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Beyond the Bale : March 2014
31 ON-FARM 'Princess Fiona' standing guard over some of Bruce and Angela McLeish's 4000 sheep on their 8000 acre property in southern Queensland. PHOTO: David Martinelli / Newspix. While there is no quick-fix solution to the problem of wild dog attacks on livestock across Australia's agricultural areas, a combination of control methods including baiting, trapping, fencing and shooting -- underpinned by collaboration with local landholders -- can be very effective in reducing attacks. Another control method that has recently been generating interest amongst woolgrowers is the use of donkeys as guardian animals to protect flocks, in a similar manner that guardian dogs such as Maremmas have been used. Bruce and Angela McLeish, who are commercial sheep and wool producers at 'Warahgai' near Karara in the Darling FAST FACTS l Donkeys that have been bonded at a young age with sheep can be used as guardian animals to help protect sheep flocks from wild dog attacks. l They can be effective in complementing other wild dog control methods, but they are not a 'silver bullet' substitute. l Woolgrowers Bruce and Angela McLeish from Queensland have been using guardian donkeys for the past six years to help reduce losses from wild dogs. Donkeys as guardian animals Downs region of Queensland, have been using donkeys as guardian animals for the past six years, and Mr McLeish recounted their experiences at the Inglewood 'Predator Control Field Day' organised by AgForce and supported by AWI's Leading Sheep state network. "I had heard of 'guard donkeys' being used in Canada for protecting cattle and sheep from coyotes and wolves," Mr McLeish explained. "When I logged onto the internet and typed in 'guard donkeys', I found to my surprise numerous sites and stories about guard donkeys, and hence the commencement of a donkey program on 'Warahgai'." The McLeishes originally purchased four donkeys and then set about breeding them and bonding their offspring with their sheep -- they now have about 20 donkeys. "Since introducing donkeys, our losses from wild dogs have reduced. The donkeys live with the mob and come to the front of the mob when anything approaches, and they'll bite and kick the wild dogs. Donkeys won't eradicate all wild dogs, but they are a good tool that we use in combination with other techniques. "In our opinion the main advantages of using donkeys instead of other guard animals are that they can handle more than one dog. They are very hardy animals; they graze the same as sheep; there is less risk if using 1080 on the property; and the donkeys don't have to be shorn or drenched, although they might need their hooves trimmed in soft country. They stay in their paddocks and are good on fences too, and they live for 20-40 years." Mr McLeish says donkeys have to be bonded with sheep when the donkeys are weaning from their mothers at approximately ten months of age. "It's essential to use weaner donkeys to bond with the sheep. We've attempted to bond mature donkeys with sheep but our aged donkeys have had no success in repelling wild dogs. "We keep the donkey weaner in the yard with sheep for a couple of weeks and then transfer them into a small paddock. If they are bonded only with white lambs though, the donkey might subsequently chase and kill any coloured lambs. "We use one donkey per 500 sheep on flat country and one per 300 sheep on undulating country. This works for us, but we haven't tried other scenarios. The main point is that we have one donkey per sheep camp." Mr McLeish notes there can be some challenges with mustering sheep that have guardian donkeys. "The donkeys travel at the lead of the mob and they sometimes try and block the mob. But once moving, they generally travel in the centre of the mob. "The donkeys appear to know our sheep dogs, but both donkeys and sheep dogs are 'wary' of each other. The donkeys work through the yards okay -- just don't put too much pressure on them in small yards." Mr McLeish advises to generally treat the donkeys like a horse, and be very wary of the back end, especially jacks, as they like to kick out at people and sheep dogs if close enough in the yards. You have to be especially careful if there are children in the yards. "We've been happy with the results of using donkeys," Mr McLeish concludes. "But the main problem for sheep producers can actually be sourcing and purchasing donkeys, as there aren't many around." More information: View an hour-long webinar at www.leadingsheep.com.au/ category/sheep-info/predators in which Bruce McLeish, along with producer Andrew Martin from 'Toolmaree' near Tambo and researcher David Jenkins from Charles Sturt University, recount their experiences and answer questions about their use of donkeys. March 2014 BEYOND THE BALE