Apart from being cute, donkeys are intelligent, playful and friendly. They are tolerant and placid, but they are also cautious, and this can come across as being stubborn.
What are their uses?
- Donkeys can be used for children to ride, although their intelligence may mean they take command of children, so they need the authority of an adult to guide them.
- They make good harness animals and can be useful for pulling or carrying light loads around the farm, but don’t ask them to carry loads of over 60 kg.
- Usually, they are just kept as cute and entertaining paddock ornaments!
Do they need the company of other donkeys?
- Donkeys love company, especially of their own kind. The next best thing is a horse of pony, and failing that a cow or goat, or even sheep.
- They can become very close to their companion, and will be distressed if separated.
Do they need shelter?
- Donkeys are not very waterproof, and they really appreciate a field shelter where they can keep dry in wet weather.
- They grow a thick winter coat, so covers are generally not necessary if they have covered shelter.
- Donkeys thrive on unimproved pasture with a lot of roughage.
- Because they digest food more efficiently than horses and ponies, they don’t need as much feed in terms of quantity or quality.
- This means they should be kept on relatively poor pasture with access to a little hay or straw, and you may well have to ignore their inevitable requests for more food!
- Over-fed donkeys quickly become fat, especially if they are over 3 or 4 years of age.
- They lay down hard rolls of fat along the top line of the neck, body and rump.
- If they get to this stage there many associated health problems, and it is very difficult to slim them down.
- Because donkeys are greedy, they can damage trees and shrubs, and remember that some plants like rhododendron are poisonous.
Donkeys must have access to fresh drinking water at all times.
How long do they live?
Owning a donkey means a long commitment – they can live for 40 years or more.
How much space donkeys need?
- Donkeys don’t need a lot of paddock space as long as they get a little exercise each day.
- Most types of pasture land will support at least two or three donkeys per acre.
- When donkeys are on soft pasture their hooves become overgrown, because there is no natural wear.
- Trimming by an expert, every 6 to 8 weeks, keeps the hooves in good order.
- Overgrown hooves become long, narrow and curled up at the toe.
- The heel drops and abnormal weight-bearing exacerbates the problem, leading to distorted feet that are very difficult to deal with.
- It takes the attentions of an expert to restore distorted hooves to good shape.
- Donkeys benefit from dental work especially as they get older and sharp edges develop on their cheek teeth.
- An expert such as a veterinarian or horse dentist can file down the sharp edges on cheek teeth, and once a year is generally sufficient.
- For donkeys as for all livestock, worm control is important, and this means regular faecal worm egg counts and strategic drenching with an effective worming paste.
- With your vet’s help, it’s well worth devising an integrated and cost-effective worming programme.
- Picking up donkey poo helps control worms, and it is a lot nicer for your donkeys to have cleaner paddocks for grazing.
Jacks, geldings and jennies
- Unless they are to be used for breeding, male donkeys are best castrated (gelded) because entire males (jacks) don’t make good pets. They can be very aggressive.
- Both female donkeys (jennies) and geldings make excellent pets.
- Female donkeys are usually more expensive because of their breeding potential.
Donkeys with bulls?
- Unfortunately jack (entire male) donkeys are occasionally run with bulls because of their reputation as peace-keepers. They break up fights. They seem to have no fear and will kick and bite to separate bulls. There are a few particularly misguided people who run jennies and gelding donkeys with bulls for the same reason.
- Don’t be tempted to use donkeys in this way because:
- Bulls are generally run on abundant pasture and this is not good for donkeys. It will cause them to become obese with all the associated health problems.
- Jennies and geldings are not nearly as good at peace-keeping as jacks and they are more likely to be injured by aggressive bulls.