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Why predators fear the long ears: Donkeys are proving their versatility as guard animals

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By Martin Aldridge
“They keep them out of the pasture,” says Yvette Garza of Celina.
She’s talking about her three donkeys, and what they keep out of the pasture are the ever changing pack of dogs she fosters as founder of Lost Paws Rescue of Texas, a non-profit organization that rescues and adopts out all manner of canines and felines. New dogs, she says, learn quickly the pasture is off limits.
Garza describes her donkeys as “spoiled” and hasn’t really considered them as guarding anything, though she admits the chicken coop doesn’t attract much trouble, something she attributes to her long-eared friends. But even so, the behavior these donkeys display is one of the main reasons the use of guard donkeys is becoming increasingly popular.
“Donkeys aren’t guarding the cattle or sheep, per se,” says Leah Patton of the American Donkey & Mule Society, headquartered in Lewisville. “They are defending their family flock from predators.
“The donkey doesn’t care whether the herd baas or moos or grunts,” she says. “The donkey is concerned with the dog or coyote that is lurking. Whatever animal the donkey is bonded with, it will defend. Donkeys can do just fine with sheep, goats, cattle, llamas, horses, ponies – some people even say with chickens or other fowl.”
Patton should know – she has raised guard donkeys as well as used them with her cattle.
Yet despite the growing awareness of donkeys’ ability to guard livestock, the concept is a very old one.
“Shepherds have used donkeys to aid them in tending flocks for many centuries,” Patton says. “The donkey helped elevate the shepherd a little, extending his viewing area, allowed him to move a little faster, further and longer, and if need be, carry extra supplies. This practice has probably been going on as long as people have had donkeys as beasts of burden, and kept flocks of sheep.”
The current trend for using guard donkeys is indeed connected with a desire to protect sheep and goats. In the past, predators were largely controlled by using various poisons, but the passage of a federal ban against all toxicants in 1972 (since relaxed somewhat), as well as growing public disapproval against killing predators, left shepherds scrambling for alternatives.
Texas leads the nation not only in cattle, but in sheep and goats as well, so it’s no surprise some of the best information regarding the effectiveness of guard donkeys comes from the Texas Department of Agriculture (TDA). To read more pick up the April 2014 issue of North Texas Farm & Ranch.

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Farm & Ranch

Ranch Biosecurity

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By Barry Whitworth, DVM

With beef, pork, and poultry exports playing a vital role in the economic health of livestock operations, producers need to understand the dangers that foreign animal diseases and other diseases may have on the viability of their operations.

The recent discovery of Influenza A H5N1 virus in dairy cattle demonstrates the vulnerability of livestock operations to disease events. Sick animals are not the only consequence of a disease outbreak. The economic cost associated with disease can be high. Also, in foreign animal disease outbreaks, export markets can be temporarily lost. Currently, Columbia has restricted fresh/frozen beef and beef products from states with dairy herds testing positive for Avian Influenza. The best defense against these threats is a good biosecurity plan.

To read more, pick up a copy of the June issue of NTFR magazine. To subscribe by mail, call 940-872-5922.

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Farm & Ranch

Ag Elsewhere: Montana

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In Montana, June brings irrigating, brandings, and some wondrous sights from Mother Nature.

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Farm & Ranch

Ag Elsewhere: Wyoming

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By Tressa Lawrence

Happy June from the lands of Wyoming!

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