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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
I’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.
All 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.