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!

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