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The Homestead Guard Donkey

Her name is Matilda. We call her Tilly for short.  She comes from a long line of guard donkeys which are raised about 20 minutes from our farm.

When we were first researching having livestock for our farm, we knew we wanted to have sheep and some cattle.  We have enough acres to comfortably have 12-15 sheep and maybe 5 cows with room to spare.  This would more than adequately provide enough food for our homestead and possibly some to sell!  That is the goal and sheep were first on the list.

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Anyone in this area will tell you that livestock have coyote pressures.  Predators in this area are a problem.  The biggest predator for a flock can often be wild and feral dogs.  We also have the occasional mountain lion.  But when choosing to raise sheep, it’s important to have some kind of live-in protection for them, or they won’t be around long.

Most people will choose dogs for this task.  There are some really good breeds of dogs that do well with sheep and goats.  However, there are a number of reasons we chose a donkey over a dog.  Hear me out and let me make my argument.

  1. Dogs bark.  The last thing we want to hear starting at 8 o’clock at night is a dog out there barking at all the wildlife that lives and moves around the homestead.  Raccoons, possums, skunks (peuw), deer, etc. ad nauseam.  Our nearest neighbors live about a mile away.  They have dogs and we can hear them barking in the distance at all those things mentioned above.  If we had dogs, that means they would be barking at those dogs who are barking at all the animals moving around at night.  That’s too much barking.  And don’t tell me that I can train my dog not to bark.  The whole point in having a guard dog…is to bark!  No thanks!  Our donkey doesn’t bark.  Yeah she brays, but only when she sees a potential threat or if it’s getting close to sweet feed time.  She will graze right out there next to the deer and she could care less about a coon or possum.
  2. Dogs eat too much.  Ask a dog owner or a land owner how much they spend on dog food every year.  Now imagine being able to spend that money on something else around the homestead.  When our sheep receive their nightly sweet feed, our donkey also gets her share.  But it’s not near the amount you would give a dog for a meal.  The dog eats dog food.  The donkey eats grass.  We have lots of free grass and forage that the donkey can eat.  It doesn’t cost us a dime.
  3. Dogs are expensive.  A quick search on Craigslist shows that you aren’t going to find a pure bread pyrenees puppy for less than $100 and you will probably pay over $200.  Not to mention whatever vet bills you are going to rack up in order to comply with local regulations in your area.  Tilly cost us $50 with a $20 bill for delivery.  Donkey’s are pretty cheap and you can usually find guard donkeys for sale in most rural areas where people own livestock.
  4. Dog Poop.  I can’t collect it.  Well, I guess I could if I followed the dog around all day.  But because dog food is basically as processed as most human food these days, the manure would not be ideal and probably pretty unhealthy for a garden.  On the other hand, donkeys purposely poop in the same place every day, making collection pretty easy.  Tilly eats grass which is natural and untouched by chemical fertilizers.  In return she provides our homestead with usable fertile manure that we can compost down and use the following year on our garden.

donkey3I’ve read online reviews about guard donkeys where the writer states that a donkey can’t handle multiple threats.  Most of these articles (having read a few) are obviously plagiarized from each other proving that the writer or copier, as the case may be, probably hasn’t had any first hand experience with one.   One account from an actual donkey owner, stated that his donkey fended off and killed 3 dogs at the same time while protecting his goats.  The donkey definitely sustained injuries, but none were life threatening and that donkey lived to fight another day.  So don’t let anyone tell you that a donkey is a poor protector.  I don’t know if I would want to put my donkey up against a pack of wolves or a mountain lion but thankfully we don’t live in an area with wolves.  Mountain lions are here, but rare.

There have been numerous times on our homestead when Tilly has sprung into action.  Once our neighbor stopped by and brought his dog with him.  Tilly immediately rounded the sheep into a corner of the pasture and then stood between them and the dog, even though the dog was on the other side of the fence.  Her ears were back and she was itching to do battle.  During another occurrence, a neighbor’s pig had gotten out and wandered up our mountain.  The pig just strolled over as if to say hi to Tilly.  That poor pig just about got stomped into the dust and Tilly chased it all the way back down the mountain.  There were a couple of instances last winter when we found dog tracks in the snow heading down the mountain with donkey tracks behind them.  It was obvious that a hot pursuit had gone on in the snow.

donkey2All in all, we are very happy not having dogs on our homestead.  Tilly does a great job with keeping our animals safe and sound from predators.  If you have a flock or plan to get one, think about a guard donkey.  I think she will provide a wonderful benefit to your farm.

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About Zachary Bauer

Zachary lives with his wife, two sons and his wife's parents on An American Homestead deep in the mountains of the American Ozarks. They all moved there together in July of 2013 where they began to build the homestead. They are off-grid with the exception of a phone line.

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20 comments

  1. Two things I would add. A donkey may out live you, how many dogs will take for the same years of coverage you get from one donkey. Donkeys have lot more usesense than just a guard. Plowing, packing, pulling, I seen one sketch that donkeys walked on a treadmill to power paddleboats. I read on permies where someone was using dry donkey manure to run a rocket stove. Great article.

  2. Great article about donkey’s and Tilly. Donkey’s are great guard animals and to be honest entertaining pets. We originally bought our donkey (Jimmy) as a companion for an old thoroughbred we had out here, with the intention of using him for guarding once our pasture fencing for sheep and goats was complete. Unfortunately up here in Canada donkeys are not as plentiful (or inexpensive). We have had so much fun with Jimmy that we recently purchased a bred Jenny, (Mary) and plan to breed the two for sale purposes, They are both young (3&4) respectively and we look forward to working with them over our time together. Keep up the good work your youtube channel is both informative and inspiring!

  3. Is Tilly broke to ride? We kids used to ride three astride our Jenny and us lil’ones walked up her backside holding on to her tail to mount! Needless to say she was very gentle with us. Loads of fun!!!

    • That sounds fun! Tilly is definitely not broke. She won’t even hold still for a halter.

      • Having something broke to ride in a ‘total grid down’ scenario might be good to have. My mom in the late 50’s rode to town to visit her Momma on a mule while preggers w/me while totting big brother and sis. Dad took truck to town daily to his in town business and if Mom wanted to go somewhere it was the only way unless she wanted to try to walk three kids into town about 5 miles away.

        BTW we must live somewhere relatively close to each other as I’m near Siloam Springs.

        ~Patty

  4. Tilly is adorable! What a great idea!!

  5. I learned from our 4H leader that the donkeys need their hooves to be trimmed. Is that the case with your Tilly?

  6. We are thinking about getting a donkey but we are wondering what your thoughts are regarding a miniature vs standard, and also the cost to own. Just curious! Love all of your videos on YouTube!

    • Grant, Miniatures do not make the best guard donkeys nor do jacks. You need a female that comes from a line of guard donkeys. There is something inbred that gives them the ability to want protect your sheep, goats, or cattle. We paid $50 for our year old Jenny.

      Thanks, Tim

      • So she naturally rounds up and protects your sheep? You did not need to do any training with her? Thank-you all for sharing all your experience.

        Jeannine

  7. We’re getting a Jenny for our small sheep flock, but are starting to worry that she will be lonely with just the sheep. There are quite a few articles stating that donkeys shouldn’t be expected to bond with just sheep. Does Tilly seem happy with just the sheep? How did you introduce her to the flock?

    • Don’t be she will bond quickly to the sheep. Keep her in a small pen near the sheep for a few weeks so that they all will get used to each other.

    • Amy Burlarley-Hyland

      People who have one donkey with other livestock will tell you that their donkey is just fine, but when you add a second donkey companion you will see how much happier most of them are.

  8. Love the article. I’m learning so much. Every time I learn a new thing about gardens, animals, farms, I just get so happy inside. Really. I even almost shed a tear or two. It makes me think how wonderful God is and how all things really do work together. I do believe a better world is coming. Lots more will be able to farm someday after the Kingdom of God is brought to Earth. Sad what we will endure to get there. But He can protect us. Every creature He created is special. It is hard to imagine, but all harmful things, like poisonous snakes and spiders, and any creature that has a predator nature will be changed. Little children will be safe everywhere.
    I read a different article about pigs in the New Pioneer Magazine. I don’t eat pork, and I always wondered why God made them. I do use pig skin gloves for pruning thorny plants. The article said pigs are good tillers and root up weeds and saplings, dig up roots. I know they can be trained to find special mushrooms. Amazing. Goats are the weed hackers. My kids and I love goats milk and cheeses. I heard it’s better for babies than cows milk if you can’t nurse for some reason. If you think about it, they are smaller. Baby cows put on many pounds and get really big. They need all the fat. My aunt made delicious fudge with her goats milk. Does anyone have a recipe for buttermilk made from goats milk?
    Goats, I read, produce about 32 gallons of milk in four days and cost about $19 a month to feed. I pay a terrible price for one liter of goats milk. I’d have goats before a cow, although, I do enjoy beef a lot, and knowing how an animal is raised and cared for, I’d eat it more. I buy beef only very, very rarely and then only organic, grass fed, no GMO. It’s $8 a pound for hamburger. That’s crazy. And it’s part of why I’d love a small farm.
    Do you ever go elk hunting? Are any other animals in your area?
    I live in Henderson, Nevada in an HOA but dream of central Utah and tiny houses, big land with trees.
    I saw this wood chopper this guy invented. His neighbor did welding and he drew up plans to put an ax head on the end of a rod to be used by hooking up to his tractor to make it go back and forth. He’d load a log in and push forward on some lever and stood next to it. He was able to stand and load log after log that way.
    People are so clever. I believe farmers can have a much greater imagination than many.
    I believe when Christ returns, there will also be some form of solar power better than wifi and it will only be used to serve people, not spy on them or cause cancer. I heard there is something called lifi. Has anyone heard about that?
    Thanks so much for your articles!!!
    Sher

  9. Forgot…say hello to Tilly for me. She looks so pretty, soft and fluffy. She’s such a pretty color. I’d like my kitchen that color!
    What kind of sheep do you have? I heard merino have nice wool. I heard about an electric spinner on an off grid homestead that can operate using a car battery! The lady makes and sells things.
    Wanted to tell you about another rare animal, the Vicuña. I heard they are making a comeback. Looks to me like a small llama kin.They apparently are from Peru and high altitudes. Their wool is buttery soft and very expensive, softer than cashmere goat. An Italian luxury clothier uses the wool for sweaters. They usually leave the wool natural, undyed to preserve its softness.
    They can harvest 5-7 ounces of fleece of cashmere goats every year. They can only harvest 7-8 ounces of fleece every two years. That’s part of why one sweater sold for over $4,000. Could be a very profitable business, but we might have to move to South America! I plan on sticking with good ole America, right here.
    Talk about Golden Fleece! And the color really does look like a warm, medium golden color.

  10. Does your donkey make a lot of noise? I don’t know much about them but have been around some that can be really noisy. I spent some time in Burkina Faso, West Africa drilling water wells in the desert. We slept outside and there were wild donkeys all over the place. I didn’t mind the noise during the day, but at night I wanted to shoot those things! I was thinking about getting one at some point, but was wondering about this. Thanks, really appreciate all your videos and have learned a lot!

  11. I am thrilled that you have found such a wonderful endearing solution for herd security and an alarm system to boot. Though I am not a homesteader, plans to become one are afoot. Growing up, some relatives that had small sustainable farms where I would spend my summers enjoying farm life with them and contributing t the daily chores at hand. Carts and tractors were used on a regular basis to move everything and anything. In a great day scenario with no fuel, having”a beast of burden” could come in very handy to carry or pull a load that might be difficult to manage for a person. I’m sure that carrying water uphill can get overwhelming very quickly. You mentioned that Tilly wasn’t broken yet. Just thinking that it might be harder to accomplish when WTEOTWAWKIT happens and priorities are elsewhere. Anyways, you folks seem to have it together and probably already thought about such things.
    Thank you for opening up your hamlet to us and sharing your journey. You guys and Pastor Joe are a true inspiration in life and faith. Blessings.

  12. I am thrilled that you have found such a wonderful endearing solution for herd security and an alarm system to boot. Though I am not a homesteader, plans to become one are afoot. Growing up, some relatives had small sustainable farms where I would spend my summers enjoying farm life with them and contributing to the daily chores at hand. Carts and tractors were used on a regular basis to move everything and anything. In a grid down scenario with no fuel, having”a beast of burden” could come in very handy to carry or pull a load that might be difficult for a person to manage. I’m sure that carrying water uphill can get overwhelming very quickly. You mentioned that Tilly wasn’t broken. I’m curious if you were considering it, thinking that it might be harder to accomplish when WTEOTWAWKIT happens and priorities are elsewhere. Anyways, you folks seem to have it together and probably already thought about such things.
    Thank you for opening up your hamlet to us and sharing your journey. You guys and Pastor Joe are a true inspiration in life and faith. Blessings.

  13. We started with a pair of miniature (Jerusalem or Bethlehem) donkeys 6 years ago – a jeannette and a jackette. They blessed us with a female foal each year until we had the male “fixed” because we didn’t want him to mate with his offspring. The 2 older jeannettes went to our neighbors when they each reached a year old and the mom was about to give birth to the next foal. The first one had never been around anything but her parents and became the best “cow dog” our neighbor had ever had – herding wayward calves and heifers and bringing them in to the pens. Our male is extremely protective of not only his girls but the cows and calves we have. One day I was working outside and the 4 donkeys were grazing alongside me. A stranger was walking along the side of the road and the male positioned himself between the 4 of us (3 donkeys and me) and moved to stay between us and kept an eye on him until he was out of sight. He was “on point” with his ears back and head down – I felt very safe! While they are great guard animals, they are also so very gentle and loving! Our 5 year old grandson loves them. All of the newborns were brought over to me by their mom to sit in my lap to get to know me and they all still love to be rubbed and brushed. We don’t ride them but they would be easy to halter train to carry things if necessary. I recommend them highly especially for homesteaders!

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