These hardy, smart, curious and contemplative and almost disease-free fascinating members of the equine family, with their sweet faces and gentle, intelligent natures, make the most wonderful loving pets, naturally loving children, being quiet and reliable. Don’t you love their large ears (help to keep them cool).Caring for a donkey is most rewarding. Let me introduce you to our mare Anais and our gelding Joshua, with their beautiful dorsal stripes and shoulder crosses, forever enjoying their favorite pastime: rolling.
I always loved donkeys and seen the large enough pasture to roam around that we have, I started to look for one. In the local newspaper a pregnant mare was offered for sale, price of two donkeys in case she gave birth to a living foal. The owner had several donkeys and wanted sell some, but his utmost concern was the well being of the animal, so he did not sell until he came to inspect our land and surroundings and meet us as potential owners. We also had to warn him when the foal was born and got a second inspection.
The expression “donkey’s years” says it all, a potential owner must realize just how much time, effort and expense is required for this long-term commitment. A donkey can live up to 30 years, some for over 50 years!
So we ended up having the most beautiful wonder on our land: the birth of our foal Joshua. From the start we wanted to make sure he could handle being petted all over its body and allowed us to lift its feet without trouble. Knowing their hooves grow, just like our nails, we knew they needed regular trimming by a professional farrier, hence being able to stand still when his foot was lifted up.
Knowing a stallion would need loads of mares to satisfy him, we knew we had to let him be castrated. I’ll never forget that day, the vet arriving on the land, asking me to gently talk to Joshua and hold his head while he sedated him before the procedure, which I did… I didn’t know at the time that donkeys have an incredible memory, they can recognize areas and other donkeys they were with up to 25 years ago. So of course ours knew exactly who held his head before something bad happened to him. For weeks on end he refused to even come near me!
Our pair is pastured with our horse and goats and typical for donkeys being extremely social creatures, they formed the strongest happiest bonds ever with their equine stable companions and of course with us, their humans. They are very cautious of strangers though! When left alone in a pasture, you’ll end up with a very sad donkey, they need their companion! They’ll bond with your horse, so don’t suddenly decide to put the horse somewhere else, your donkey will be really upset!
Donkeys are guardians, they will alert the flock of danger with their braying (their amazing voices which can carry up to two miles), will severely discourage any canine attacks on the herd and would even chase and trample a predator endangering its companions. Donkeys that live in pairs tend to be almost silent, we only hear ours when it’s near food time or when one of them has escaped and the other one is looking for it. In the desert environment a donkey is able to hear the call of another donkey 60 miles away.
Having a keen sense of curiosity, being very clever, they’ll find a way to escape if you don’t install a safe, movable electric fence (at least as high as the donkey’s shoulders) around the pasture. If our fence fails, they know and go to the nearby vineyards. Local farmers know them already, phone us up and we go looking for them. As soon as they see our jeep arriving, they come running ever so happy to see us, we just walk back with them, talking and petting them, a piece of old bread in our hands and they happily follow us back onto our land!
They’re even known to have a calming effect on nervous horses. Almost as if the donkey is saying “It’s O.K., we’ll get through this together”. In a herd they will groom each other in the same way as monkeys do.
How to take good care of your donkey? We all know they love carrots and apples, but fresh or dried mint and even bananas with skin on are treats, but that won’t suffice, they also need a vitamin supplement and a salt/mineral lick block available to them. Getting by on less food than a horse, good grass hay and a big pasture will fulfill its needs.
No grains (oats, barley, wheat, corn) too high in starch and sugar (can develop diseases and obesity) though, contact your vet for the best available food! During winter, supplement their diet with meadow hay!
Your donkey should receive the same hoof care, deworming and vaccinations that horses receive. Make sure the floors of your stable are hard and dry as they have porous hooves that can become diseased when they stand in wet areas for too long. When our “marechal” takes care of their hooves, he throws the cut off parts in the garden and our dogs consider them a big treat.
Donkeys’ teeth also grow continuously, and they get worn down when the donkey chews food. Dentist control needs to be done every year, regardless of how the teeth appear to you. Your donkeys’ teeth go back as far as the length of your forearm, so there is no way to know what is going on at the back of the mouth without specialist tools.
Donkeys are not ok to stand in the rain, give them a good stable, out of the wind and rain! Prevent chills, pneumonia or bronchitis by keeping a coat on the donkey in winter. The best way to clean donkeys is to brush them every day.
Laid back and self-preserving in nature, they prefer to do what is good for the donkey, which is not always what the human thinks is best and is exactly why they don’t deserve their reputation for stubbornness. They need time to process situations before deciding what to do, they think about it and they dislike being hurried or forced to act, so practice gentleness and patience. Pet your donkey, speak in soothing tones, and don’t raise your voice or be forceful.
Their reaction to danger might be freeze, to think and make a decision, flight and reassess or attack. They might run a dog or cat out of the paddock if it doesn’t belong to the family!
I have to end my story about the “helping hooves” of humankind, with AA Milne’s Eeyore in the famous “Winnie-the-Pooh”, summing it all up:
The old grey donkey Eeyore stood by himself in a thistly corner of the Forest, his front feet well apart, his head on one side, and thought about things. Sometimes he thought sadly to himself, “Why?” and sometimes he thought, “Wherefore?” and sometimes he thought, “Inasmuch as which?” and sometimes he didn’t quite know what he was thinking about.