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July 18, 2024

Get me a guard donkey!

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Butch Pilley with LLS Senior Biosecurity Officer, Paul Gibb. Photo supplied

Domesticated around 7,000 years ago from the Nubian and Somalian subspecies of African wild ass. The Nubian ass is now extinct, but the modern-day donkey is finding a new lease of life in Australia as a guard donkey.

In an innovative trial in the Central Tablelands trained donkeys have demonstrated their value in protecting sheep from wild dog attacks according to Local Land Services.

Landholders Butch and Fiona Pilley worked closely with Local Land Services to introduce two donkeys as guardian animals into their Hill End grazing operation, with no dog attacks recorded over the three years since, said Senior Biosecurity Officer Paul Gibb. 

‘We started working with Butch and Fiona on the donkey project about three years ago,’ Mr Gibb said. 

Donkey protecting its territory. Photo ABC

‘Since we’ve started, there have been no attacks from wild dogs on sheep with the donkeys in the mob – knowing the history of this area, it’s been a great outcome.’ 

The Pilleys and other landholder in the area have suffered significant livestock losses due to wild dog attacks, carrying with it large economic, welfare and emotional costs. 

‘You could come down to a paddock in the morning and find twenty to thirty sheep killed in one night,’ Mr Pilley said. 

‘They can also kill a lot of lambs – one year we lost around 250 lambs with a follow-on impact on ewes lambing in the following years. 

‘So the cost could easily add up to $30,000, plus the stress of having to come down every morning and find your sheep dead or maimed. 

‘The impact that the donkeys have had has been quite remarkable.’ 

Australia has ‘the world’s largest population of free-roaming donkeys, with around 70 per cent of their global population’. Donkeys are well suited as guardian animals and have a long history of protecting livestock in parts of the world. However, not just any donkey will do a good job of guarding your herd, they must be bonded carefully with livestock to ensure a successful result. 

It is understood that between the donkey’s natural territorial instinct, calm temperament and good training they are effective at guarding against wild dogs, foxes etc but are less effective against packs of animals according to the Modern Farmer’s Guide to Guard Donkeys

‘Donkeys are well-matched against a wild dog and can be quite aggressive,’ Mr Gibb said. 

‘They can strike at a dog with their feet and grab it with their mouths, so they’re very good defensive animals.’ 

The trial is one of the ways Local Land Services works with landholders to support effective pest management and reduce their impact on livestock and the environment. 

To find out more visit www.lls.nsw.gov.au or call your Local Land Service Office on 1300 795 299. 

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