ANZ's Farms

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Donkeys as Herd Guards

Donkey (left) and Elsa (right), two of our herd guards
Elsa is my jenny who guards the meat goats. She was feral when we got her, but we won her over with carrots and a curry comb. Now she comes to me and lets me love on her ... most of the time. One of the things I love most about donkeys is their hee-haw, which Elsa bellows about 3 am each morning and when we are late getting outside for morning grain, as well as sporadically during the day. Whenever the donkeys call, Scott and I look at each other and say, "They're playing our song!"

We chose donkeys over Great Pyrenees guard dogs because of the prey in our area. Bears and foxes have been sited on neighboring properties, and there are tales of coyotes as well. It just seems to me that donkeys are a better match for these creatures that might want to  make a meal off our livelihood livestock.

Of course it is important for the herd guard to be gentle with newborn animals. My heart has delighted to see how Elsa responds to the baby goats. For whatever reason, the kids try to nurse off Elsa, even though she looks nothing like their dams and her belly is way higher than they could ever reach. Nonetheless, the babies congregate around her legs and nibble at her hocks. She lets them know -- in no uncertain terms -- that they are barking up the wrong tree, but she is gentle as she moves them aside.

I have also observed Elsa herd the goats. I assume she perceives a danger and wants to move them to safer ground, which is usually up by the fence next to the house under the huge birch tree. She circles around them as they saunter where she wants them to go. Then, she pins her ears back, lowers her head and chases any stragglers who have been too busy grazing to notice that the herd is on the move.

One last behavior that endears her to me as a herd guard ... she places herself between humans and the herd, staring them down until they move along. My sister (with whom she is not familiar) and I went to check out distress sounds coming from the lower fence. Fortunately, there was not a goat hung in the fence, but we walked the fence line to make sure. Elsa stood tall and intimidating between us and the herd, and never letting us out of her sight until we were out of their harm's way. Good girl!

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