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Thursday, October 30, 2008

While Donkey's Away, Coyote Will Play

Donkey was intrigued when the cows arrived last November. Finally, someone his own size with whom he could roam the pasture. The sheep were probably happy too, because Donkey had been bored before the cows arrived – bored and jealous. And the sheep were always ending up on the wrong end of Donkey’s bad moods.
Mating time for the sheep frustrates Donkey because he has no mate of his own. The first year we had him, he spent most of the sheep mating season following the ram around. Jealous of all the action the ram was getting, Donkey kept trying to remove Rambo’s halter with his teeth. Rambo looked pretty ruffled by the end of his work day, with tufts of wool hanging off him and his crayon halter askew.
The ewes didn’t have it any easier. Donkey would chase them around and nip at their ankles. One day I saw Donkey running up the field with a ewe hanging from his mouth by her hoof. When I yelled at him, he just dropped her as if she were a toy. She lay there for a moment, playing dead, but when she realized she could move she hopped up and took off, unharmed.
When Donkey’s second autumn on the farm came around, we decided to do something to curb his behaviour. My suggestion was that we get a girl Donkey – a Jenny – to occupy Donkey (and maybe to produce some cute little big-eared baby donkeys). Someone advised us that Donkey might then be a little too preoccupied to guard the sheep if he had a woman around.
Finally we decided to get Donkey “fixed”, with the hope that it will take some of the trouble out of him. That seemed to work for a little while, but soon he was back to his sheep-harassing tricks again.
This is Donkey’s third autumn on the Fisher Farm. This year, Rambo and Rambi are going about their mating work uninterrupted, as Donkey is nowhere near the sheep. In fact, Donkey is down in the far pasture, nibbling on wildflowers with Betty, Ginger and their calves. He prefers to be with the larger animals. Perhaps he thinks they are more like him. And the cows, in their arrogance, prefer to be separate from the sheep.
That is all well and good, now that the calves are no longer a novelty and Donkey has stopped chasing them over fences for fun. We are happy to see that Donkey has some new friends. He seems content.
However, we acquired Donkey because he protects the sheep just by being there. When he wandered away to watch our Thanksgiving guests playing football in the front field the first year, we had a wolf kill in the pasture. After that incident, Donkey has stayed with the sheep and we haven’t lost a single animal to a wolf. But this year, Old Wiley Coyote is very pleased to see the sheep grazing without their bully bodyguard.
Two weeks ago, we lost a sheep in the side pasture. Just a stone’s throw from the barnyard. Donkey had been in the back field, with the cows, at the time of the attack.
This past weekend, the Farmer woke up and looked out at the sheep. The flock was calmly grazing, but most of them were watching something in the fenceline, just a few feet away.
“Look at that coyote right there in the middle of the sheep!” the Farmer yelled. It seemed like only moments passed while he unlocked his bullet cabinet, loaded his gun and slinked out the back door. The coyote was still there. The sheep were still watching it, and chewing. The Farmer aimed, shot… and missed. It’s pretty hard to shoot a coyote through a sheep-screen. All that adrenalin pumping through the veins doesn’t help you hold a gun steady, either. Unsure of the direction of the shot, the coyote paused mid-flight to look around. A second shot just grazed his tail. He won’t be back for a while.
We know there is a den of wolves at the back of our property but this was likely the same one that ate from our sheep buffet a couple of weeks ago. It was easy pickin’ last time, and it tasted pretty good, so he came back for more.
The sheep are probably safe for another few weeks. In the meantime, we had better find a way to get Donkey back to where he belongs. With the sheep.
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