There's nothing quite as special as a donkey, whatever its size or age. They are man's best friend (whoever said it's a dog was off base), and are pretty protective of sheep too when dogs and coyotes come around. A lot of people get a donkey for their kid's first mount, as the donkey is a lot quieter than a horse or mule (think about it,,, Mary didn't ride an Arabian in her delicate condition). A true confidence builder, the donkey's gentle nature allows kids to gain confidence to graduate to a horse or mule if they choose.
There are several types of donkeys. People use lighter, more active donkeys for riding. Larger donkeys of a quieter nature are used for raising good riding and draft mules as well as other jackstock. Donkeys don�t require as much or as high quality food as horses.
A female donkey is called a jenny or a jennet. If a jack (male donkey) is mated with a mare (female horse), the animal that is born is a mule. A cross between a female donkey and a stallion (male horse) is called a hinny. Small donkeys called burros are often used as pack animals because they are sure-footed.
Donkeys are good at halter breaking young calves (polled or dehorned) and horses. The donkey wears a collar that is connected to the halter of the animal that is being taught to lead. The animals are then turned loose in an enclosure, always under supervision. Where the donkey wants to go, it will go. The colt or calf has no option but to follow. This way the donkey is the bad guy breaking it to lead, not you. See the picture at the bottom of the page of a donkey in action!
A single donkey, usually a jennet, sometimes a gelding (jacks rarely work because they can be too aggressive with lambs) is put in with the sheep and goes through a bonding stage. When it has bonded with the sheep, it will protect them against fox, coyote and dogs. When the donkey hears a strange sound it will alert the flock to danger. Then the donkey will chase and often trample the predator.
These twins sired by Henry, out of a Jen Jack daughter were pretty rare. They both survived and matured to 14:2 hands out of parents 56" and 54". They are now used as a driving team and packing.
Tootsie, owned by MDMA member Reggie Benson, is out of a spotted jennet and sired by Gabriel, the black jack pictured below. This picture would melt a mother-in-law's heart, wouldn't it?
A few yearling jennets enjoying each other's company.
Gabriel was one of the best riding donkeys around. He is the sire of Tootsie, above, and of Gary Wagenaar's spotted jennet "Tulip", as well as Deb Maage's mules.
Donkeys need more hoof care than horses or mules. Our pastures around here aren't like a rocky, sandy desert to keep them worn down. Usually in small or soft pastures, their hooves grow fast and don't wear down or break off, calling for regular trimming. In the larger picture above, notice the pile of hoof trimmings already cut off before I went to get a camera! The close-up of the back hoof in the upper left shows that after much trimming, there's still a long ways to go. I've been trimming donkey hooves for nearly 30 years, and have found that their sole drops in a way a horse or mule doesn't. You are often able to cut away until the hoof is in a normal shape, as the bottom left picture indicates. The jennet didn't hardly know how to walk with proper trimming, and I'm sure it was a strain on her muscles and tendons, but a lot better for her joints and her general well being to be trimmed instead of ignored longer. I hope this jennet is getting regular hoof care since this trimming. Her front hooves were pretty twisted, but with regular trimming, they, too will straighten out.
Here's the halter-breaking donkey, tied to the colt with quick-release snaps. Often people use a collar on the donkey instead of a halter. With that the donkey has a little more pulling power. A short strap between the two lessens the chance of getting a leg over it while eating. Photo courtesy Gary Wagenaar.