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The Faces of Farms: Guard Donkeys

Throughout 2015, photographer Catherine Frost will be traveling to Maine farms all across the state, visiting those with their own special livestock. From alpaca to water buffalo to turkeys and rare breeds of horses, each month will feature new faces. The best will be featured in a show at the Maine Farmland Trust Gallery in January and February of 2016.

Animal instincts drill to the core of natural history. One of the strongest, and essential in the preservation of life, is protection. Protection of ourselves, protection of our brood, and protection of our tribe.

On a bitterly cold day last winter, I was shooting at North Star Sheep Farm where their donkeys serve as guards to their 1,000+ head of Hampshire and Suffolk sheep. Unknown to me at the time was that one of the jennies was about 9 months pregnant. While her jack kept a close eye on me, she stayed safe in the background.

In the spring, Brooks arrived. The jen stayed close – after all, she carried him, just one foal to carry on the family name, for twelve months.

I was also there when the family was relocated to guard a different flock at the farm’s homestead field. There were already several donkeys tending these sheep and it was established as “their” tribe. Any new animal, regardless of age or adorableness, was suspect – even if it was one of their own kind.

Some of the donkeys were curious, some agitated, some excited to see a fresh face. Brooks navigated the situation the best he knew how – dodging the aggression, moving toward those who were welcoming, intuiting his way through this new crowd. It was quite like watching a new pup enter a dog park, or a new employee taking their cube for the first time. Equal parts submitting to the establishment matched with standing his own ground.

In the end, all accepted Brooks – the newest member who will be trained by his elders how to protect himself, the flock and the tribe.

It isn’t always this easy, either with animals or humans. Imagine the world if we could just crack the nut that reveals acceptance and realize when we do, it only makes for a more unified tribe.

Visit Catherine’s website to see more Guard Donkey photos.

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