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Donkeys In The ABC News: Two Stories On How They Make Good Guardians For Other Animals

King Of The Kids, Jack The Donkey Is Guarding Baby Goats

ABC Rural / By Jennifer Nichols

A donkey has become king of the kids after watching the birth of twin goats on a Queensland farm.

Donkeys can be territorial and some farmers capitalise on their protective nature to help keep predators such as wild dogs at bay.

At Greens Creek near Gympie, a "soon-to-be donkey dad" called Jack has been getting some early parenting practice.

Jack The Donkey Likes To Protect Little Kid Goats

Owner Courtney Bowers said it started when Jack stood in when one of her goats was giving birth to twins.

"He's watching these kid goats and he's gone nose-to-nose with them while mum's still cleaning them up," Ms Bowers said.

"He decided to take on that nanny role."

The next day the donkey carefully watched his feet as he followed the kids around the farm.

Aware that donkeys could also prove a threat to livestock they took a disliking to, Ms Bowers said the initial interactions with the other farm animals were closely monitored.

Initially, he chased two mother goats away from their babies but Ms Bowers safely reunited the kids with their mothers.

"The next three days, every chance he got, if the kids were nowhere near mum he would go and stand with them, walk around with them, spend time watching them," Ms Bowers said.

Casey Bowers has marvelled over the donkey's nurturing behaviour with the kid goats.

"We're starting to run short of feed, so we're having to move the animals a lot more often at the moment," Mr Bowers said.

"He actually used his nose to push them where he wanted them to go."

Interspecies friendships

President of the Australian Veterinary Association's Behaviour Interest Group Isabelle Resch said interspecies nurturing was more common when humans were closely involved.

"If you've got paddock-born animals you don't always get those slightly more unusual bonds," Dr Resch said.

"Whereas you get it quite a bit in zoo animals where sometimes they get another species in just to help with someone to snuggle up with."

Dr Resch joked that Jack was behaving like a sensitive, new-aged guy.

"He's in touch with his modern self," she said.

Big plans

Inspired by their son Baxter who lives with health challenges, the Bowers family purchased Jack and Jill as a breeding pair for their future disability farmstay.

"We're going to initially set up a little tourist park with four caravan sites, powered spots so that people can come and have a bit of a farmstay experience," Ms Bowers said.

Their plans include building a disability toilet block so that children from the local special school can visit.

As well as the goats and donkeys the family keeps small dexter cattle, pigs, chickens and peacocks.

"[We're] pretty much Old MacDonald's farm really," Ms Bowers said.

Some Donkeys Make Good Guardians For Small Herds

ABC Rural / By Jennifer Nichols

Grazier, Ian Sylvester, says running two to three donkeys to guard small herds of cattle works best.

He says he hasn't lost a calf or yearling to wild dogs since running the donkeys with his herd

A Queensland grazier has turned to donkeys to ward off wild dogs and says, in the past year, he has not lost a calf in any paddocks patrolled by the feisty guardian animals.

Ian Sylvester started with two donkeys and now has 17 running with 120 cattle at Cooran on the Sunshine Coast hinterland.

He splits his droughtmaster, red brangus, santa gertrudis and red brahman breeding cows into smaller mobs — each one protected by two to three donkeys.

"When I came here in 2013 we seemed to have a lot of dogs here — you couldn't go and mow the lawn without the dogs coming to have a look and see what you were doing," Mr Sylvester said.

"A friend suggested they'd had success out at Muttaburra and Longreach with running donkeys, so we thought we'd try it."

3 Goats Make Good Guardians or Small Herd Of Cows

The donkeys came from a property where they were run with sheep and cattle.

"I can't put a loss down, in the past 12 months, to a wild dog on this side of the farm," Mr Sylvester said.

"[The donkeys] travel the path with the cattle and they stick to them very quick and they're very inquisitive, so they're not backwards in going up and chasing something.

"They need a little bit of bite in them, so they go after the dogs."

Mr Sylvester was unsure whether it was the noise of the donkeys or their feistiness that frightened predators off.

"I don't bring my own working dogs into the yards, but they chase them if they're down on the flat," he said.

His lush mountainous farm borders a national park.

He found that a ratio of several donkeys to a small herd of cattle worked best.

"They're their mates. If there are too many donkeys they seem to group up by themselves, otherwise they stick with the cattle — two or three with a mob of cattle," he said.

How widely are donkeys used?

National wild dog coordinator for the Centre for Invasive Species Solutions, Greg Mifsud, said donkeys had been recognised as a viable means of wild dog control.

"Provided there's a strong and well run management program in the vicinity we do see some people getting quite good results with them," Mr Mifsud said.

"Some people take them quite seriously, it often relates back to the size of the property, the type of management they intend on delivering, and also the extent of the wild dog problems.

"We have seen people use them really successfully in some places, but once again it also depends on how serious the owner is in terms of managing the guardian animals."

"A lot of people tried them out around the Longreach, Winton, Barcaldine region there for a little while, but it's a bit touch and go and it depends a lot on the individual donkeys involved and how protective their instincts are," he said.

"Some are very good at protecting livestock, others prefer to hang with themselves and do their own thing."

Mr Sylvester warned prospective donkey owners that the animals needed to be treated kindly.

He shared a cautionary tale of a man who hit a donkey with a jigger — a handheld device designed to deliver an electric shock.

"The donkey put him in hospital, six months later when he went back to work and walked into the yards he said 'How are you now, donkey?' and he had to leave the yards very quickly," Mr Sylvester said.

"They are very sensitive. If you are cruel to them don't be surprised, they will get you back."