I studied the much-ballyhooed subject of livestock guard donkeys, long before I began to search for one in earnest. During the extended process review, it became apparent that in some cases, it would take the sale of three to four kid goats to pay for one guard donkey. Those economics were simply unpalatable to me. After several weeks, I laid the desire to rest and decided it was quite simply, not worth the effort.
One day, while reviewing a livestock publication, I saw an ad for a female guard donkey. The ad indicated that this Jenny was raised with goats.
Reluctantly, I dialed the number listed in the ad. The owner told me all about this eight-year-old donkey and her having spent her entire life with goats. Price tag: A mere $150. Through the twists and turns of the conversation, I found out the owner and I knew each other and had met several times on his rural delivery route.
“BJ, this donkey is one of a kind. You will see. Pay close attention when you are working goats. She will actually help you get it done. Now, she is absolutely not a pet. You cannot get too near to her and you definitely cannot touch her. She is a guard donkey. Got it?”
The next day, I took a trailer over to his place with check in hand. We got her loaded with no issues. You could tell she was Leary of people and brayed several times when we tried to force her into an alley and into the trailer.
“ Is she always that loud?” I asked.
“Oh, she certainly has her moments. Especially if she is not happy with something you did. Be sure and keep her away from your dogs if you have any. She does not like dogs.”
Before parting ways, the owner turned to me.
“Now BJ, I undercharged you for this donkey. She will make you a hand. I should have charged you more. I have seen her laying on her side with baby kid goats all over the top of her. You would think she is a goat. Anyway, best of luck with her.”
Nanna and I discussed the donkey on the trip back home.
“What do you think we ought to call her?”
Nanna looked out the window a little while before responding.
“ I like Hannah. I’ve always wanted a donkey.”
“ Hannah? That does not sound right at all. How about Big Girl? Maybe something like Tater Chip or Frito?”
“ Her name will be Hannah.”
“ I will tell you what, Hannah, it is. That is, as long as we can call her Hannah Sue.”
So, the agreed upon name was now official. We pulled into the gate at our place and drove to the west pasture where 150 head of goats awaited their protector.
Whatever doubts I may have had about “Hannah Sue the Guard Donkey” were quickly absolved as soon as I opened the trailer door. She bolted out of the trailer and charged towards the nervous herd. She began braying at the top of her lungs and quickly cornered them and began circling and smelling. Once she quickly established her dominance, everything turned back to normal.
“Mercy. I would sure hate to make that girl mad. Just look at those goats. She is clearly in charge.”
Hanna Sue became a permanent and cherished fixture on our place for the next 10 years with her unique antics and personality. The owner’s words proved to be true. She would lead the goats to the pens and into the barn when it was time to drench or sort. She would quietly make her way behind them in the big barn and then slip out a side gate as soon as I walked away. She would quietly watch the goings-on from the other side of the working pen fence until we were complete.
It would be hard to count the goats and hair sheep that Hannah Sue tended to over the years.
Sometimes on a cold winter evening, I can still believe I hear her unique bray, penetrating the chilly air just about sundown.
During the warming days of early springtime, I can still see her on the south pasture pond dam, with her thin tail blowing in the south breeze.
“ Looks like Hanna Sue is playing wild mountain donkey again. Just look at her down there. She can see all of her goats from one perch” I said.
There was the time we had a dozer building a pond in our south pasture. The dozer operator came to the house that evening and was visiting with Nanna.
“ That Jenny of yours, she is really something. She came and stood in front of my dozer this morning when I fired it up. She stood out there, just a little way off until all of the lambs ran away. Then she turned her rear to me and strode away. I have never seen anything like it.”
About two years ago, Hanna Sue turned eighteen years old. She began to slow down significantly. I found her lying in the field several times over the course of a year. She developed laminitis in all four hooves. I believe all can be directly connected to a little “supplemental sweet feed” we were giving her out of sympathy.
I called my Ferrier to see if he could help her. Before he arrived, I roped her and somehow got a halter and a lead rope on her without getting killed. She still had plenty of fight and was much stronger than she looked. When the Ferrier arrived, it took three grown men to snub her halter to a pipe fence. We were able to get a rope on one back foot and pull it out straight for him to work on. We repeated this process on the other back foot and while working on the opposite from feet.
“ I trim a slew of these animals every year. Mostly due to folks giving them sweet feed of some sort, and they founder. These animals are quite used to eating just next to nothing. They can probably live on a tumbleweed and a little water for a good while. They cannot handle sweet feed. Might want to keep that in mind. ”
So, the valuable lesson of donkeys and sweet feed was learned and never forgotten.
We found Hanna Sue in the pasture a week later lying up against a mesquite tree. It took all we had to get her on her feet and to the barn. I had to lean into her to keep her on her feet.
The next morning, we were getting ready for church and I took a peak out the south window.
“ Nanna, come look at this. Hannah Sue is out grazing and lives to fight another day.”
Perhaps, seeing her standing up grazing was her final gift to us of the many she gave to us over 10 years. I found her lying in her barn when we returned from church. She had breathed her last breath. I gently stroked her fur as now; I could actually pet her. I eased a lanyard around her and gently lifted her with my front-end loader. She was taken to the south pasture and buried. There, she could forever be close to her beloved sheep and goats.
It was there we said a tearful goodbye to Hanna Sue, a true Guardian.
Practical Advice of the Day
“ Never assume a skunk is asleep”
Until Next Time