Donkeys to protect themselves from wolves, why farmers are trying the experiment in the Jura massif

Donkeys to protect themselves from wolves, why farmers are trying the experiment in the Jura massif
Donkeys to protect themselves from wolves, why farmers are trying the experiment in the Jura massif

Several wolf packs are present in the Jura mountains where attacks have resumed this spring. To protect cattle herds in particular, farmers took donkeys. The experiment is relatively recent. Should we believe it?

In a few days, Marc Droz Vincent’s Limousin cows will return to the fields. And they will not be alone in the pastures of Verrières de Joux near Pontarlier. Melba, a donkey, will watch over the youngest individuals, the heifers. “I took a donkey, so that he gets used to the heifers over the months, gets attached to them” explains the breeder.

If he chose the donkey as a means of protection against the wolf, it was primarily for practical reasons. “The donkey needs water, grass, that was the easiest thing to do” explains the farmer. “In terms of effectiveness against the wolf, I don’t know, but in any case the donkey always stays with the heifers” observed Marc.

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The donkey Melba among the Limousin heifers in a plot of Doubs.

© Marc Droz Vincent

The donkey as a means of protecting wolves is being tested in several countries, in France, Auvergne, Brittany, Italy and even Canada.

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Donkeys protect sheep from wolves and stray dogs in Brittany.

© LE TELEGRAMME / MAXPPP

Sylvie Fallourd developed a passion for donkeys. She regularly sells them to farmers in Doubs and neighboring Switzerland. “I sold years ago to a Swiss farmer in Laitelet, and it worked, however, it is an area where there are wolves” she assures.

Sylvie, who also works with her donkeys for hikes, is convinced that the animal has a role to play in protecting herds.

Wolves already don’t like the smell of donkey. From the moment there are two donkeys, they team up and kick against a fox, a wolf or a dog. The horse will do the same thing, but will run away. The donkey will go inside. We don’t touch his territory.

Sylvie Fallourd, founder of Genti’ânes du Haut-Doubs

Based in Chaux-Neuve in the Val de Mouthe, Sylvie Fallourd advises farmers who would like to try the experience to take two large donkeys like the Baudet du Poitou. “A female with her young will be even more protective” she argues. A donkey rather than a patou dog? According to her, the donkey has interesting advantages:

A donkey is less expensive than a patou to feed and in veterinary costs. It costs around 200 euros to purchase, you need seven kilos of hay per day. And farrier fees. Farmers’ donkeys need to be vaccinated.

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The transhumance of donkeys by Sylvie Fallourd. Some will join the farmers’ herds.

© Sylvie Fallourd

This farmer from Haut-Doubs that we were able to contact has had donkeys for several years. “I don’t see what else we can do anyway.” to protect themselves from the wolf, he assures. In these mountain landscapes, herds are scattered. According to him, it is impossible to put in protective nets. It’s also unthinkable to equip yourself with a patou for each plot. He has not yet reported any attacks from the predator. Stroke of luck or because of the donkeys? Difficult to know.

With its pretty face, the donkey has a lot of sympathy among humans and children. But is he an effective ally against the wolf? Not always.

At the Batailleuse educational farm in Rochejean near Métabief, there are cows and a donkey. “It was a gift, but he only likes humans! ” smiles Manon Riblet. This 20-year-old donkey is not really a success in terms of protecting the wolf, because it turned out to be far too gentle, explains the young farmer. “You really have to choose the individual carefully, see if the donkey has anti-canid behavior” she adds.

The donkey will obviously stay on the farm this season, but no longer as an educational donkey.

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One of the patou dogs from the La Batailleuse farm in Rochejean in Doubs.

© ANTHONY RIVAT / MAXPPP

This Haut-Doubs farm is ahead of the curve in terms of wolf protection. She has two Patou dogs to protect the cows, another for the goats, and this year again volunteers from the Vigie Jura association will take turns at night to keep watch and discourage any attempted attack by the predator. Adult cows that were to go to the slaughterhouse were kept to be put in the fields with the heifers.

Nothing replaces the protection dog against the wolf

Will the donkey be more and more present in the landscapes of the Jura to avoid predation? Not so sure. We asked the question to Patrice Raydelet, president of the large predators division.
“The donkey is a protection that we tested with breeders more than 10 years ago. It was then in relation to the presence of the lynx” he remembers. The specialist believes that the donkey can be interesting on small plots of land due to its very territorial behavior. The donkey cannot tolerate the presence of even the slightest canine on his domain.

This type of protection by donkeys is not very well known, it is less effective than a protection dog. The advantage is that the donkey feeds itself. We don’t have to buy kibble like for a dog. This can be an advantage for the breeder.

Patrice Raydelet, president of the large predators division

But that will never be worth protection by a patou according to him. Without forgetting that a donkey remains possible prey for the wolf. “In Italy, in Abruzzo, we saw donkeys being attacked.”

According to Sylvie Fallourd, in Haut-Doubs, at least 13 donkeys this season will defend the herds in the area. A farmer we contacted preferred to remain discreet about the choice he made. Marc Droz Vincent and his Limousin cows accept his choice.

“Yes, because for me the wolf has its rightful place on the planet. It is part of the ecosystem. It certainly gave us some work.

Marc Droz Vincent

Limousin cow breeder in Haut-Doubs

The wolf is there. This is a reality that breeders are increasingly faced with. 1104 wolves are installed in France. In 2023, the wolf was identified as responsible for 252 attacks in Burgundy-Franche-Comté, including 37 in Franche-Comté.

Faced with wolves, breeders who wish to implement means of protection are supported in advice and financially by the terms of the wolf plan. Everyone is still far from having put things in place to protect themselves from the risk of attacks.

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