If you think those beautiful black cows in a pasture off Johnson Pond Road look contented, why shouldn’t they be?
They have plenty of green grass to eat, a regular feeding of bovine grains, lots of cow company and—get this—their own security guard.
The guard, a charming gray donkey, teasingly called Coyote since that is the creature she is there to guard against, sees to it that no coyotes or wild dogs sneak in and prey on the cows’ vulnerable calves.
“She earns her keep,” says Tandy Ogburn, owner of the cows off Johnson Pond Road and others in a pasture near his home in Willow Springs. Ogburn lost several calves to coyotes when he first got into cattle raising in a big way several years ago.
He remembers going into the pasture once and finding only the bones of a calf left behind. All the meat had been eaten. He believes coyotes were the culprits. He found paw prints that supported his theory.
Ogburn’s friend and a longtime employee of the N.C. Wildlife Commission Brent Ward, agrees. He said coyotes kill for food; wild dogs tend to kill for sport, leaving their kill behind, not eaten.
After that incident Ogburn got the donkey. He has had no calf deaths since. He named her Coyote, perhaps to remind her regularly of her job responsibilities.
She obviously takes her assignment to keep the peace seriously. Ogburn once witnessed a situation in which two cows were butting heads and pushing each other around, apparently in a fight over one calf. He saw Coyote the donkey trot over and break up the fuss.
Ward has another story about the dedication of donkeys—and their mule kin—to keeping the peace wherever they see a need. He says a party from this area went on an elk hunting trip to Minnesota. They hired pack mules to haul their luggage and supplies into the hunting area. Along the way a mountain lion threatened the group. The mules broke free and killed the creature.
“They are very protective,” Ward says. “It (that trait) just seems to come naturally to them.”
As for the coyotes, Ward says he doesn’t know just how long they have been a part of the wildlife population in Wake County, but he knows they’ve been plentiful in nearby Johnston Count for years. While Wake County’s human population has grown and changed, the animals have adapted. Now that there are more residents and quite a few of them feed their dogs outside, coyotes often slip into yards and eat the dog food. As long as there is a food source, they will hang around.
Ogburn still lives on the farm where he was raised. He grew tobacco through 2006, then gave it up because of major changes in the way that crop had to be grown and sold. He turned then to expanding his small herd of beef cattle and growing more grain crops. This year he is helping son, Sim, 24, a graduate of N.C. State as is his father, growing his first crop of strawberries. The berries currently are on sale at a stand off Old Stage Road.
Ogburn believes people are becoming more and more interested in buying homegrown fruits and vegetables. He is a big supporter of the Buy Local movement. And he believes that, if Sim wants to stay on the farm, (he is the fourth generation of Ogburns on the land) a turn toward growing strawberries and other produce and selling locally may be the answer.
As for cows, Ogburn expects to continue with that business. He now has 40 “mamas” and 20 yearlings, a collection he describes as “a pretty good herd for Wake County.” The next calving season will come in January. He doesn’t expect any trouble with marauders at the Johnson Pond Road pasture with Coyote in charge. He doesn’t have a “security guard” at the pasture in Willow Springs, but he knows there are coyotes around. If the predators begin showing up, he may have to get another donkey.