Considerations for Use of Donkeys as Guard Animals
(Note: These notes were written in 2010 so some links may be outdated and not connect.)
Donkeys employed in a stock guarding or shepherding role have recently been featured in Brisbane’s Courier Mail newspaper and the ABC television news.
Donkeys can be very effective as guard animals. WildEx tends the feet of a jenny guard donkey employed to guard calves and weiners at Warrina Stud located at Chilverton. This jenny is outstanding in her role but was selected from a herd of donkeys for her reaction to dogs.
As these articles will probably result in interest to purchase donkeys for this type of work. I wish to set down a few comments and observations for anybody who is considering using donkeys to guard calves, sheep or goats.
These observations are based on our experiences of keeping and breeding donkeys for more than ten years.
Wilderness Expeditions has 14 donkeys of geldings teams in their own paddocks and one herd of 12 jenny and gelding donkeys running in 65 acres of open woodland.
There is an established family of “Black and Tan” Dingos living in a gully approximately one kilometre from our boundary fence. We rarely notice visits from the dingos and our chickens have been mostly unmolested. Incursions have been made by feral or lost pig dogs approaching through the front entrance that is unguarded by donkeys.
Donkey Defence Tactics
Donkeys can be victims of dog attack themselves so they have developed aggressive tactics to protect themselves and their foals from dogs and Dingoes (Australian Wild Dog).
Two or more donkeys are required to defend themselves against a pack of dogs.
Donkeys can discriminate between strange dogs and pet or working dogs that belong to the property after some experience. They even play games with familiar dogs but do not tolerate being monstered.
Jenny donkeys are more likely to defend third party animals, eg sheep against dog attack.
A larger group of four or more donkeys are likely to form a “donkey mob” and stick to themselves and ignore the animals they are meant to be guarding.
Some donkeys will form an affiliation with third party animals more easily than others. Some donkeys do not get on with smaller animals and can bully or attack them. I understand that donkeys do not easily accept goats.
Jack or entire stallion donkeys are not recommended as they can be unpredictable in the presence of Jennies and can be very territorial against other donkeys.
Donkeys can become bored when kept in small paddocks without stimulation. This may result in chewing of trees, posts etc
The donkeys attack strange dogs in four ways:
Batting. This is a rapid advance with the front legs held straight and used in a batting action to knock the animal down. I have been chased in this fashion by a hungry donkey wanting a bucket of molasses I was carrying. It was very effective.
Kneeling. I have seen this once when a Jack donkey chased a pet dog that had been teasing him. The donkey galloped up behind the dog, folded up his front legs then launched himself to fall on the dog (he missed because I yelled out, the dog was deaf).
Kicking.This the more standard rear end kicks. Donkeys are generally very accurate with kicks, which can vary from a “soft” warning kick or shove, to a lightning fast, bone cracking King Hit. The donkey can move backwards kicking at intervals to complete an attack.
Biting. Donkeys have very strong jaws and necks so they can catch other smaller animals with their teeth, pick them up and then throw them down resulting in injuries or winding. The donkeys may then follow up by stomping of the foe.
I have seen a young dingo investigating the donkeys’ paddocks. His presence was quickly detected and the donkeys all sallied forth and chased him out. Once the danger has been identified the dingoes rarely return.
Calls. Donkeys have quite an extensive vocabulary that includes particular calls that indicate threats or danger from dogs or other predators. With some experience these calls can be recognised and responses by the livestock owners may be actioned as necessary.
Donkeys are not just “long eared ponies” but are an equine subspecies with their own foibles, so some regular basic care is required.
Importantly the donkeys require to be taught to lead and tie up. They then require to be caught regularly to prevent them from becoming “feral”. This involves having a halter put on and being led around and being tied up for a period. This will permit care to be administrated as required with a willing animal, rather than one that is reluctant or actively resistant.
Donkeys must be compliant and willing to have their feet attended to. A farrier is quite within his/ her rights to refuse to trim the feet of a donkey that refuses to pick up his feet and will kick and bite.
Feet. Feet require to be trimmed to prevent over-growth and splitting of the hoof wall. The planning interval is six weeks to three months depending on the ground surface they are running on. This requires use of a hoof knife, and a shoeing rasp.
The angle of a donkey hoof is steeper that a horse and this needs to be recognised when caring for feet.
Donkey feet have evolved for dry, rocky conditions. They deteriorate rapidly in wet boggy conditions and donkeys may become lame quickly when kept in unsuitable conditions without regular maintenance.
Illnesses and Diseases. Donkeys suffer from much the same illnesses as horses but are hardier. In particular, they susceptible to Tetanus and colic. Tetanus is a an organism that lives in soil and is very prevalent in cattle yards. The tetanus organism thrives well in deep cuts and wounds with little oxygen or blood supply such as equine feet.
Tetanus is avoided by administration of an initial tetanus vaccine followed by regular boosters.
Colic may be caused by feed irregularities or a build up of worms in the intestinal tract and risk can be reduced by regular worming.
Ticks and Other Parasites. Donkeys are susceptible to paralysis ticks, equine lice and various intestinal worms. Cross grazing with other domestic animals will assist in reducing worm infestations. Worms can be treated with readily available equine wormer preparations. Do not administer treatments manufactured for sheep, goats or cattle to donkeys, as they may be toxic and kill or cause illness and colic.
Flies. Donkeys suffer from nuisance flies such as buffalo and stable species but also Bot worms, March and sandflies. The flies will cause distraction, sores and loss of condition. These may be repelled successfully with an equine pour-on treatment. Do not use pour on preparations designed for cattle, goats and sheep as the carrier solvent is different and is not suitable for use on equines (donkeys). The application of the wrong type of preparation may result in chemical burns.
Lungworm.Donkeys are recognised as being carriers of Equine Lungworm that may be passed to horses. Lungworm eggs are produced on a massive scale and may infest land for many years.
This is easily treated with a ”Mectin” type wormer twice in a 14-day interval on arrival of the animals. This will eradicate Lungworm from the donkeys. It is recommended that veterinary advice be sought.
Feeds and supplements manufactured for ruminants are toxic to equines and donkeys should not be exposed to them (many contain urea which is harmful to equines).
Layer pellets and other prepared pellet type feeds designed for cattle and other cloven hoofed animals may contain ingredients unsuitable for equines. Layer type pellets often contain fish oil or protein that is toxic to equines and will block the digestive tract and cause colic. This type of colic is often fatal.
Otherwise donkey diets are straightforward, the best and easiest being native pasture, grass or other hays as for the animals that they are guarding.
Donkeys require high roughage content so they will do well on lower quality grass hay or straw. A small lucerne supplement may be beneficial but too much will provide too much protein.
Grasses should be suitable for equines. Donkeys will not eat Brachiaria (Signal Grass) and many other exotic grass species introduced for cattle including Buffel grass, Green Panic, Setaria, Kikuyu, Guinea, Para, and Pangola grasses. These contain high levels of calcium oxalate that ties up the calcium content and that may cause a condition called “Big Head” which results from leaching of calcium from the donkeys’ skeleton. Equines that are grazing in predominantly improved pastures for cattle will require a supplement of calcium and phosphorus in a ratio suitable for equines- normally about 3:1 mix. This is conveniently provided as a salt lick.
Donkeys should be provided shelter when exposed to cold winds and rain . Donkeys do not have a naturally greasy coat and are not waterproof. Shaded areas are required in hot sun.
Bribes and Treats
Donkeys enjoy treats, which can be used effectively as bribes. We use peppermints, pelletised horse supplements and fresh fruit or carrots.
Weeds and Toxic Plants
Donkeys are susceptible to a number of poisonous plants and weeds including Rattlepod and Lantana. Lantana causes cumulative toxin build up and results in liver damage and ultimately premature death of the animal. It is important to reduce or eradicate Lantana from the donkey’s reach.
In southern Australia, Crofton Weed (Eupatorium adenophorum) may be a danger see NSW DPI Fact Sheet:
Other weeds toxic to equines see link:
Links to Articles about Guard Donkeys:
ABC News article:
Canadian Information Sheet regarding Guard Donkeys:
Courier Mail Article 02 April 2009
US Farmer’s experiences of employing donkeys to guard a herd of Icelandic sheephttp://www.icelandicsheepworld.com/guarddonkeys.htm
ABC TV News article 22 Oct 2008
ABC Rural article 11 Nov 2008