Friday, December 23, 2016

Donkey Math

From left to right- Raymond, Charlie, ME, Darlin, and Lass. All residents of Foghorn Farm.

Since it is the Holiday Season, and the end of the year, it is a time to start reflecting on the past and hoping for the future. For this article, I want to talk about Donkey Math, because it pertains greatly to this past year for us...and actually, it pertains to the entire time we have had donkeys. 

"Donkey Math"

Chicken aficionados talk about "chicken math"....they ability to simply add more chickens and think nothing of it, talking about having nine when actually owning seventeen. Or twenty when you actually have forty. They are a bit like an addictive habit. Donkeys are very much the same. The adage "donkeys are like chips, you can't have just one" seems very true. 

Charlie: Guess what? Chicken butt!

In our case, our smaller property restricts the number of donkeys we can safely care for on our property, as well as the fact that we also have other jobs, so time is a rare resource. We always want enough funds, time, and energy to care exceedingly well for our residents, whether they are permanent or rescues in training.  Four or five seem to be our limit here, and right now we are down to four, but at the height of the summer we had seven equines, one off property at a boarding facility, and six on our property. We knew that two, potentially three, would be leaving for new homes either after a certain level of training, or after their quarantine period (having come from a questionable situation health wise). In the end, we re-homed all of the equines we took in, and are back down to four, which is manageable for winter. 

It seems, however, that collecting donkeys is quite easy. I mean, how can one refuse a donkey in distress?
A donkey "in distress". Actually, Darlin begging for treats, but so cute nonetheless.

No, I am not referring to hoarding, which is a terrible disease/situation for the animals. But many donkey lovers I know can't resist a donkey needing a soft place to land, if only to foster, although many become "foster failures" and keep these donkeys if they have enough room and resources. Our first rescue was Tilly, an incredibly aged, toothless, blind, deaf, foundered donkey with cancer, and because rescuing and rehabbing her was such a wonderful experience for us, we now take in donkeys when we have room, and rehab them physically, train them, and rehome them. We do this with our personal funds, we are not a nonprofit nor a rescue. However, we love doing it, and feel strongly that donkeys in need should have a chance.

I can't tell you how many people I have talked with who started with one donkey, then researched and realized donkeys truly need another donkey for a companion. Well, once they had two, they realized how fun it was to have more...and there's a donkey at auction that is at risk. Well, now they have three. And so on and so forth. It's very common. If you are a part of the "Donkey Math" club, you are in good company. Well, something similar happened to us, and that led to a full out obsession and then the training business.

Perhaps in looking at the year ahead, we should all take a look at where we were, and where we are now, and where we would like to be next year. For those with one or two donkeys, beware, you may also fall victim to "Donkey Math" like the rest of us. While you are at it, better start looking at a bigger property for next year. Maybe some extra panels to make a makeshift pen if you should suddenly need it. And maybe an extra side job to buy a bit more hay.  Donkeys can be a grand passion, if you truly love them.  

For all of our fellow donkey lovers out there, blessings for the Holidays! For those extra special people who rescue and rehome-my deepest love to you and your animals. May you find wonderful forever homes for your charges, and may you all stay healthy in the New Year!

Thursday, December 15, 2016

The Littlest Steps

Photo: Mr Wilson, a client donkey in training.

I had an experience today that reminded me that the littlest steps are, in actuality, the biggest progress one can make in training long ears. I touched a young, frightened mule. This may not seem like much. But it's been weeks, and after a seemingly small setback, I haven't been able to get up close to this mule without food to tempt him. And today, although I REALLY wanted to get a halter on him, I did get to touch him.  I rubbed under his thick winter fur on his head and neck, and although he was snorty, he didn't leave. And I was reminded that small steps are vital.

I work with donkeys (the mule is an exception to the rule) in all stages of training. My youngest client donkey is about a month old, and the oldest I have worked with would have had to be carbon-dated, she had no teeth!  Each is or was in a different state of training, regardless of age and life experience.  Sometimes, as trainers, it is easy to forget that we are not necessarily working towards goals, but rather shaping an animal's experience and worldview into one that is open to new things, soft and supple in their mindset and body, and trusting of new people and experiences. In fact, we are not only teaching concrete concepts to our animals, but we are developing their thought process, or re-developing it into a more positive thought process. 

When we, as people, think ahead to the next step, the next goal, we are really not thinking in a way that benefits our animals. We are thinking like humans. We can't help it. It's who we are, it's a part of our evolution, and how we survived and thrived. But even when we have a goal and break it down into little steps, each step needs to be a conversation, a fluid process. We must allow ourselves to be in the moment and with our donkey. There's nothing wrong with having expectations, but trust should never be sacrificed to what we want. 

So yes, I want to get this mule haltered, then handled, then packing. But there's no way to do that without a foundation of trust. Sometimes, a touch is all you get.  Don't let that stop you. 

Thursday, November 17, 2016

The Big Blanket Debate

To blanket or not to blanket, that is the question.  And oh boy do people have some serious debate over it! It can get overwhelming for new donkey owners.

Do you know what the simple answer is? It depends on your animal and your situation!

Older donkeys, donkeys with fine coats, donkeys who are thin or ill, donkeys who are suddenly thrust into harsh weather after a spell of warm weather, donkeys who do not have adequate shelter, or who refuse to use their shelter during storms....all of these may require a well fitted blanket. 

Donkeys, unlike horses, do not have two layers of fur. Therefore, water simply soaks into their coat after a while and end up on the skin. They do not slick off water well. The worst days I have found in CO are the 40 degree slush/snow mix days.  Donkeys are not built for wet weather, they are desert animals. 

If you live in Florida, you likely would only need a blanket in case of illness or very wet weather. If you live in Canada, you likely will want one just for the extreme cold and snow.

Don't think that any old winter horse or pony or mini blanket will fit a donkey. Donkeys have different proportions than horses and the neck area especially tends to be problematic.  Horse blankets are made with very sloping shoulders, and often end up sliding back on a donkey and getting stuck behind the winter area, causing extreme pain and rubbing over time on the shoulders and back.  I have found Weatherbeetas especially good for my mammoths, but there are  other companies that make smaller, very adjustable blankets that work well for other sizes of donkeys. Donkeys usually need blankets with very little "fill", they need it more for the waterproofing quality of the blanket. But an older, thin, or ill donkey may need a warmer blanket of course.

Another way to help keep your donkey warm is to make sure they can eat many small meals throughout the day and night, the stemmier the hay the better. The digestive process, especially digesting stemmier forage, creates heat in the gut and therefore warms the donkey. Chewing straw on cold nights can help as well. We go out and feed on nasty nights at around 2 am in addition to regular meals. 

Be sure that you have a water tank heater that works when it is very cold out, as drinking water is super important in the cold, and donkeys tend to get discouraged about drinking icy water easily, which can lead to colic. 

Even if you don't believe in blanketing donkeys, having a well fitted blanket  for each animal on hand is really important. You never know when you might need one. We almost never blanket, but today we did as it was 80 yesterday and today it is freezing and snowing sideways. Even though our donkeys have winter coats, that is quite a sharp change in weather! It is simply kind to help them out. I am glad we had our blankets on hand and ready! 

So the moral to this story is: Decide on your own. Be ready and have one. If you feel like they should be blanketed, blanket them. If you think they are doing fine on their own, then don't.  Everyone has different situations and may have different needs.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Dispelling Donkey Myths

I am often confronted with strange and, sadly, common myths that surround donkeys, which can lead to mistreatment or abuse. Donkeys are amazing creatures, full of intelligence and charm, and need to be stripped of these preconceived notions in order for people to treat them properly.

Myth #1: Donkeys are stubborn. Heck, even I like to use the word stubborn when referring to my donkeys. It is funny and sometimes breaks the ice in conversation. As in "I own donkeys, so you can't be more stubborn than they are!" But truly, this is not the case, and I need to cut it out myself! Donkeys are perceived a stubborn by humans who cannot grasp how intelligent they are. Particularly horse people tend to get frustrated easily, since they are very used to how flighty and high energy horses are.

Donkeys and horses evolved in very different types of terrain. Horses evolved out of forests and onto plains where they could run and run in order to escape predators. Hence, their strong flight reflex. Donkeys evolved in arid, desert mountains. If a donkey spooked and ran off like a horse, it would fall and be taken out of the gene pool. Donkeys are much more likely to stop and think, a process often referred to as "baulking". Even the most popular Breyer model of a donkey, Brighty of the Grand Canyon, is sculpted as sitting down in his haunches, refusing to go (or maybe waking up from a  nap?).  I have found that, although some donkeys are higher energy and will run from danger, it is often not to the extent that a horse will, and they usually will stop at a safe distance and look back and decide what to do next.

So, although you can ask your donkey to move forward with a tool like a whip, the moment you overuse it or frighten them with it, they are likely to appear as if they totally are ignoring it. They aren't. They are worried and figuring it out. The bigger you get to try to get them to move at that point, the worse the baulking will get, and the more trust you will lose.

I always say: act like you have 5 minutes, it'll take you all day. Act like you've got all day, it'll take you five minutes.

Myth#2: Donkeys have super strength. Yes, for their size, donkeys are a bit stronger than horses. No, they cannot carry up to 50% of their weight. And even if they physically CAN, does not mean they should. Donkeys, like horses, have delicate tendons and joints, and overburdening them can cause lasting issues that are quite painful. 25% of the body weight of the donkey (this includes any tack like saddle etc, is the most weight that should be on a  donkey. Make that only 20% if packing, including pack gear. Also, what must be taken into consideration is the conformation of the donkey, their backs, legs, hooves, body condition etc. A well conditioned, well conformed donkey can probably carry a little bit more because they are built well and have good muscling. A long backed, cow hocked donkey with no muscling probably can't carry much at all. So, when evaluating donkeys for riding or packing or driving, do take into consideration both their weight/size and other things like conformation, age, conditioning etc.

Myth #3: Donkeys are herd guardians. Now, here's a sticky ball o' wax. Because as soon as I bring this up, ten people will contact me saying their donkey is the best guardian ever, and just killed a coyote the other day.  Donkeys are prey animals, not predators, which means that they are not hard wired to protect anything in the way, say, a dog is. Donkeys do have a very strong dislike for new, smaller, and carnivorous animals entering their areas, and, if they bond with a herd of sheep, may either alert or defend themselves and the others from an attack. However, this is not "fun" for the donkey, it is extremely stressful. While a livestock guardian dog may really enjoy the responsibilities of looking out for their herd or flock, a donkey is just being a donkey, and being on high alert for predators is extremely stressful to ANY prey animal.  Uneducated donkey owners may think their donkey is really peaceful and happy because donkeys are very stoic, and oftentimes don't show stress as clearly as a horse. But it is there. Also, donkeys often get harmed trying to protect themselves from stray dogs or coyotes or other large predators. Minis never are ok to leave as herd protectors, and even a mammoth can be taken down by a determined dog (two of mine were nearly gutted and killed by an uncontrolled pit bull, and amazingly survived). For every person I hear tell me their donkey is an excellent guardian, I have 5 more showing me photos of noses ripped to shreds, tendons bitten, ears torn off. Also, donkeys are really meant to be with other donkeys, not by themselves with a bunch of cows or sheep. So keeping them alone so that they will bond with another species isn't really in the donkey's best interest. Yes, sometimes it works and things are fine...until they are not.  My first donkey I was given because he was supposed to be guarding a flock of goats, and he picked one up by the neck and swung it around to play with it! The same playful and territorial tendencies that people rely on for their guardian donkey to keep predators away sometimes backfires, and newly born calves or sheep etc may also be put under attack. They are new and small and not part of the herd, in the donkey's mind. I have seen SO many donkeys up for sale because of them not working out as guardian animals having killed many of the livestock they were supposed to protect.  Another reason not to keep donkeys in with a herd of cattle or sheep, depending on the area and type of forage available, is that donkeys are desert dwellers with very thrifty digestive systems. They are not meant to eat lush grass and alfalfa, and will get obese and potentially founder, which is a life threatening condition. It's just not a good idea!! Have a fantastic guardian donkey? Great. I do hope it works out for you both. But I wouldn't do it.

Myth #4: Donkeys don't need the same medical care as horses/never get sick. Donkeys need everything a horse does, health wise! They need to have their hooves trimmed at least every 8 weeks (BY A DONKEY KNOWLEDGEABLE FARRIER--and those are rare) unless they self trim on rocky terrain. They need vaccines in the same dosage as horses, to be dewormed either on rotation or per your vet's guidance on a  fecal exam several times yearly. They need dental floats. Donkeys even have some health conditions that are mostly specific to donkeys that need to be watched out for, and their hooves need to be differently trimmed than a horse's. Remember earlier I said donkeys are stoic? It is VERY important to watch your donkeys' normal behavior so that you can sense when they are "off". They hide illness well, which is why people don't think they ever get sick. By the time they are showing symptoms, many times it has progressed pretty far or the donkey has suffered and passed away. Some of the illnesses that affect donkeys more often than horses are: Hoof issues like white line disease, abscessing, and founder, skin issues like rain rot, especially under thick winter coats (donkeys don't slick off water like a horse does, and it drips straight onto their skin--hence the need for shelter or a rain coat when it is really wet out), and obesity issues (from feeding them like a horse). There are many more. I have seen donkeys choke more often than horses on grain...perhaps that is just my experience though. I always wet any type of grains I give to my donkeys now. Donkeys in general usually do not need grain in their diet, I use it to put supplements in, and therefore they get very little, and only the low sugar, low starch, low energy grain. But back to the topic--donkeys do need medical care, and no, they are not always hardier than horses.

Myth #5: Donkeys are just pasture ornaments, they aren't good for anything. Oh, SO not true! Even little mini donkeys can be trained to drive fairly easily. We pack, ride, and drive our mammoth donkeys. They are wonderful trail companions, more like a dog than a horse in personality. They bond closely with their handlers and are very trusting once you earn it. They are super intelligent and can keep themselves and you out of harms way. People even show donkeys! Donkey seem to enjoy having a job. I spend much of my week traveling to different donkeys, training them and their owners to do whatever they would like to learn. I have found that people who actually invest time and money into training their donkeys don't rehome them...they keep them! So it has been my mission to educate, train, and help people enjoy getting out and about with their donkeys. An education, even if it is just being easily catchable, leading, tying, picking up feet, and loading in a trailer, is the best thing you can do for your donkey! Even if you can no longer keep that donkey, it'll have a better chance of finding a good, safe home if it has manners and training. Educate your donkeys...if you truly care for them.

I hope this list, although of course not complete, helps someone, somewhere, dispel a myth that could have brought harm to donkeys. What other myths do you hear regularly?

Saturday, November 5, 2016

What Does it Take to Own a Donkey?

Those of us who own and love donkeys, nay, perhaps obsess over donkeys often fall into thinking that EVERYONE should own a donkey! However, I am constantly reminded that no matter how much we think of these wonderful animals, not many people are truly set up or properly equipped to own one. I see it on a  daily basis almost. So, let's chat about it.

What sort of things must one be able to do/possess in order to care for donkeys appropriately? I know we have chatted before about physical objects like good fencing, clean water, appropriate low energy feed, housing etc. But what sorts of people do best owning donkeys?  What attributes are important in a  human caretaker of donkeys?

1. A sense of humor. I can't stress this enough. The ability to laugh at yourself and at your animal's antics is super important. Those of us who work with donkeys daily know that without the unique viewpoint that no matter what we think of ourselves as trainers or caretakers, that the donkeys will always find a way to befuddle, outsmart, and stymie our best tries.....we would be frustrated indeed. People who anger easily and are impatient should probably not own animals in general, but certainly not a donkey!

2. Respect for the animal. Donkeys are abused worldwide, in higher numbers and to a larger degree than any other domestic animal ON EARTH. Let that sink in a bit. Those of us who work in rescue totally understand this concept, and have heard it all: snide remarks about asses from every conceivable angle. Then, you get the cowboys who like to shock you in automotive stores by saying they pushed a donkey off of a cliff last week because you made a  previous comment about how donkeys are naturally protective of themselves and won't go near cliffs. Yes, they dragged the donkey off with a rope and told us about it, after killing it. If you think that donkeys are an object to be laughed at, you certainly shouldn't own one.  A little light humor can do a world of good (notice point number 1), but if you can't help but denigrate the species in order to get attention, then they aren't for you. The most abused animal in the world needs more allies, not people spreading misinformation about how "dumb", "stubborn", or "useless" donkeys are. Nothing could be further from the truth!

3. A sense of patience. A DEEP sense of patience.  Donkeys are deep thinkers and also can sense of a motive from a  mile away.  Training-wise, this means that you need to approach objectives with the least amount of urgency possible.  Once the donkey understands a concept, then it can be expected to be completed at a faster pace. If you don't have a lot of time to be still, to observe, to notice, and to reflect with your donkey, then a horse is a better fit for you. Donkeys are incredibly stoic, and really spending the time to know when your donkey is feeling good or bad can be vital to their health or life in a medical emergency. Many times, by the time a donkey is showing signs of poor health, it is too late. Spend time with your donkey, become friends. Know what is normal behavior for them.

4. An open minded willingness to learn. Those of us who truly love the world of equines also have a lifelong appreciation of learning. No one is ever the "best" horseman out there, just as no one is ever the "best" donkey trainer or caregiver. We can all always improve, and should be actively seeking as much information and ideas as possible in order to make our donkeys' lives better and hone our skills every time we work with our donkeys. The best praise you can get is when your donkey responds how you wish, willingly.

5. Good work ethic. If you don't have the time constantly to muck, to feed at appropriate intervals, to keep water tanks clean and full, to repair fence, to pick out hooves, to groom, to be there for the vet or make appointments regularly with the farrier, then you probably would do better with a goldfish than a donkey. Donkeys require daily care and attention---period. There's no day off. If you want to have days off from caring for your animals, you will need to find a good donkey sitter.

6. Caring. All of these attributes come down to a single word. To CARE. They cannot come second to your social life, your work, or even your health! They must be cared for just like a child---they come first. If you cannot properly care for your donkey, and you care about their well being, consider finding them an acceptable and safe home. Many rescues can help place donkeys into caring homes, even foster homes until an owner can get back on their feet health wise or financially. Be responsible for these wonderful beings who rely on you to care for them. Always.

Like all of my articles, this one is not meant to shame anyone. It is meant to be a mental checklist for those interested in the responsibility of taking on some of these wonderful animals. They are amazing beings who deserve to be treated with care, respect, patience, humor,  and open mindedness. They deserved to be well looked after.

Monday, October 31, 2016

New Donkey Owner Short FAQ

Note: There are many differing opinions out there, if you are really worried about something, find a donkey knowledgeable vet and ask them!! No one on facebook can replace the value of your vet's expertise!
This is not a complete list and should not be your only education when it comes to your donkey. This is only a cheat sheet for first time owners that I have compiled. If you are unsure, ASK YOUR VET!!
1. What is a good diet for my donkey(s)?
Everyone in the donkey world has strong opinions about feeding. To every rule there is an exception. If you are confused, or do not know if this is right for your donkey, CALL YOUR Donkey-Knowledgeable VET. Ask. You can also do Hay Testing and test your pasture/hay for sugars, protein etc and see if it is appropriate for your donkey. All donkeys, at different stages in their life, have different needs.
The GENERAL rule, if your donkey is on a maintenance diet (pasture pet) and is at a good weight already, is plain grass hay (no alfalfa), no mold, the stalkier the better. Straw is great for bedding, reducing mud, and your donkey will enjoy eating it too! Some people feed free choice,some feed multiple feedings, some use hay nets to slow down consumption. Donkeys have a very thrifty digestive system (being desert animals who can get nutrition from woody plants-hence why they eat your trees, barn, fence) and can get a lot of nutrition out of very little. For example, my mammoth donkeys (14hh, around 800 lbs)only eat around 10-12 lbs of hay each day, fed three times a day in small meals. Donkeys are not horses, and should not be fed like a horse. If your donkey lives with a horse who eats alfalfa, consider moving him or her into a different pen. When I look for hay, I look for the “best worst hay” out there. As in, I am getting the least nutritious, stalky, brownish hay that is also clean, mold free, and palatable. The way all equines digest food, they are meant to have food in their stomach 24/7. They naturally would be searching all day for small portions of feed, walking many miles. Obviously, to keep weight in check, it is not always possible to have them eat all day.We feed three small meals, but other alternatives are track grazing systems, grazing muzzles, hay nets with very small holes, and slow feeders.
Grazing: it depends on your pasture grass. In some areas, pasture grass is fine for donkeys. Where I live in Colorado, the grasses have so much sugar that I rarely allow turnout, and only at certain times of the year. Muzzles can be used to slow down eating. I prefer donkeys on dry lot,and to allow for perhaps an hour or two of grazing time to replace a meal or two for the day. Again, if you have a hard keeper or an older donkey that is NOT prone to laminitis, you may want more turnout. If your donkey has fat deposits...probably not the best idea!
Grain: In GENERAL(remember, with donkeys, one size does not fit all!), donkeys do not need grain. It is much too nutritious for them, full of sugars and carbs that cause health issues, including obesity and laminitis. Especially sweet feed (which I would never feed to a horse either!).You can find low sugar, low starch grains. Remember, donkeys are not supposed to be as filled out like a horse, they naturally have slopey hips and backs. Pregnant jennets, older donkeys, and sometimes foals or donkeys on a hard work regimen, sometimes need grain.
Water: Donkeys need 24/7 access to clean, unfrozen water. Donkeys are usually suspicious of new water containers, and may not drink at first until they get used to it.
Minerals/Salt: Donkeys need free choice access to a pure white salt block and a 12/12 mineral block, preferably without molasses if you can find it. They will lick and chew these to get the salt and minerals they need. You can also get free choice minerals in granulated or powder form,and that way it is easier for your donkey to get enough.
Treats: I prefer to use treats sparingly, and only for training purposes. Treats are awesome for training your donkey to catch/halter, step forward, go into trailers, and pick up feet. I will crunch horse treats into smaller bits so that my donkeys are not getting a lot of sugary treats. Donkeys enjoy carrots, apples, horse treats, oats, and may enjoy watermelon, pumpkin, and other interesting delicacies.
 Discuss with your vet if you think your donkey needs a different diet based on being too thin or (most commonly) too fat. Do NOT change your donkey's diet immediately, especially if he needs to lose weight. It can cause major health concerns. Consult your vet.
While an obese donkey can be slimmed down, it must be done with utmost care, under a veterinarian's watchful eye. They commonly will not lose all of the fat pads, but will slim down.
2. What do all these donkey terms mean?
Equine- any relative of the horse, which includes zebras, asses, mules, onagers etc.
Jack- Uncastrated male donkey, capable of breeding.
Jennet, Jenny-Female donkey
Gelding- Castrated male donkey, not capable of breeding. However, many geldings DO gothrough all the actions of breeding, including penetration!
Foal- Baby donkey,either sex
Colt- male,uncastrated baby donkey
Filly- female baby donkey
Heat- jennets go into sexual receptiveness on a regular cycle, especially in the summer, but sometimes also into the winter. Heats can cause interesting behavior, sometimes your jennet will be moody, sometimes sweeter, and usually will gape and snap her jaws, and urinate frequently. She may back up into males, even geldings, asking to be mounted. Some jennets will mount another jennet in heat.
Mule terms:
Mule- Female horse,bred to Jack, creates a mule, who is sterile
John/Horse Mule-Male mule, must be gelded, as they have the same behaviors as stallions, even though they are sterile.
Molly/Mare Mule-Female mule/mare mule
Sterility- Mules and Hinnys are generally sterile. There have been VERY rare exceptions. Mule studs must still be castrated, as they will have all of thestallion/jack behavior, despite being infertile.
Hinny-Female jennet bred to male horse (stallion), offspring is sterile
How long do donkeys live? A long time! Some donkeys can live into their fifties and sixties, although it is rare. If you need to, put your donkey in your will!
3. What type of shelter does my new donkey need?
Donkeys have different coats than horses, and are desert animals. Their coats do not slick off water like a horse's coat. Therefore, they DO need shelter, especially in the rain. A three sided shelter works well. Donkeys are notorious for standing out in the rain when shelter is nearby. You may need to find a way to keep your donkey in if the rain is very bad and it is cold out. They seem to do OK with cold temps and snow, so long as it doesn't melt onto their skin. Yes, you can blanket donkeys, but they need specialty sizes and shapes usually. I use Weatherbeeta blankets with the shoulder relief. There are other blankets that are awesome and adjustable for smaller donkeys out there. Many people feel strongly that it is not good to blanket donkeys, as they need their hair fluffed for insulation, among other things. You know your donkey, you make the choice. Ours only get blanketed if it will be both cold and raining hard, or if the wind is very strong and it is wet. We did blanket frequently our older donkey who really needed the extra warmth, as she wasn't capable of keeping body heat at her age. Healthy donkeys usually don't need blankets if they have adequate food, shelter, and water. Again, you can read many articles both for and against blanketing. Read up, make a choice that makes sense for you and where you live.
4. What sort of vet and farrier care does my new donkey need?
Donkeys need hoof trims from a farrier at least once every six weeks, just like a horse. This assumes regular growth and a soft paddock. If your donkey lives in an environment where his hooves are staying trim just from moving around, GREAT! That's awesome. Usually that isn't the case.Donkeys hooves are very different than horse hooves, so you will need to find a farrier knowledgeable about donkeys. Donkeys hooves aremore upright and a different shape than horses. Sometimes this is hard. There are actually a few great resources out there about trimming donkey hooves. Please be kind to your farrier and work with your donkey on picking up his feet. If your donkey is desperately in need of a trim but cannot be worked with, you can perhaps discuss with your vet some mild sedation.
The way I like to train donkeys to pick up feet (everyone has their own way that works for them, based on the personality of the animal) is to have one person by the donkey's head, holding the lead rope, always on the same side as the hoof lifter. That way, if the animal kicks, you can turn the animal towards you and away from the hoof lifter. I always make sure the donkey can yield his hind end both ways (look up “turnon the forehand”) before starting. Then, the handler, who has small treats, rewards any “good” behavior (first, being touched without kicking or moving, gradually moving to actually allowing the foot tobe lifted, then lifted for longer periods, the a rasp on the hoof,etc), shaping the donkey's behavior until she or she lifts feet well.Keep sessions short, easy, leave on a good note. If you cannot touch the leg at all, getting a cotton rope to lift the hoof at first can help. Make sure the rope can be released immediately if need be.
Many donkeys come to new owners with hoof issues, or hoof handling issues. Overfed donkeys commonly have laminitic changes. Laminitis is a very painful condition, also known as founder, where the blood chemistry of an animal that is fed too richly causes separation of the hoof wall from the coffin bone in the hoof...laminitis is a medical emergency and can cause you to have to put an animal down IF left untreated. Another things that donkeys are prone to is abscesses in their hooves from wet, unsanitary conditions. If you go out one day and your donkey looks like he can't put any weight at all on one leg, many times it is an abscess. Checking the hoof for heat is one major clue,as well as a raised digital pulse. Any condition where your donkey islimping badly (or not eating) is a reason to have the vet and/or farrier out.
Donkeys need their vaccines just like horses, in the same dosage as horses. Check with your vet about the schedule of vaccines used in your area. You may need to vaccinate more or less frequently depending on if your donkeys are exposed to more animals or fewer animals and places. You can do Titer tests at your vet's office to determine if your donkey REALLY needs a vaccine. Donkeys also need to be dewormed on a rotating (based on what parasites are likely in each stage of grow that what times of the year) schedule, also based on your area and what your vet suggests. Many have warned against and had bad experiences with the dewormer Quest, although some have used it with no problems.The main things SEEMS to be that Quest requires you to give an exact dosage, and too much can cause serious health issues. Dewormers are based on weight, so you must measure your donkey's weight before using dewormer. If you really want to know what your donkey needs for deworming, get a fecal sample tested by your vet (around $25) and see. It is worth doing so, as many parasites are getting resistant to the usual dewormers from overuse.
Donkeys DO need dental floats (teeth filed) like horses do. They can get hooked teeth, abscessed teeth, wave mouth etc. Check with your vet to determine how often your donkey needs to be floated. Donkey teeth grow continuously throughout their lives.
My main rule of thumb is that if there is a puncture wound, major bleeding,especially on lower limbs or around eyes, hoof concerns, raised temp,pulse, breathing, or if my donkey seems to not want to eat, looks listless, or in pain, I call the vet. I call the vet if there appears to be unusual discharge from any opening. I call the vet if there is major swelling, especially around a joint or on the face. Watch your donkey, spend time with him. Figure out what is normal for him, so that you can detect if something is wrong. Donkeys can be stoic. It is always worth finding out earlier rather than later if something is going wrong, it may save your donkey's life, and a lot of money and suffering!
5. What type of donkey is best for a beginner? Do I need two?
In GENERAL, jacks do not make good first time pets for donkey owners. There are many awesome, gentle jacks out there, and sometimes, especially with a green donkey owner, they can be a lot to handle, even dangerous. They are hormonal and act like it! If your jack isn't for breeding purposes, he will be happier, healthier (not trying to jump out of his pen to get at ladies etc), and easier to handle as a gelding. Gelding jacks can be done even in older donkeys, so long as the vet knows that castrating donkeys is different and requires extra steps to reduce loss of blood.
Jennets and geldings make great first time pets. That being said, finding one that is already easy to catch, halter, pick up feet, and handle is always going to be more fun than dealing with a training project! It might be tempting to buy or rescue an inexpensive donkey that needs training, but you may sign up for more than you want. Once you have learned about donkeys and how to work with them, then it is great to find a project!
Donkeys need a companion. They prefer and are happiest with other donkeys. They can get along with horses, mules, and sometimes other animals, but other donkeys are the best. Donkeys can sometimes be great with goats,sheep, and cows. Many times, especially with jacks or geldings, donkeys will attack, play rough with, or kill goats, sheep, lambs, chickens and calves. Be aware.
6. Can my donkey be a guardian over my other animals?
There are many myths surrounding donkeys—that they are of super-animal strength, that they never need vet care, and also that they all make great guardians.
Some donkeys, if they are large enough, strong enough, and have the drive, can make good guardians. Mostly, you are doing a disservice to your donkey by making him a guardian. Many donkeys will try and chase off coyotes,bears, wolves, etc. Many get terribly injured. Even a mammoth is no match for a determined pitt bull! Minis stand no chance. I personally would never use any donkey as a guard animal.
For every one photo of a donkey or mule attacking a coyote, there are ten of gruesome injuries sustained because of dog/wolf/bear attacks. I wouldn't take the risk.
7. What should I have in my first aid kit for my donkey?
Again, ask your vet. I have a list I like to have, but I also get extra meds from my vet to keep on hand for emergencies. Some vets will not supply these medications.
This is what I have(that I can think of):
Uniprim (powdered antibiotics)
Bute (NSAID for swelling and pain)
Banamine (Muscle relaxer for Colic)
Dermosedan (mild tranquilizer)
Lots of vet wrap
Sterile bandages andcotton bandages
Duct tape
Scissors, a knife
Sugar and Betadine to make Sugardine
Instant cold pack
A small length of rubber hose (to insert into nostril should your donk be bitten by a rattlesnake on the nose)
Hoof pick
Triple antibiotic ointment
Spray on Alushield
KY jelly (for thethermometer)
Udder Butter
SWAT (for flies in wounds)
A small baggie of my donkey's favorite grain, tasty treat. To put meds in.
A rubber bucket
Epsom Salts
Joint liniment
A trailer to get your donkey to an emergency vet (yes, this is important, and also to TRAIN your donkey to go into a trailer)
8. Can my donkey be trained? What can donkeys do? How much weight can they hold?
Yes, your donkey can be trained! Anytime you work with your donkey you are training him,either in a way you want, or don't want. Donkeys can be trained to ride, drive, pack, do tricks, the possibilities are endless. They just don't learn like a horse does. Donkeys evolved in arid,treacherous terrain, where bolting at a perceived threat would result in falling off a cliff and never breeding again. Horses evolved on plains, where running was an effective escape strategy. Therefore, a startled or alarmed donkey is more likely to baulk than run. This can be frustrating for those who have worked with horses and are used to startling their horse into doing what they want, then rewarding it. Donkeys, when pressure is applied, often simply stop and hunker down. Training donkeys takes patience, time, and intelligence. No shortcuts. They must trust and respect you in order to do what you want. Relationship takes time.
Donkeys can safely carry 20-25% of their weight. This is INCLUDING tack. If the weight is a very balanced rider, 25% including tack is appropriate. Packing, even a balanced load, no more than 20%.
How do you measure weight? There is no weight tape that is made for donkeys yet. Horse weight tapes are made for horse proportions. They can be used, but taken with a grain of salt. There are measurements that can be done that involve a formula (I have found this online). I tend to guesstimate fairly accurately based on what similar horses or ponies weigh. The only truly accurate way is to put them on a scale.
9. Is my donkey OK? He isn't shedding out.
Older donkeys may beprone to Cushings Disease, which does lead to an extra shaggy coat,requires medication, and is serious. An extra shaggy, course, or long coat can also be caused by worms.
Usually however, a shaggy coat is due to simply being a donkey. Our donkeys do not really shed out until midway through summer, then immediately start growing a new winter coat. It's a donkey thing.
10. Flies are really bugging my donkey, what can I do?
Donkeys seem thinner skinned when it comes to flies, especially on their legs! Before you buy EVERY ointment on the market, think about these options. SWAT can work, but needs to be cleaned an re-applied. Sox for Horses (can befound online) has Donkey Sox. These need to be occasionally pulled up, but work well. Also, stockings or tights with the toes cut off can work to protect legs. Fly spray can give some relief, but generally wears off quickly. If you find something better, let everyone know!!
Donkeys do usually need fly masks, and yes, you can find them with ears!
11. Why is my donkey doing that?
Head resting on you-Your donkey is claiming ownership and friendship with you.
Backing up slowly-Wants butt scratches.
Playing rough with other donkeys, wrestling to the ground, neck biting- That's donkey play!
Wiggling lips,stretching out neck when you scratch or groom him-he LOVES it!
Nibbling- NOT good. Do not allow. Can lead to biting.
Kicking, but not contacting you- a kick threat, NOT good. You need to work on respect with your donkey in your space.
Eating trees/barnwood- Donkeys love wood. It is tasty and they can get nutrition from it. If you don't want them to eat it, don't have it.
Not braying-Sometimes they are brayers, sometimes they are pretty quiet. If they are new to you, they may just be adjusting. They will bray eventually.
Rubbing rear on trees, barn etc, rubbing out hair- Could be many things but usually they are just itchy, could be a bit of fungus or parasites, but many donkeys get itchy spots when they are shedding especially.
Following you with ears laid far back, swishing tail-he is herding you. Not great. Maybe cute at first but could lead to dominance issues later. I do ground driving in my groundwork to instill that I drive my donkeys, they do not drive me.
Won't walk through water-That's a donkey thing. There could be monsters in there. Patience is key.
Jumped the fence without running- Donkeys can coon jump, where they clear fences much like a deer. They don't even need to run first. There are coon jumping competitions out there!
12. My donkey may be pregnant is she?
The only way to know is to have a vet do an ultrasound or rectal exam. Call your vet. You cannot tell by a photo.
13. What breed of donkey do I have?
While there are some breeds of donkeys (especially in the UK), in the US, we mostly categorize them by size. There are minis, standards and mammoths. 36 inches and under are minis, standards are anything between that and mammoths, which are 54/56 inches and over.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

The Cost of Owning Donkeys

It never fails that I hear or see people taking on donkeys with 1. absolutely no prior research or knowledge and 2. with no idea of how much donkeys cost to keep. Donkeys tend to be a little lower cost to keep compared to horses, and, depending on how you keep them and how careful you are with your setup, feed, etc, you may avoid some of the basic ailments. However, donkeys DO cost quite a bit to keep, and anyone looking at purchasing or adopting or rescuing must be aware before diving in.

Another thing to think about is donkeys can live up to 50 years or more if cared for well. You may need to put them in your will with a trust fund dedicated to them.

The scenario we see most is that someone with a kind heart rescues a neglected donkey from a bad situation, and soon realizes they are over their head and the donkey gets passed around at the best, or neglected more and sent to Mexico at the worst. In an effort to educate and inform new and potentially new donkey owners BEFORE taking on large animals with many expensive needs, here is a list of expenses you may encounter while owning a donkey. This is not a full list, mind you, and expenses vary widely in different regions.  I am going to approximate costs for the very basics-if you keep your donkeys on your own property. Boarding costs for those without property are also approximated.

Fence- varies widely by region and type. NOT cheap if well made and safe.
Three sided loafing shed- 1500-3000
Shed for Hay storage- 2000-10000 (higher end is for a very simple small pre built barn with no doors). You can tarp hay on pallets but it doesn't keep as well, and you will inevitably lose some to mold.
Water tank- 150
Water tank heater- 30-50
Salt and mineral blocks- must replace when licked down- 20
Blanket- 75-200
First aid kit-$150-400 depending on how fancy you want to get.
First vet visit- $40-100 call fee plus exam. All new animals should get a physical from a  donkey knowledgeable vet. That way your vet already knows your animals and when you have an emergency, they will have you on their radar.
First hoof trim- $30-55. Most new donkeys will need their hooves trimmed, especially if they haven't been taken very good care of before. The price may increase if the donkey's feet are not able to be handled, as you will have to get a sedative from the vet beforehand.
Castration-Many people end up rescuing jacks. They are basically stallions and do need to be castrated ASAP if in good enough health. Costs for this vary widely. Remember, there may be costs afterwards for any complications if the vet needs to come back.

Hay-depends on region. Can be anywhere from $3 a bale to $20 a bale depending on where you live. Your costs will have to do with how large your donkey is and what they need to eat. They eat more in the winter to keep them warm. Our mammoth donkeys each eat around 12-15 lbs per day. Times that by four=60 lbs a day. A BIG small bale is around 60 lbs.  So, assuming I have heavy bales (which I usually don't) that's 30 bales a month at $7 a bale. That's $210 a month. On the low end.
Grain-most donkeys don't really need any grain, but here we use a little to put supplements in. $25 per month.
Farrier- $30-55 at least bimonthly, sometimes monthly.
Water and electric- depends on your region and how big your donkeys are and how much they drink. Electric costs, especially int he winter for heating tanks, can get very high. Here, we pay around an extra $70 a month for electric in the winter.
Bedding/shavings- $30 per bag. One bag may last a few days. If you can find shavings in bulk, it costs less. Some people use bedding and some do not.
Dewormer- Dewormer should be done in accordance to fecal exams done by your vet a few times a year ($25 per fecal plus vet visit fees). Individual dewormers cost around $10 each.
Seasonal things--fly spray-$25 per spray bottle.

If you board your donkeys- $100-300 per donkey per month depending on the facilities and care. For self care or pasture board, costs may be lower. $100-300 costs approximated include hay/grain. Most boarding facilities require you provide salt/mineral licks and anything else besides hay/paddock/shelter/water/maybe grain. Self care board means you keep your equine at the facility but you do all of the care/feeding/maybe even get your own hay.

Vet Costs:
I have had to fork over over $1200 within a few days for vet costs before. Some months, no vet costs occur. But a prolonged colic or serious injury or illness can rack up vet bills like you wouldn't imagine. Donkeys are live animals who feel pain and who get steadily worse if care is put off. They aren't like a car that you can put up on blocks until you can find the part.  If you can't have at least a few hundred dollars stashed away and a viable line of credit, donkeys probably aren't a good idea. When they need help they need it YESTERDAY, and waiting is not a good idea. By the time donkeys show that they are ill, many times they are very ill. They tend to hide illnesses. It is a hard thing to think about, but having the money for euthanasia is super important as well. Euthanasia costs vary widely as well but can be as low as $300 and range up much much higher than that!  There is nothing worse than having your donkey get ill and not having the money to help ease their passing in a  humane way. No matter how hard it is to think about, you also need to know how you will dispose of the body safely. Backhoes aren't cheap, even for hire, and other means of disposal can be very costly, hundreds of dollars or more.

For those who rescue pregnant donkeys, pre-birth exams are important and extra hay and grain may be needed before and after birth for the dam. In case of any complications, having a good equine vet on call who already knows the donkey is super important. Having a good, safe foaling area with straw bedding, is important as well.

Training costs:
I only know what we charge, but if you want a professional trainer to come out once a week to give you and your donkey lessons on groundwork, riding, driving, packing etc, we charge around $35 per hour, more if the client is farther away and requires more driving.

While this list is not in any way a total cost list, as different people have very different requirements and different regions have different costs. It is just a good starting place to look at what donkeys can cost and what to plan for. Having money stashed away is super important both for your peace of mind and also so that you cancer for your donkeys in a timely fashion.   Rescuing a donkey is only helpful to that animal if you can afford their health care. We have taken on too many rescues at once and ended up in over our heads before. It isn't a good situation. Now, we stick to only doing what we can reasonably afford.

Hopefully this list helps some prospective or new donkey owners understand what goes into caring for donkeys.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Donkey Behavior Part 2- Five Ways Donkeys Differ from Horses

Since having written the article about how donkey behavior is different than horse behavior, I have come up with a few more ways in which it differs. As I stated before, there are probably a million of these, but I will address the ones I can think of while I do:

1. Dogs/small animals. Although some horses will attack or are scared of dogs, donkeys can take it to a whole other level. Donkeys do not differentiate (usually) between dogs and a pack of coyotes. To them, they are predators. You will see photos and stories of people whose donkeys and dogs are best friends. Generally, that's because they were raised together. There are rare exceptions. However, I often see videos of people who have let their dogs either near or in with their donkeys, and you can hear that person laughing as their obviously murderously irritated donkey stomps, growls, pins its ears, and chases the dog. "Oh, they are PLAYING!" inevitably is said. NO. No they are not. That donkey wants to kill that dog, and will if it gets the chance. Donkeys all have different personalities, experiences, and tolerance levels. But we do not allow dogs in with our donkeys, and we do ask of people on the trail to leash their dogs before we pass. I often can feel my riding donkeys tense up and get ready for action when passing dogs. I have had to save dogs out of our paddocks, from people who didn't care enough to make sure their dogs stayed home. Donkeys WILL harm dogs, and if the dogs are big enough, they can truly harm donkeys as well. We have had first hand experience with this with an uncontrolled pitt bull who nearly disemboweled two of our mammoths. Hence, our NO DOGS NEAR DONKEYS policy here at Foghorn Farm.

Donkeys have also been known to get territorial around smaller animals like goats, sheep, calves, name it. This is why a truly safe guardian donkey is very rare. An owner may have a donkey for years without incident, and then suddenly that donkey takes out an alpaca, or calf, or lamb. I got my first donkey Charlie because he had swung a goat round by the neck! He made a lovely riding donkey, but obviously is very protective of his space. To us, it just isn't worth it to keep donkeys in with smaller livestock. Period. If you have had success, thats great, but it is always taking a chance.

2. Coon Jumping. Donkeys do not need to run up to a jump to get enough momentum to carry them over it. They generally "coon jump", which is a jump that is almost exactly like watching a deer walk up to a tall fence, stop, rear back, and leap over. In fact, donkeys and mules are so good at coon jumping, that there are coon jumping competitions out there! What does this mean in terms of working with your donkey? First, if you have a riding donkey, be aware that your donkey may stop before a jump and pop it. If you get into 2 point, you will potentially end up on their neck. While you can teach a donkey to jump like a horse (and therefore could use 2 point), the natural way of going for a donkey is to coon jump. When crossing water where I think my donkey may jump it with me on (because before they walk calmly through water they often times coon jump it as high as they can), I hunker down, hold onto my cantle, and get ready for the POP. For those who trail hike/pack their smaller donkeys, walking to the other side of the water and waiting for the donkey to cross can involve stepping out of the way as soon as they take their leap (mine have always wanted to end up in my lap). Over time and with practice, donkeys will learn to step through water. Some take a lot longer than others. I have found that heading out on new trails, my donkeys tend to coon jump streams going out, and walk nicely through going back, due to the fact that they are now familiar with the stream and also more tired. What else does the ability to coon jump affect? Fencing. If your fence isn't high enough, and you have a talented springy donkey, you may need to get creative in housing! And, have forgiving neighbors when that donkey goes on walkabout.

3.  Possessive about Poop. Not all donkeys get possessive about poop, but some do. Donkeys, especially jacks, use manure to mark their territory. I have never seen  jennets do this, but there are probably jennets out there who do this as well. I have seen  multiple geldings get upset over mucking time. They may lay back ears flat against their heads, snake their neck and shake their head back and forth, kick at the air, chase the wheel barrow, and generally have a big fit over manure removal. If your donkey does this, either tie them while mucking (good tying practice!) or put them in a different paddock while you clean. You can also muck with a long whip and create defensible space around you as you muck, practicing asking your donkey to back off.  Over time, they will get more used to you carting away their manure, but some remain upset by it. If you want to think of it in human terms, you have just pulled up all of their property marking fence and carted it off! The main thing is to not let the donkey control mucking time, nor harm you. Some don't show much outward annoyance, but will walk up to the wheel barrow once it is full and slowly...ever so slowly, tip it over. These donkeys may just have a good sense of humor though!

4. Head Resting. Although horses do occasionally head rest on each other, donkeys take it a little farther. Donkeys use head resting more and, to them, it seems to imply strong affection/possession. Donkeys will head rest on herd members they claim as their friend, to bond with them. They will also do this with human handlers if they trust and love them enough. Getting a donkey "hug" is one of the best feelings in the world! If your donkey wants to hug you, let them! They may rest it there just for a second, or close their eyes and lean (heavily) on you.

5. Browsing. Donkeys, unlike horses, evolved in arid areas where lush grass wasn't available. This means that not only do they get obese and ill on lush, rich grass, but they have very thrifty digestive systems, capable of using more of the nutrients out of the roughage they eat. Donkeys can even get good nutrients from woody materials like tree bark and bushes/scrub. Because of this, owners must be careful to keep donkeys in places where there are no trees or bushes that are poisonous to equines. Owners must also expect ANYTHING made of wood to be eaten. ANYTHING. This includes the barn, barn doors, name it. Most No Chew products don't work at all on donkeys. I have had success fly spraying the most chewed spots, some people have had success with tar (although I personally wouldn't want my donkey ingesting tar in large amounts), one person even said rubbing dog dung on the badly chewed spots will stop chewing! Whatever works, do it! However, the best cure is prevention. Get a metal barn/fence. And if you can, find non poisonous woody material like branches to toss into your donkey's area to chew on....they enjoy it, and it keeps their minds at work. Using slow feed nets/bags so that your donkey's meals last longer will also help prevent boredom and chewing.

Have any other good donkey behaviors that differ from horse behaviors that you would like us to touch on? Let us know!

Monday, October 10, 2016

Why Donkeys?

Every week it seems, I get asked if I own horses. Well, I do dress like a cowgirl. I work with horses as a part of my living as a riding instructor. My answer is always a lot longer than the usual, coupled with photos on my phone, as people look at me sideways, imagining me on the typical tiny burro. I answer, "No, mammoths!" and search through my photos to find one that illustrates their true size. People are amazed. They had no idea. Then comes the other inevitable question: Why Donkeys?

Well, there's a complex answer to that. Part of the reason I personally got into donkeys exclusively instead of horses has to do with a horse breaking my heart and the donkeys healing it. However, the long and the short of it is that donkeys are AMAZING. Here's why:

1. They are far more intelligent than horses. I'm not saying that to hurt horse people. I adore horses. However, donkeys are true thinkers. I have rarely met a horse that is truly as deep a thinker as a donkey is. They exist, but are rare. Are horses easier to handle and ride? Usually. Are they speedier? Absolutely. However, they tend to use the thinking side of their brain a bit less, and take more repetition in training to learn something that a  donkey can learn very quickly. The problem is, that donkeys can learn "bad" things just as easily as "good" things, and might not always have the same goals as you. Unless you can align their goals to your goals, you will not accomplish much, and the typical negative reinforcement can only take you so far.  Hence why horse trainers often refuse to take on donkeys or mules. Donkeys can also learn from watching a human perform tasks much easier than a horse. For instance, they can watch how you unclip a gate, and then do it the same way. They can watch you perform training on another donkey, and then do it without being taught. They can also take into their own hooves your training...for instance, learning to happily lead a horse around by the lead rope. Donkeys have a much stronger sense of self preservation as well, so if I am riding and the donkey ends up in a bad situation, he or she is more likely to keep us both safe, rather than struggle and get hurt or run off. I have had donkeys get themselves into predicaments  (when no one was around) that a horse would have killed itself over, and those donkeys just waited for help and snoozed, because struggling and harming themselves would have been unwise and honestly too much work. Saved me heartache for sure!

2. Donkeys are LOVING. I'm not saying horses aren't, but if you are a horse person and have never felt the true love and trust from a donkey....well....then you wouldn't understand (and definitely need some donkeys in your life!). All donkey owners will tell you that they love their horses...but there's something about those donkeys that just fills their heart! Donkeys, if they have bonded with you (they bond to you more like a dog than a horse) are so affectionate! Mine will even stop eating to come over and get snuggled. Donkeys even do what is called "head resting" or a "donkey hug" where they place their head over your shoulder or on your chest, as far up as they can, and pull you in. They do this to assert that you are THEIRS. It is an indescribable feeling to be hugged by a  donkey. They will stay there a long time, close their eyes, and just BE with you. See photo above.

3. For me, having mammoth riding donkeys is a blessing, because I have bad knees and hips. Donkeys are built narrow (if they aren't obese) and have very little side to side movement. So they do not hurt my hip or knees on trail rides. They are generally smooth to ride, and you can even find gaited donkeys.

4. Donkeys eat less than a horse. I can feed at least two mammoth riding donkeys on what one large horse eats a day. So, you know, I can have more donkeys!! Hurray for me! Donkeys are like chips, you truly can't have just one....or two....or three....

5. Those EARS. Donkeys have such amazingly expressive, soft, and wonderful ears. Ours all love the insides rubbed, deep. In the winter, I call them my Rocky Mountain Hand Warmers. I can fit almost half my arm, including my hand in there! The donkeys lower their heads, roll their eyes, twitch their eyebrows, and drop their lower lip, sometimes drooling. Oftentimes they walk up to me and tilt their head to invite me for an ear rub. Who wouldn't love that?!

6. Their noises. Not everyone loves a big donkey bray....and I admit there are times early in the morning when I would like to tell them to take a hike. However, donkeys make some of the coolest noises of any animal. Did you know that the dragon roar from the Lord of The Rings movies was a distorted mammoth jack bray? Donkeys also wuffle, snort, groan, sigh (LOUDLY), sometimes make a purring noise, squeak, huff and blow. They are so expressive in their nosies, both quiet and loud alike, that they are fascinating to listen to. Although my favorite thing a donkey does would probably be when they wind up for a big long bray, and as they bray, they fart with every explosion of air. That makes me laugh...way too much for a grown woman!

7. Their immensely soulful eyes. I love horse eyes, they are beautiful. But there's something truly wise about the way a donkey's deep-set eyes perceive the world.  The deeper the eyes, and the bigger the brow, the more intellectual they seem. Their expressions always start in the eyes, and there is something so intelligent and ancient about them, that I get caught up. You can be quiet with them, and just spend time. You donkey owners know what I mean!

8. Donkeys make you take things slower. The thing about donkeys is that they operate on their own timetable. And they make you do that as well. In our fast-paced world, slowing down is a wonderful thing. Donkeys are slow, deliberate, and take their time making decisions that are right for them. We could all learn a lot from donkeys.

9. Because of all of the reasons listed above, donkeys make for fantASStic therapists. They humble you when you need to be humbled, they raise you up when you are down, and they slow you down when you are out of control in this breakneck world.

There are probably a million more reasons why we choose to have donkeys in our lives. Share yours with us! We would love to hear.

4 Ways Donkey Behavior Differs from Horse Behavior

In order to successfully train donkeys, one must not only look at how they behave on their own and in a herd setting, but also the energy with which they express themselves. Emulating this energy, timing, and behavior so that our donkeys understand what we want, and then using it to our advantage in training these incredibly smart equines is crucial to success.

Observing our donkeys is super important, because not only does it give us clues to their personalities and how best to train them, but having a baseline for behaviors, especially at feeding time, can help us identify when an animal is "off" and may need medical help. Many times donkeys do not show that they are ill until hey are VERY ill, but if you are sensitive enough to their baseline behaviors and energy, then you will be able to catch illnesses sooner. A very sensitive donkey owner can just feel that something isn't quite right long before there are significant behavior changes. Cultivating this sensitivity can mean the difference between a serious issue and one caught in the nick of time!

Some of the things (definitely not all, as there is a whole science of the equid ethogram, and to research and properly explain all of the donkey behaviors would take a novel) that differ between horses and donkeys, that we feel are important to know for training/medical purposes are:

1. Sexual behavior: Jennets, like mares, go into "heat" or estrus after sexual maturity every 21-28 days, and can stay in heat up to 10 days. Unlike many mares, we have seen our jennets continue to cycle all throughout the winter, never going into winter anestrus, like most horses do. The most obvious difference is that jennets do something called "jawing" when they go into heat. They will squat and urinate frequently, like a mare, but also make some pretty awful noises and snap their jaws open and shut, ears laid back. First time donkey owners may be surprised by this.

Jennets will also mount one another when in heat, with the receptive jennet on the bottom. Gelded males can and will compete the sexual act with jennets, including ejaculation, although here are no spermatozoa to create a pregnancy. For that reason, we have separated our herds into two, as all males can have harmful bacteria on their penises which can cause uterine infections. Gelded horses do sometimes complete the sexual act, especially if they have been gelded late, however, it is not nearly as common.

2. Flight/Fight/ Freeze behavior. Horses evolved on the plains, where if spooked by danger, they could run and run and run to flee. Horse trainers take advantage of that fact to get the forward motion needed for movements related to riding. Donkey trainers don't have that advantage, or if so, not nearly to that degree. Donkeys evolved in mountainous regions where that type of response may take you out of the gene pool. Donkeys can and will flee danger, especially if there is room to, however, their flight response is no as finely honed as their horse relatives. Donkeys, when faced with something potentially frightening or confusing, may "baulk"--stop, stare, and analyze. Adding more pressure to the situation (like a whip or loud voice) may make your donkey freeze and shut down. You can see them retract behind their eyes. Abused donkeys who have learned that the only way out of a situation is to run, may act more like a horse. They may also find a corner to hunker down in and present their rump, so that they can be sure to defend themselves while keeping their head and neck safe. Because of the baulking behavior, and the way that donkeys will think their way out of a situation, certain training methods and timing that usually works for horses may not be effective at all on donkeys. For example, it can be VERY effective to train donkeys to come into a trailer by half hitching their lead rope to something sturdy inside, making it so that they cannot back away, and reward them profusely if they take a step forward. (Would like to interject here that probably the BEST method of trailer training donkeys is to start out by having a well chocked trailer openly available in their paddock that the donkey can chose to go into, and be fed in on a regular basis). A horse, finding themselves stuck, many times will harm themselves significantly out of terror. Donkeys, however, think through the problem, and come up with their own solution. It takes patience on the part of the handler, however, if it is the donkey's idea ultimately, they will learn it better. They will hang on the end of the rope for a good long while, and may even try things like jumping from side to side , sitting down, and laying down, but are not likely to harm themselves, and will eventually realize the logical solution is to step forward, especially if promptly rewarded with something tasty when they do. If you use the horse method of lunging a donkey into a trailer, many times the donkey will baulk at the urgency of the request (and perhaps also because it appears from their perspective as if you are not willing to go in the trailer first, and if you are not, why should they), although with certain animals it does work well. Donkeys, like horses, have individual personalities and each may respond differently to different training tools, timing, and methods.

3. Ears back. Donkeys are super expressive with their ears, and there could be books written just about how they use their ears to communicate. However, let's focus on "ears back". Ears back in donkeys does not always mean "I'm angry" or "leave my space". Donkeys do use ears back to signify "leave this space", but that is not it's only meaning. In fact, donkeys use ears back to signify many things. Especially in young donkeys, it can mean "I'm playful! Let's wrestle". I have been asked by more than a few first time donkeys owners why their donkey is following them around, making a menacing face. Usually, this gesture signifies playfulness. Should your donkey play with you? Probably not. They are way heavier and stronger. A sharp "NO" with stomp of your foot will usually be enough to dissuade them, at least momentarily. If this behavior is allowed to go on, the owner may have to escalate and use a whip to sharply rap the donkey on the upper leg or shoulder along with the "NO".  If you watch your donkeys, the dominant one will often lay back its ears and snake its neck down, biting at the less dominant donkey's hocks or stifles, driving them from behind. The energy is different when the donkey is showing dominance as opposed to asking for play or for a game of chase. My donkey Charlie, who has always been a playful character, will still follow me around with ears flat back and neck down, especially if I have the wheelbarrow. He finds it highly entertaining, and somewhat offensive if I wheel it away from him.

4. Water. All equines have issues perceiving the depth of water, and are usually reluctant to go in. Horses, however, are more easily persuaded, and some even enjoy rolling around in ponds if they are available to them. With donkeys, think African watering hole with alligators in it. That water is terrifying! This can extend even to their drinking water and tanks they have known for a long time. They might circle it, back away, walk up to it, reach out as for as they can without actually touching it or stepping forward, until finally reluctantly drinking. If you plan to take your donkeys somewhere new overnight, bring a watering container and water from the previous pace that they already will drink from, or you amy have a heck of a time getting them to drink. Getting donkeys to step through water can be a real challenge, and many times the first step is a huge "coon jump" over the offending puddle. Be prepared! Acclimate your donkeys slowly to going through water, do not expect them to go through something larger until they have mastered something much smaller. Be  very very very patient and reward profusely when they manage it. The first few times, it may take more than an hour. Be prepared. Some may surprise you and do great, but they are in the minority.

There are many many many more ways in which donkeys differ from horses in their behavior, thinking, intelligence as well as medically. What are some of the differences you have seen? The more you observe, the more able you will be to communicate well with your donkeys!