OKEECHOBEE -- The howling of coyotes has been offset by the braying of donkeys as more Floridians take advantage of the natural protective nature of the feisty little equines.
According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) coyotes have been documented in all 67 Florida counties. Coyotes arrived in Florida as part of natural range expansion from western states; they now live in every state but Hawaii. This medium-sized canine, a close relative of the domestic dog, is extremely adaptable and can be found in rural, suburban and urban landscapes.
According to FWC, coyotes are typically shy and elusive but encounters between people and coyotes in Florida are occurring more often.
In urban areas, coyotes have been known to prey on cats and small dogs. In South Central Florida, coyotes sometimes kill young calves. Some ranchers have opted to add a donkey or two to the herd as guard animals.
Coyotes are territorial. FWC notes coyotes are an important part of the landscape in Florida. They help maintain healthy ecosystems by managing populations of rodents, insects and other small animals. When ranchers have a problem with a coyote, killing the coyote may not solve the problem because another coyote will move into the territory. The addition of a protective donkey may allow the coyote to stay in the territory while keeping it away from the calves.
“Donkeys have very good eye sight and can see well at night, making them the perfect alarm system for a cattle operation,” Taylor Davis, Livestock and Natural Resources Extension Agent for Highlands County, explained in her blog. “This is especially important when coyotes are in the area at night. Donkeys instinctively are weary of dog-like species so coyotes fall under that umbrella. When feeling threatened, a donkey will bray very loudly and attack with their teeth and hooves for protection.”
The University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Services offers advice on using donkeys as guard animals.
• Jennies (female donkeys) in general do a better job than Jacks (male donkeys.) Jacks can sometimes be aggressive toward the cattle. Jacks have even been known to kill baby goats.
• When it comes to donkeys, more is not better. Most ranchers add just one or two donkeys to a herd of cattle. The idea is for the donkeys to bond with the cattle. If you have too many donkeys in a pasture, they may separate into their own donkey herd and may not protect the calves.
• Donkeys can be more convenient to keep than other guard animals because they eat the same food as the cows. However, they still need regular veterinary and hoof care.