Tractor Time Episode 34: Paul Dorrance, from Top Gun to Top Grazier

If you’re a reader of Acres U.S.A. magazine, you might recognize his name. Paul Dorrance writes for us frequently, and he does it with a teacher’s spirit and a sense of humor. Acres is unique in that we rely on people like Paul, people who are in the field, doing the hard, challenging work of farming. Paul is also one of the featured speakers at Eco-Ag Conference in December. Eco-Ag is kind of like Coachella, or Woodstock, if you prefer more dated references. Instead of music, we bring together a group of some of the biggest names in regenerative agriculture. I’m just looking a list and it’s incredible: Carey Gillam, Zach Bush and Kathleen Merrigan are keynote speakers. Here are some other names you might recognize: Neal Kinsey, Mark Shepard, Bob Quinn, David Montgomery, Andre Leu, Paul Dettloff, Gary Zimmer … the list goes on. Paul Dorrance is in that mix and we are thrilled to introduce him to you.

He’s a former Air Force pilot who now raises pastured livestock at Pastured Providence Farmstead in Chillicothe, Ohio. He wears a big, ten-gallon cowboy hat and he’s as humble as they come. In this episode, we’re going to learn a little about Paul, but also about his latest article for our magazine. In that piece, Paul writes about his misadventures in Livestock Guardian Animals.

— Ben Trollinger

Opinion: A Green New Deal for Agriculture

Representatives of a coalition representing almost 10,000 U.S. farmers and ranchers held a press conference today in Washington, D.C. to announce the delivery of a letter to Congress urging support for the Green New Deal and calling on lawmakers to make agriculture policy reform a priority for addressing the climate crisis and the economic crisis facing independent family farms.

The coalition, a joint organizing effort of Regeneration International (RI) and the Sunrise Movement, said it believes the Green New Deal’s goal of net-zero emissions by 2030 is achievable, but only if the resolution includes policies that spur two large-scale transitions: the transition to renewable energy alternatives, and the transition to regenerative agriculture and land-use practices.
Live video of press conference


Dear Member of Congress,

We, the undersigned U.S. farmers, ranchers, and supporting organizations urge you to join us in supporting the Green New Deal (GND) Resolution, now before Congress.

We support the GND’s call to “. . . secure for all people of the United States for generations to come: clean air and water; climate and community resiliency; healthy food; access to nature; and a sustainable environment.”

We support the GND’s call to “. . . work collaboratively with farmers and ranchers in the United States to remove pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from the agricultural sector as much as is technologically feasible, including—by supporting family farming; by investing in sustainable farming and land-use practices that increase soil health; and by building a more sustainable food system that ensures universal access to healthy food.”

We also support the GND’s overarching climate goals, including the goal to achieve net-zero emissions by 2030 – 2050. We believe these climate goals are achievable—but only if the GND includes policies that spur two large-scale transitions: the transition away from fossil fuels toward renewable energy alternatives, and the transition away from industrial agriculture toward family farm-based organic and regenerative farming and land-use practices that improve soil health and draw down and sequester carbon.

We stand ready to help achieve all of these GND goals. But we need Congress to work with us to develop food and agriculture policies that support climate-friendly organic and regenerative farming, ranching, and land-use practices.

We also ask that Congress stop subsidizing monopolistic, extractive industrial agriculture practices that pollute the environment, produce unhealthy food, and disproportionately devastate rural communities and economies. These one-sided subsidies put farmers and ranchers like us, who are good stewards of the land, at such a competitive disadvantage in the marketplace that growing numbers of us are being forced out of business.

America’s food and farming system is in crisis

As farmers and ranchers, our businesses and livelihoods are uniquely vulnerable to the impact of climate change, with its increasingly frequent and extreme droughts and flooding.

There are now only 3 million of us (less than 1% of the population) remaining. Meanwhile, consolidation runs rampant in the industrial agriculture sector. Four corporations, two of which are foreign-owned, control most of America’s meat production. This concentration of power threatens our livelihoods, and also this country’s food safety and food security in general. Consolidation also allows the powerful few to degrade the environment in pursuit of “cheap” food production, while those corporations offload the environmental and human health costs of their irresponsible farming and ranching practices—including practices that contribute to global warming—onto citizens and taxpayers.

Recent headlines paint a bleak picture for America’s family farms:

• Midwest farmers are filing for chapter 12 bankruptcy protection at levels not seen for at least a decade (Wall Street Journal, February 6, 2019).

• The USDA reports that 2,731 dairy farms went out of business in 2018. Mega factory farm dairies, allowed to evade clean water and air regulations, are over-producing to drive out both conventional and organic dairy farmers. Failure to enforce USDA organic regulations makes it nearly impossible for certified organic dairy farmers to compete against huge “factory farm” dairies that use their clout to gain organic certification despite failing to adhere to organic regulation.

• The USDA in February 2018 projected negative median farm income of $1,316, the lowest level since 2002 (adjusted for inflation). This is partly a function of farmers not being paid a fair price for the goods they produce.

• Research by students at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, published in June 2018, by Farm Progress, found that suicide rates in agriculture are five times higher than the national average—double the rate for military veterans, and 50% higher than during the 1980s farm crisis.

Better policies mean healthier people, communities and ecosystems

When America’s family farms fail, rural economies and communities fail with them. As the author of a recent article in American Conservative points out, the decline we are experiencing in our rural farming communities is the direct result of deliberate policy decisions made by both political parties who favor multinational corporations at the expense of rural communities.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Family farmers are essential to combating climate change. A GND can make family farming economically viable again through fair farm prices, parity, and supply management. New agricultural policies could provide greater support for practices such as cover cropping, rotational grazing, agroforestry, and silvopasture. These practices are proven to restore ecosystem health, including the soil’s potential to sequester carbon.

Policies that support better farming and ranching practices would make our farming businesses less vulnerable to the impact of climate change and more financially resilient. They would also empower us to play an important role in reducing the impact of global warming.

Policies that support the transformation of how we produce food would also end the contamination of our communities’ air, water, and soil with agricultural chemicals, and would lead to a reduction in illnesses associated with exposure to those chemicals.

Policies that support our efforts to rebuild the infrastructure for local and sustainable food systems will spur the creation of jobs and of new independent business opportunities in food and farming, such as local fruit and vegetable, grain, and meat processing and distribution. Thriving local food systems also improve food security by providing greater numbers of people readier access to healthier food, which in turns makes our rural and urban communities more vibrant and prosperous.

We call on Congress to put the “Green” in the Green New Deal by empowering us to revitalize the health and economic security of this country’s middle class, to make family farming economically viable again, and to help reverse climate change and improve America’s air and water quality by making our ecosystems healthy again.

See who signed already here:

The Dos and Don’ts of Farm Internships

This article was also published in the October 2019 issue of Acres U.S.A.

When Brynn Grumstrup was 32 and living in northern Virginia, where she’d managed vegetable production for a rural nonprofit and cultivated community and rooftop gardens in the D.C. area, she decided to apprentice with a Colorado biodynamic farmer who also ran a multi-farm CSA.

After Skype meetings, Grumstrup signed a contract specifying what she’d learn. But six weeks in, the farmer couldn’t see plans through and didn’t respond to basic issues of weed control, fencing, predation or refrigeration.

“I’d wanted to work alongside an experienced farmer in order to enhance my understanding of good practices,” she said. “I ended up learning so much from his negative example, though. It was emotionally challenging because what I produced and contributed to the multi-farm CSA was, I think, the only income the farm was taking in, and I felt so much pressure to keep it together because the family was on shaky ground with whether they’d be able to stay on the farm or not.”

A farmer’s ability to communicate can make or break an operation.

Such an exhausting experience could have soured Grumstrup on farming. But she moved to Pucon, Chile, south of Santiago, where she ran her own veggie farm. Then she worked a season with North Valley Organics outside Albuquerque, New Mexico, before returning to Pucon, where she now runs a farm along with a business partner.

Chip and Susan Planck work a farmers market with their crew in 2010.


Farmers’ general makeup as “hermit curmudgeons” can make it hard to hire well, said farmer Joel Salatin, who spoke about hiring at the 2018 Eco-Ag and 2019 Virginia Association for Biological Farming conferences.

Hiring means means knowing what you know, what you’re good at and what you love, and finding where those three intersect, he said. That tells you who is in your “tribe,” who you can trust and who you should hire.

The wider your base of trust, said Salatin, the less you have to exert control because expectations communicated well means those working with you will know what needs to be done.

Among apprentices who have negative experiences, expectations often aren’t communicated well. Well-articulated mission statements can help farmers weed out people who may not be a good fit, and likewise, can help interest those who would be.


For many farms, “apprentice” may not be the most appropriate term. Retired farmers Chip and Susan Planck only ever had “workers” at Wheatland Vegetable Farms near Leesburg, Virginia. They paid them and made no promises to teach them. Yet teach they did, through modeling and sharing information about how they managed the farm, and about 10 percent of the 250 or so farm workers who passed through their fields and farm markets today run their own farms, including one who grows flowers commercially, another who provides an “all-diet” CSA, and still two others, a couple, who run a CSA and attend farmers markets in the D.C. area.

The Plancks, who started farming in 1973 and in retirement have shifted to farm-incubator work and the creation of a farm-based hamlet, refined their hiring process over the years. This included an eight-page description of Wheatland that potential workers had to read before applying. Prospective workers also had to interview former workers. “It really cut down on turnover when we instituted that after a few years,” says Chip. “People heard the good and the bad.”

The Plancks paid people as employees, including deducting FICA and income tax. They also provided housing, laundry facilities and some money toward weekly food expenses, plus an abundance of vegetables. Workers shared in cooking and cleaning. In exchange, workers cultivated, harvested, prepared for markets and served at two markets per week. They all learned to drive a tractor.

For farmers who are truly non-people people, the way the Plancks worked might feel challenging. “The most valuable place for us to be was alongside the workers,” said Chip. That meant telling and showing them what to do — how to pick beans, how to weigh and measure a bunch of chard so that it became a rote and scale-less process, how to tell when a flat of transplants needed watering and how much to give them, and how to make everything for sale at farmers’ markets attractive.

Two farmers who came through the Plancks’ operation — Rachel Bynum and Eric Plaksin of Waterpenny Farm in Sperryville, Virginia — are in their twentieth season. In their seven-page overview of Waterpenny, they disabuse potential intern-workers of romantic notions of farming and alert them to the fact that there will be constructive criticism, similar to the Plancks’, to emphasize the farmers’ responsibility for the quality and quantities of vegetables for the CSA, markets and restaurants.

“Everyone will be given constructive criticism until we are all working to a standard,” the description says. “Interns should know that criticism is not personal, and that we have no expectations of maximum efficiency as you learn tasks. We do, however, expect interns to pay attention to how well they are working, and to try to improve their work over the course of the season.”

The Plancks structured their days to include morning and afternoon meetings. The afternoon’s was part of a mid-day, two-hour break when the Plancks reviewed issues that were arising.

They also reviewed the farm’s finances with workers, including what they themselves made. Although he admits he could have been naive, Chip said that sharing such information seemed to limit temptations for workers at markets to stick a $20 bill in their back pocket. “We knew the value of a truck load,” he said. “If something was dramatically off, we would have known right away.”

Plus, sharing about finances taught workers about cash flow and profitability.


A couple hours south of the Plancks, Joel Slezak and Erica Hellen run a grass-based livestock farm on about 300 acres in Free Union, raising beef, pork, chicken, duck and eggs and selling primarily to restaurants and at farmers’ markets.

Like the Plancks and others, Slezak and Hellen have a thorough application and rely on ATTRA (Appropriate Technology Transfer for Rural Areas), not Craigslist, to advertise positions. They describe the challenges, how criticism needs to be taken and “put some fear into it” to weed out people who probably would not be a good fit.

They send a three-to-four-page resume of the farm and lots of questions, including some that are “ridiculous” but intended to get a “sense of the person,” including what foods they hate. “If you don’t like tomatoes, we’re not going to hire you,” Slezak said. They want to gauge how adventurous a person is, what they think is “icky” and whether they might be “whiny.” A phone or Skype interview follows and often lasts two hours. They require applicants to visit and, if applicants aren’t local, to spend the night, have supper with them and kill chickens the next day. The lengthy process is intended to discourage the non-serious.

“I would feel so bad if someone moved here and they thought we were A and we were actually B,” Slezak said.

They try to avoid people who have “the bucolic goggles on,” but welcome those who have a romance with Earth — in the sense of understanding why the farm is grass-based.

They try to impress people with decent pay, on-site housing, a community culture of fun and proximity to Charlottesville.

“We get a lot of people who’ve worked on a veggie farm and are burned out — tired of bending over. It’s attractive — everyone loves working with cows,” Slezak said.

New employees spend the first 30 days in incredibly detailed, intensive training so that they understand what’s at stake and what can go wrong. After this one-on-one time, Slezak said, they back off so as not to become overbearing.

“People learn more by doing it themselves, learn to pay attention and learn what works for them,” he said.

They also do bi-monthly reviews and always stop to ask whether the employee understands what they’re doing.

Slezak dislikes yelling, but sees the need for firm corrections, such as when someone forgets to turn the water on or off or leaves a gate open. Such mistakes need to be remembered and avoided in the future.

Where most farmers fail, said Slezak, is in not giving workers the scope of the day, which includes helping them understand how long a task should take. “The number-one complaint I’ve heard is employees show up thinking they’re doing one thing and end up doing a different thing,” he said.

To counter this, Free Union has morning meetings with tasks written on a whiteboard, but also emailed to employees. They update employees on start times as they go through the season, including the days when they’ll be butchering. They use the Slack app to message one another and can have different channels, including a general one, one for the markets and so on.


What Salatin recommends for farmers also holds true for apprentices and employees. One young farmer from the Midwest, who asked to remain anonymous, has apprenticed on a variety of farms and, through a rocky process, narrowed her interest to livestock.

One farm had a great description of what was involved, but didn’t follow it in practice. She expected that she would gradually be given more responsibility as she learned more. But that responsibility never came. She was promoted to animal manager for the second season but without decision-making authority. About two weeks before that season, her misgivings about returning prompted her to offer to stay a month for them to find a replacement.

“What I wanted was some ownership and some trust,” she said. “I don’t think they were in a position to give me that. Maybe when seasons were better and not so stressful it could have been a different experience. In hindsight, I should not have gone back for a second season.”

Her best experience came from working with a farm family with two children under four years old. It was their fourth season with small ruminants and they had gone through the Holistic Management process, just as she had.

“We were starting from a solid base. ‘You know what you want, I know what I want.’ They were very pragmatic. They had priorities,” she said.

She describes herself as someone willing to work to get things done, but believes the situation was great was because the couple quit work at 5 p.m., because at 6:30 p.m. it was time for supper and getting the kids ready for bed. They also checked in with her to see how she was and sometimes to request her help on particular projects. She did not have to work Sundays, but still checked lambs with them.


Here are further suggestions from apprentices and farmers:

• Know your land and its capacities; it may be more suitable for certain farming activities. The young Midwestern farmer discovered this the hard way when she and her sister worked on a half-acre “incubator” plot the owners intended for veg production with harvests sold at a farmers’ market. She was not aware a previous owner said not to rent that space to anyone. The upside of that downside was learning how important soil health is. The land “should have just had animals on it,” she said, because it needed to have more nutrients cycling through it.

• Know and understand the scope of work you plan and beware off-season optimism. The young Midwestern farmer wonders whether it’s realistic to plan the season ahead to incorporate many new systems, only to find the work can’t be done because it’s too much.

• Write farm operation descriptions mid-season when you can best see the connections among all operations and where employees or apprentices can best serve in each, the young Midwestern farmer said.

• Start your search early and field inquiries year round. This helps you avoid being lured by the possibility of a good fit when the pressure is on to find someone and you haven’t had time to vet people thoroughly.

• Check the farmer’s references even if he or she does not require you to do so. “I don’t go anywhere unless they’ve got references, because I’ve been burned,” the young Midwestern farmer said.

• If you provide on-site housing, ensure a clear delineation between work hours and off hours. Stick with set hours and if work is completed sooner than expected, have an ongoing task list.

• Hold daily meetings to outline work and who’s responsible for what. “If you’re unable to give employees one-half hour in the morning and explain the day to them, you should not advertise for interns/apprentices,” the young Midwestern farmer said.

• Keep apprentices and employees informed. “Even when you think something might be overkill or obvious, say it,” said Grumstrup.

• Recognize that things are always changing. If farmers are taking steps to grow their business, apprentices and employees can anticipate that they may not know everything that growth will entail. And if they’ve worked other places where the work involved more predictability — i.e., didn’t rely on living organisms and weren’t too affected by weather — know that there’s plenty farmers cannot control and cut them some slack.

Beginner’s Guide to Livestock Guardian Animals

This article was also published in the October 2019 issue of Acres U.S.A.

As consumer demand continues to skyrocket for pasture-based meats, so too will farmer demand for methods to keep their livestock safe outside of confinement. A good fence goes a long way towards peace of mind, but today’s predators are getting more bold, more crafty and more prevalent than ever before. Exacerbating this issue is the reality that the vast majority of farmers hold an off-farm job to make ends meet, further removing them from the historic role of in-place shepherd and full-time caretaker. In a pasture-based system, how are we to successfully raise livestock for our customers when everything else is trying to eat them first?

Just about every species of livestock could use a protective hand every now and then. Poultry, sheep and goats are no brainers because, as they say: “Everything eats chicken.” However, even young cattle and bison are targets for predatory vultures, bears, cougars and wolves in many parts of the United States. Gone are the days when you could combine some common sense with a bullet to combat predation through the Three S’s (Shoot, Shovel, Shut Up), and society is mostly better off because of that in my opinion. That said, the moral mandate for non-lethal predator control definitely presents a unique set of challenges for the modern livestock rancher.

Enter the hero of the day … Livestock Guardian Animals.


Before we get too far ahead of ourselves, I think it would be wise to outline at least some of the caveats for this topic.

First and foremost: Livestock Guardian Animals are not a “cure-all.” You cannot expect to experience the trauma of a predator attack, go pick up your guardian of choice at the local store, apply three times per day where it hurts, and expect miraculous results in 48 hours. Trust me — I’ve tried. Livestock Guardian Animals are a tool, a control measure to be used in conjunction with other methods in an effort to create an environment of safety for our animals. They work best as part of a systematic approach to predator control

Livestock Guardian Animals are a lot of extra work, extra time and extra money. In theory, they pay for all of that extra with peace of mind and more live animals to sell for a profit, but that theory isn’t always an easy one to prove. Regardless of which animal you choose to work for you, they all have specific limitations and require some amount of training, maintenance and support from you. If you are already strapped for time, adding a guardian puppy isn’t going to help. If you aren’t handy or comfortable with DIY animal care, adding a donkey becomes a liability instead of an asset. Yes, they do a job for us, but they also add jobs to our daily and seasonal task lists.

Lastly, and I think we all know this but somehow act surprised when it turns out to be true, Livestock Guardian Animals are not perfect. They fail, whether it is because of the animal itself, the situation we put them in, or pure bad luck. Personally, I struggle in this regard — setting an animal up for failure then wondering what went wrong when they do indeed fail. Having a realistic initial expectation for your Livestock Guardian Animal and keeping a close eye on the changing situation that it is operating within are the keys to success here.

Ultimately, what I’m trying to say is that Livestock Guardians Animals are not without costs. They are effective in the right situations, but they need to be added to your livestock enterprise after a period of intensive education, consideration and decision-making on your part. Please, please, please avoid some of the mistakes that I have made by adding Livestock Guardian Animals to your system intentionally instead of haphazardly.


One of the key concepts to understand in this discussion is that different animals guard effectively using different innate traits dominant within their species. Generally, we can put guardian species into two different buckets: those that guard out of an affinity for their livestock and those that guard out of sheer belligerence and orneriness. Knowing which is which and taking a good look at your current operation will allow you to select a guardian species that will work best for you.

Livestock Guardian Dogs (LGDs) are the predominant species in the first bucket. There’s a reason we call them “mankind’s best friend.” All the qualities that make us love dogs (except for you crazy cat people out there), like being loyal, protective, attentive and loving, make them exceptional guardian animals. When properly “bonded” to livestock, LGDs adopt them into their pack and care for them appropriately. It doesn’t matter whether you have poultry, small ruminants or large animals — LGDs can and will guard them with their life, because of the innate affinity dogs have for their tribe.

In the belligerent category are donkeys, llamas and alpacas. They couldn’t care less about your sheep or goats; they just hate dogs. Or commotion. Or life in general. They are mean-spirited and ornery, which is exactly what you want between your four-legged livelihood and a hungry predator. Generally, these animals simply dislike what they don’t know, and react accordingly. However, they can still get used to familiarity or routine. For example, a family dog that is very familiar becomes acceptable to a donkey, while a strange neighbor dog gets chased off. They don’t like a fuss and will run towards the commotion of an attack event while the sheep are running away, just to see what’s happening.

Understanding these differences is critical to correctly selecting a guardian species that will best suit your farm’s needs.


Now for my favorite part … “Story Time with Paul.” But careful — I’m going to liberally apply the rule that we Air Force pilots use in all our stories: 10 percent truth! In all seriousness, I love hearing other folks tell farm stories, and think it often represents the best way to learn their lessons and avoid their mistakes. Hopefully you find the same here.

My first attempt at Livestock Guardian Animals came shortly after I purchased sheep. After unloading the animals into a paddock, I quickly realized that I had made a huge mistake and needed to provide for their safety from the multiple packs of coyotes that roamed my property. Why hadn’t I thought of that before? In a pinch, and being a dog-guy at heart, I searched “livestock guardian dog” online and decided that the Great Pyrenees was the breed for me. A quick Craigslist search revealed an adult male named “Cebu” and a female named “Sable.” The price was definitely right, and they were Pyrenees, so they’d be perfect for me.

I picked Cebu up at his suburban home, with a small shed in the back that contained a couple of fainting goats. I should have picked up on the six-foot-tall fence, combined with the wire mesh buried around the base. They may as well have had Concertina wire around the border. Surely that was for the goats, not the dog. I was certain it would sort itself out though, because he was a Great Pyrenees and would be perfect for me.

Sable was purchased by meeting her owner in a vacant ballpark nearby. It felt a lot like what I imagine a drug deal would feel like — me standing in the parking lot with a pocket full of cash, scanning any passing vehicles for one that matched the description I had received over the phone. Once we finally connected, I asked the owner, “How old is Sable?” “Not sure” was his answer. No problem — she was a Great Pyrenees and would be perfect for me.

Turns out, they weren’t perfect. But that is fine, based on what I said above, right? Well … both dogs were pets at heart, not bonded in any way to livestock and certainly not applicable to my situation. Cebu was also a runner (big surprise). The furthest he ever got picked up was on Christmas Day: 7 miles as the crow flies, and still headed in the wrong direction! Sable matched him step for step, but interestingly, after I sold Cebu to a suburban family who wanted a fluffy pet (don’t worry — they had a six-foot fence), she switched gears and took to sleeping on my porch, where she remains to this day. I am her people, and she guards me instead of the livestock; but at least she chases the coyotes howling out in the back pasture!

Lesson: Being a livestock guardian breed doesn’t make a dog a livestock guardian. Buy a LGD from a reputable breeder, whose dogs work for a living and who “starts” puppies with livestock. Also, you get what you pay for.

After Cebu left and Sable took up residence on my porch, I still needed protection for my sheep and decided to give donkeys a try. I found two on Craigslist (see a trend here?), brought them home, and moved them in with the flerd. Everything seemed to be going well, but I found myself seriously doubting their effectiveness. All they did was laze around, roll in the dust, and refuse to cross the creek. I hadn’t had any losses, but was it really due to their efforts?

Then one day my group of Large Black Hogs got out of their fence and went cavorting across the pasture. The errant hogs were happy as a lark, romping along a permanently fenced alleyway next to my sheep, when a donkey caught sight of them. She had never seen a black, floppy-eared oinker before, and that donkey came at them with ears flat back and teeth bared … scared me half to death, and I was over 100 yards away!

The only thing that saved those hogs was the woven wire fence that separated them from her, as she reached the fence and aborted her attack with an indignant snort. Had the fence not been there, I would have had a serious mess — a tragedy even — on my hands. And I’d be eating bacon into the foreseeable future. On second thought, maybe there are worse things!


The donkeys’ names were Black Donkey and Gray Donkey (bet you can’t guess what color they were). Both started out just fine until their first lambing season arrived and I started to lose lambs. I would walk out to the pasture and find a perfectly healthy-looking lamb dead, sometimes with a broken leg or neck. I blamed the cows, big dumb curious animals that they are. So I took immediate action and re-segregated my flerd back into a flock and a herd. Problem solved.

Except it wasn’t. A few days later it happened again, and I was confounded. What could be causing this? The donkeys were fine with the sheep, the sheep were fine with each other, and the cows were separated. I just didn’t get it. Then I caught her in the act. As I walked up into the sheep pasture to check on a pregnant ewe, I saw Black Donkey approach the newborn lamb. She sniffed it, then nuzzled it, then reared back and stomped it with her front hoof! Only by throwing the five-gallon bucket I happened to be carrying at her did I stop the massacre. It was Black Donkey all along!

For whatever reason, in her mind there was a substantive difference between lambs and sheep. Maybe it was the noise they made; maybe it was the smell. I’ll never know. But while she was fine with the adults, she was guarding against that tiny, helpless lamb. Needless to say, I shipped her off to a cattle farm nearby, where as far as I know she is serving flawlessly. She didn’t have a problem with calves, just lambs. Weird. Want to know the craziest part of that story? That little ram lamb survived the stomping and went on to finish out for meat the next year!

Lesson: Donkeys hate what they don’t know, including things that you don’t necessarily want them to guard against. Also, they are likely more effective than you think.

After the unfortunate departure of Black Donkey, Gray Donkey was my sole guardian animal for years. And she performed admirably. The coyotes were there — Sable would keep me awake all night barking at them from my porch — but I sustained little to no predation losses. Then a switch got flipped. Last summer I started to lose lamb after lamb, sometimes multiples in a night. The predator pressure was incredible — all of a sudden and all at once. It sent me reeling, especially given the success I’d enjoyed up to then. I had no choice: I separated the flock again and brought them down to the barn to live in permanent paddocks while I licked my wounds and tried to figure out what was happening.

Then it dawned on me. As my operation grew each year, so did my paddock sizes to accommodate the flerd. Going back to guardian behaviors: donkeys guard out of belligerence, not affinity, and must be forced into contact with the predator to be effective. At my current size, a coyote attack could be happening in one part of the daily paddock and Gray Donkey could be on the complete other side, sometimes even out of sight and sound. I believe that I had literally outgrown Gray Donkey’s effectiveness. It wasn’t her fault that the attacks were happening; the coyotes were just smart enough to attack while she was far enough away not to care.

Lesson: Understanding the differences in how guardian animals protect your livestock is critical to correctly selecting species that will best suit your farm’s needs. Also, be prepared to update your selections as your operation changes.


I am now re-attempting Livestock Guardian Dogs so that I can continue to grow my flerd to meet the needs of my growing customer base. This time around I’ve chosen the breed Maremma, as they have more of a tendency to guard from within the flock as opposed to roaming an entire property (and your neighbor’s). The dogs I have now are proven guardians, having been purchased from a working farm. The good news: I recently grazed the exact same section of pasture where I experienced the heavy losses last year, this time with even larger paddocks, and I experienced no losses!

Looking toward the future, it shouldn’t matter how big my daily paddock size becomes; the LGDs will be effective because of the fact that they actively guard those they love. My challenge now is to make sure that they love the sheep more than they love me!

With the lessons I have learned, and many more that lay in wait ahead of me, I hope that my animals will continue to thrive safe and sound in my non-confinement system. Remember, more layers of protection is better than less, and any Livestock Guardian Animal should be operating as a component in an overall security system instead of a standalone entity. For that reason alone, Gray Donkey and Sable still have a place on my property … and my porch … for now!

Paul Dorrance owns and operates a pasture-based livestock operation in Ohio, marketing 100 percent grassfed beef and lamb, as well as pastured non-GMO pork, poultry and eggs, directly to consumers. Previously an active duty Air Force officer, Paul still serves as a pilot in the Air Force Reserves.