Lorraine Buchanan feeds Charlie the guard donkey some treats at Parry Bay Sheep Farm. The donkey is one of three helping to protect the farm’s ewes from predators. (Shalu Mehta/News Staff)

Vancouver Island farm using donkeys to protect sheep from bears, dogs

Trio of donkeys take tactics similar to sheep dogs to protect flock from predators

They might be small, but the guard donkeys protecting their flocks at a Metchosin sheep farm are fierce, dedicated and full of attitude.

John and Lorraine Buchanan, owners of Parry Bay Sheep Farm, have had donkeys on the farm for a number of years, but after some bear attacks, they acquired standard-sized donkey Charlie – who watches over the flock in East Sooke – to join their two miniatures, Stanley and Trooper, who guard flocks off Duke Road.

“It’s partly to protect [the sheep] against dogs,” Lorraine said. “But we also have quite a problem with bear predation out here.”

After losing six sheep to a bear, Charlie was moved out to the Sooke flock.

She takes her job very seriously, Lorraine says. Charlie will not budge from the sheep for a pet.

“If something is going after the sheep, the donkeys tend to round the sheep up into a little ball … and then they’ll go after whatever the predator is,” she explained. “They work a bit like sheep dogs.”

So why not employ sheep dogs instead? Lorraine says their fields are close to walking paths and urban areas so specific fencing would be needed, plus dogs require regular feeding. The donkeys, on the other hand, are a little more low maintenance.

READ ALSO: Metchosin farmer frustrated over ‘nightmare’ of off-leash dogs near livestock

Miniature donkeys Stanley and Trooper protect their flock at Parry Bay Sheep Farm. (Courtesy of Parry Bay Sheep Farm)

“We thought donkeys would be a better solution for us because they eat what the sheep eat and they stay with the sheep,” Lorraine said. “They’re nice to people – I think they’ve been well socialized – but they’ll stand up to a predator.”

The two little equines on Duke Road are also hard workers, the farmers say, although they’ve been known to get distracted by treats and human attention.

“They’re big movie stars over on Duke Road right now. Everybody is visiting them,” Lorraine said.”I’m hoping that they’re not spending all their time hanging out by the road mooching carrots and apples and they are actually doing their work.”

Even though they’re barely bigger than the adult sheep they protect, Lorraine says Trooper and Stanley play an important role on the farm.

“I don’t know how effective they would be against a bear but they would probably make the bear think twice and go somewhere else instead,” she said. “A lot of it is in their attitude.”

Parry Bay Sheep Farm has been operating in the Metchosin area for nearly 40 years. The farm has roughly 300 ewes and prides itself on the humane treatment of its animals.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Parry Bay Sheep Farm Store is offering online takeout orders for pickup. The farm’s Saturday on-site farm market is also open for limited hours with physical distancing measures in place.

READ ALSO: VIDEO: Baby sheep run ‘wild’ in Metchosin

Farming

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