeys do a great job at driving off medium to large predators, especially dogs, cougars, coyotes, bobcats, and foxes. They may look to us like fuzzy little horses, but they’re actually pretty aggressive when it comes to other animals invading their space. Actually aggressive doesn’t quite explain it properly. Donkeys are CRAZY!! To a coyote, a donkey isn’t a cute family pet, it’s 800 pounds of biting, kicking fury that can kill or maim them within seconds. And in reality, most coyotes won’t even get anywhere near the donkey. Donkeys have excellent sight and hearing, and as soon as they detect an intruder, they’ll chase it, braying loudly. Any smart coyote will turn tail and run as soon as a donkey charges them. That’s a fight they’re not going to win.

donkey

Farmers in the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand use donkeys to protect sheep, goats, and even cows. In most cases, donkeys can keep the herds completely safe from canine and feline predators. A donkey typically lives over 30 years, so they have a longer working life than a dog.

You may be wondering why we don’t see more guard donkeys. Well, they’re great at what they do, but they can’t protect against every threat. Frito wouldn’t be much use against a hungry bear or a wild boar, for example, and donkeys tend to ignore smaller predators such as raccoons or birds. Donkeys also work best with smaller flocks, up to 100 sheep, so they’re no good for large-scale commercial farmers. And given their innate distrust of canines, donkeys don’t always get along with farm dogs, which can be a problem. In extreme cases, over-protective donkeys can regard rams or lambs as intruders, which brings a whole new level of risk. Plus, of course, bringing a donkey onto a farm means learning a whole new set of animal husbandry skills. And then there’s the fact that a donkey can be crazy and loud, which can annoy some folks.

But in the right circumstances, with the right training, donkeys like Frito play a huge part in helping farmers like Andy raise happy, healthy sheep in a natural environment, just the way it’s supposed to be. We love you, Frito!

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