Using a Donkey as a Livestock Guardian: the Pros and Cons

| 10/18/2013 10:53:00 AM

Tags: livestock guardian, donkey, Jan Dohner, Michigan,

DonkeyIn search of a livestock guardian, we have looked at both traditional livestock guard dogs and guard llamas.  Although used less commonly than dogs or llamas, here is one more possibility – a guard donkey. A donkey chosen as a guardian should be standard-sized or larger. It is not appropriate to use a miniature donkey as a guardian against dogs or coyotes since he would be so vulnerable himself. Standard sized donkeys tend to weigh 400 to 500 pounds and stand 36 to 48 inches at the withers. Larger donkeys, such as Spanish Jacks or Mammoth Jacks, are horse-sized. Both gelded males and female donkeys, or jennies, are suitable as guardians. Intact males can exhibit aggressive behavior toward other stock and may much more difficult to handle. A single donkey is more likely to socialize with your other animals, although some owners use a jenny with a foal.  A foal raised in this way should make an excellent guardian itself when it is grown. A young donkey or a weanling may bond well with stock but will not be able to defend himself or others until it is older.  A young donkey may also attempt to play with its companions, which will become a serious problem when the donkey is eventually much bigger than its pasture mates. A three-year-old donkey will have outgrown much of his youthful playfulness.


While donkeys are less social than llamas, over several weeks they will generally come to associate with your other animals. Successful guard donkey users advise that you create a small corral for the donkey in the sheep pen where they can all become acquainted with each other over time before placing them together in a pasture situation. Donkeys do tend to become territorial although they do not patrol their area. They are an especially alert grazing animal with very good hearing and a wider field of vision than horses. They also tend to be less spooky or flighty and more likely to stand their ground than horses.  If the donkey brays loudly at threats, this may discourage predators as well.   

Donkeys are naturally aggressive to canines and this behavior will extend itself to their pasture mates. Donkeys are not purposefully protective of stock but are either reacting to a threat in their territory or behaving as a maternal jenny. Donkeys make acceptable guardians of sheep, goats and calves. Often the sheep or goats come to see the larger donkey as protective and will gather near it if they perceive a threat. Donkeys can protect against a single fox, coyote, roaming dog and possibly a bobcat.

Donkeys who do attack a predator will be very aggressive, using their teeth and hooves. They may bray loudly. They will charge the threat and attempt to chase it away. If they confront the predator, they will attempt to bite at the neck, back, chest or buttocks. They may slash out with their hooves or turn and kick the predator. Experienced owners strongly suggest you do not attempt to stop a donkey that is charging or attacking and that afterwards, you allow the donkey to calm down before approaching it.

Unlike a livestock guard dog, donkey will have similar maintenance and feeding requirements with its pasture mates, although they may need a taller shelter. Donkeys are natives of desert areas and lack the protective undercoat of horses. They definitely need shelter from rain and snow. Do not give donkeys access to Rumensin, urea or other feeds and supplements only intended for ruminants. Donkeys also need trace mineral salt, not the white salt eaten by sheep or goat.  Donkeys will also drink more water than sheep or goats.

10/22/2013 11:50:09 AM

Thank you for advising NOT to use minis for guarding! We see them advertised for such use by sellers in Texas and it upsets me. Thanks, also, for the reminder about Rumensin; however, while donkeys DO need the trace mineral salt, they also need the plain white salt. They should have access to both. Kris

10/19/2013 9:46:15 AM

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