Gilpin couple find their guard donkey to be ‘a pet with a job’ |
Valley News Dispatch

Gilpin couple find their guard donkey to be ‘a pet with a job’

Christina Myers of Gilpin received an unorthodox gift in 2017: a donkey.

“I woke up on Mother’s Day and my husband Travis said, “Let’s get a donkey.”

“I don’t have kids, but I’m mom to a donkey named Jack.”

Jack, a 3-year-old gelded standard donkey, was specifically bought by the couple for “guard donkey” duty on the family farm in Gilpin.

Sometimes referred to as “livestock guardians,” donkeys are one of three animals — along with llamas and dogs — recommended and sometimes utilized by farmers to ward off predators.

“My husband was researching online about which animals would be best for guarding cows,” Myers said. “He was looking for a donkey that had guarding experience.”

Jack was a Craigslist sale and fit the Myers’ needs — he already was experienced at guarding horses in Ohio.

He protects about 24 beef cattle on a dozen acres of pasture along Ice Pond Road.

He loves snacking on carrots and apples when it’s treat time.

“Normally, he’s with the cows in the field,” Myers said. “And, at night, he watches over the cattle in a cluster of trees they usually hang out under. He’s alert.

“We hear coyote around, and the coyotes are our biggest predator concern.”

Statistics from a 2015 USDA report revealed coyotes and dogs accounted for 30% to 40% of sheep deaths and 25% of goat deaths in the U.S.

Donkeys are effective protectors

Mary Lou Williams, owner of The Rosefield farm in Washington County, is a donkey shepherd with 20 years of experience.

She raises full-sized conditioned guardian donkeys. Conditioned donkeys are raised among livestock (sheep and cattle) from birth.

Williams currently has about 16 guard donkeys that will be sold up and down the East Coast.

They cost $1,500. Donkeys can live for more than 50 years, are not easily startled like horses, don’t require special feeding or care and have a natural aversion to dogs.

She sells her donkeys at around age 3 because “the donkeys need to get through their terrible 2’s and gain a level of maturity.”

Williams said she has seen her guard donkeys kill a fox and stray dogs on her 100-plus acre farm.

She said her customers cite coyotes as their main concern.

For the Myers, Jack offers around-the-clock protection of their beef cattle that have the potential to fetch up to $2,000 each at market.

“We haven’t lost any cows to predators,” Myers said.

Donkeys possess a keen predator-detection instinct.

Possessing excellent hearing, smell and eyesight, donkeys are known to bray loudly and position themselves between a predator and the animals they are protecting.

According to popular gardening, homesteading and livestock magazine Mother Earth News, often 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 or roaming dog.

The magazine describes typical donkey behavior toward a predator as “aggressive, using their teeth and hooves, biting at the neck, back, chest or buttocks of the predator.”

Over at Renshaw Farms in South Buffalo Township, Studly, June, Lily, Daisy and Olivia comprise a donkey protection team.

Renshaw Farms owner Jason Renshaw said his miniature donkeys protect more than 50 black angus and Devon beef cattle, sheep and goats on his 289-acre farm.

“It’s a gut-wrenching feeling to lose livestock to predators,” Renshaw said.

“The coyote is the biggest concern for us, and a donkey will run toward a predator and kick them.”

“They (the donkeys) don’t back down. And, if anything isn’t normal, like recently when a balloon fell in the pasture, the donkey went over — investigating. They are like little security guards with their little grey fur suits on, but they are aggressive and powerful toward a predator.”

Non-profit Allegheny GoatScape added a second guard donkey in 2018, named Diamond, to help another donkey, Hobo, protect their Steel City Grazers goat herd who work as urban grazers — clearing overgrown land and reducing nuisance plants at various locations in Allegheny County.

For the Myers, Jack is more than a donkey with a friendly disposition.

“He’s a pet with a job,” Christina Myers said.

Joyce Hanz is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.

Louis B. Ruediger | Tribune-Review
Travis and Christina Myers of Gilpin own Jack, a 3-year-old standard donkey that guards the livestock at their farm along Ice Pond Road on Wednesday June 26, 2019.
Louis B. Ruediger | Tribune-Review
A miniature donkey warns that a stranger has arrived at the gate at Renshaw Farms in South Buffalo on Thursday, June 27, 2019.
Louis B. Ruediger | Tribune-Review
Miniature donkeys are pictured in the pasture at Renshaw Farms in South Buffalo on Thursday, June 27, 2019.
Louis B. Ruediger | Tribune-Review
A group of miniature donkeys pass a miniature cow at Renshaw Farms in South Buffalo on Thursday, June 27, 2019.
TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.