Ranchers turn to guard donkeys to fend off predators

Oct 16, 2013

Charlotte Clifford-Rathert says donkeys bond with sheep and goats and become like their “family.” This is important in the effectiveness of the donkey’s ability to guard them from predators.
Credit Heather Adams / KBIA

Wild dogs, coyotes and bobcats have always been a threat to farmers who raise sheep and goats. Traditionally, people think of getting dogs to protecting these flocks. But there is another option that’s becoming more popular among farmers -- guard donkeys.

On Alan T Busby Farm near Jefferson City Charlotte Clifford-Rathert is looking after flocks of sheep and goats. About two years ago Clifford-Rathert started training dogs to guard her sheep and goats on the Lincoln University farm. She began noticing the dogs sneaking off to neighbors or running away altogether. Clifford-Rathert knew she needed another option.

“Donkeys are also one of the alternative predator control or guardian animals used with sheep or goats along with possibly a llama,” Clifford-Rather said. “However, I wanted something that was basically easy to keep, ate the same thing as the goat or sheep did but did not share parasites with the goats or sheep.”

Clifford-Rathert says donkeys have strong protective instincts. But a key reason for using guard donkeys is cost.

Clifford-Rathert says donkeys can cost as little as 40 dollars. And, they eat grass along with the sheep and goats they’re guarding so Clifford-Rathert saves some food costs.

“They’re eating the same thing as your stock is eating so therefore you may not be able to keep as many as goats or sheep on a pasture with the donkey because it’s going to eat the same thing. So your stocking rate is going to vary basically as oppose to keep a dog because the dog eats the dog food and not the grass,” Clifford-Rather said.

David Adkins is a small farmer who raises and sells donkeys outside of Russellville, Mo. Adkins says he has been raising donkeys for the last 30 years but within the last 10 to 15 years has seen an increase in guard donkeys. He has even used them himself a few times.

“Occasionally, I’ll have a problem with dogs trying to chase my cattle and at that time I normally pick my biggest donkey and just put him in with my cattle because they can all run together anyway,” Adkins said. “And put him in with the cattle and it’s not but a few days you don’t seem to have that problem anymore, he has taken care of it.”

Clifford-Rathert’s research for Lincoln University has shown positive feedback for guard donkeys. She says they have not lost a single goat or sheep in the last two years due to dogs, coyotes, or bobcats.

This story originally aired as part of Business Beat, a weekly program about business and economics in mid-Missouri.