Purchasing Your First Donkey
If you are anything like my husband and I are, you saw a donkey one day and at that exact moment you decided that you had to have one. For us that day has morphed into a breeding program with an average of 40 donkeys residing at our farm. Your future donkey life might look a little different but no matter if you are looking for a couple donkeys as pets or to establish a breeding program many considerations are the same. We learned along the way by visiting breeders, research and by taking care of our own donkeys. We often get asked many of the same questions when someone inquires about donkeys so I decided to put this all in a post.
Check Local Zoning
The very first thing you want to check is your local zoning to be sure you are allowed to have donkeys. Zoning regulations vary considerably from town to town and in different parts of the country. We are based in Stafford Springs, CT which is rural by Connecticut standards. In our area most towns require a minimum of 2 acres to have 1 horse (or donkey) and so much acreage per additional animal. You need to ask your zoning official. Also check regulations for setbacks for sheds and manure.
How Much Space Do They Need?
You will need a space for at least 2 donkeys because donkeys need a companion to lead a happy life. A donkey can be a great companion for a horse too, so a donkey and a horse would be fine. You will find others who don't agree and believe the donkey is best with another donkey. Either way they will need enough space to run around to get exercise. It should be safely and securely fenced and have a shelter. The area does not need to have grass. We have different areas where some are dry lots (no grass) and some are grassy. An area as small as a 1/4 acre would be fine for a pair of donkeys. Please see another article we have on setting up your farm for your new donkeys.
From a Breeder or Rescue?
We currently breed miniature donkeys but have also been a satellite for Peaceful Valley Donkey Rescue in the past. Many people want to know if they should buy from a breeder or go with a rescue. Much depends on what you want to do with the donkeys. If you are looking for pets rescue can be a very rewarding way to go. It is such a wonderful feeling to provide love and a great home for donkeys that might have had a rough start in life. We took in 4 feral mini donkeys from PVDR a few years ago in a shipment with other more socialized donkeys. These 4 would
bolt to the other side of the pen when we walked though the gate. They weren't mean, but they were scared. After 4 months of work and a lot of patience from our volunteers just sitting in the pen with them they all came around and were placed in wonderful homes. It is possible to do this, but it isn't for everyone. I would not want someone without any horse or donkey experience to take on a donkey that is feral. It is also a terrible situation for someone with children. This is not to say that donkeys obtained through rescues are all feral. We received many donkeys from PVDR that were great with first time owners. I also love the work that Ann and Jeff Firestone do at www.saveyourassrescue.org in New Hampshire. Ann often takes in donkeys locally that may have been surrenders and makes sure they are socialized before they are adopted. She sometimes has miniature donkeys available too. PVDR generally has standard donkeys available for adoption.
Health concerns are another consideration. If you are only going to have these 2 new donkeys and have no other equine are at your farm health issues are sometimes easier to manage. If you do have other equine it is best to quarantine any new animal that is introduced. This is not something we gave much thought too when we were first shopping for and purchasing donkeys. If you do have other equine already, it just takes one situation of a disease coming in from a new donkey or horse and it is a hard lesson learned.
Rescue organizations help so many animals and the people who dedicate their lives to it have the biggest hearts. Unfortunately it is unavoidable to not have some level of disease and health issues when so many animals from different locations converge at a rescue. Much of it can be managed and is no big deal but there is a risk. The same could be said of a breeder but reputable breeders are typically not introducing animals with unknown backgrounds with any frequency. We keep our herd closed. Any new donkey is quarantined for a minimum of 2 weeks and all donkeys are vaccinated. This is not a reason to NOT get a donkey from a rescue, just a consideration.
The other piece to rescue is that the donkeys are sometimes in need of socialization and training on picking up their hooves and ground manners. Many have unknown backgrounds. This can be intimidated for some, especially if it is a full grown donkey. Foals are a little easier because it is possible to hold on to their foot even when they are squirming. You really need to be careful and know how to safely teach a full grown donkey. We have found that folks who have experience with horses and feel comfortable around them usually have no trouble working with a rescue donkey that just needs a little training.
If you are on social media at all you will see many donkeys available at auctions and kill pens. Some are legitimate, but extreme care must be taken when taking in a donkey from auction. I'm not saying it can't be done, but there could be health and behavioral issues. Many times jacks are available and they are not suitable as pets. They can be dangerous and will not lead a happy and content life if they cannot breed. I'll talk more about this later.
Rescue is often a less expensive option initially compared to purchasing a registered donkey from a breeder. If the rescued donkey requires medical attention or castration that cost needs to be added back in.
At one point I seriously contemplated whether or not we should be breeding donkeys after we received some hateful reactions to a donkey birth video we posted on Facebook. The vast majority of comments were great and people really appreciated us sharing this video. Some other people were finding fault with us because we were breeding donkeys. They believed that rescue should be the only option and that there are enough animals needing homes in the world. Breeders should not be adding to the population. After a lot of thought, here is what I came up with.
The breeders we know have done much more than the average person from the general public for donkey welfare. We can't help ourselves. We support rescues and most of us have taken in many donkeys in need along the way. There is a place for both reputable breeders and rescue organizations. Serious breeders who intentionally cross certain genetics to produce stock with conformation that is exemplary of breed type help to keep the breeds for future generations.
In Europe donkeys were used much more than in the US for transportation and work. There were many throughout the countryside. Not much care or thought was put into breeding practices and what has happened is miniature, standard and mammoth donkeys have all been bred and diluted into one group in Europe. Breeders here are now exporting their stock to Europe and throughout the world to reestablish pure bloodlines for breeders in those countries. This may not seem that important but if some of the breeders don't keep breeding the same will happen in the US and the miniature donkey will be no more.
There are many types of breeders out there. Some are breeding for fun in their back yard and some are trying to improve genetics with careful selection of stock and intentional pairings. No donkey is perfect but a donkey from a serious, reputable breeder generally will have better conformation. They will have their vaccinations, be wormed and have their feet trimmed. In order to register a donkey it also needs to be microchipped. Most breeders spend time socializing and training too so that you will have a well behaved donkey. Most will offer a return policy and some, like us, ask for first right of refusal should you ever not be able to keep the donkeys. Breeders are a great resource and are generally happy to answer any questions that might arise in the future. Visit a few breeders. We encourage this, even if you decide to go the rescue route. It is great to network. There is a perfect donkey or pair for everyone, whether they are rescued or from a breeder.
What Age Donkey Is Best?
Should you get foals or mature animals? Male or female? What age? It really depends on a lot of factors. Foals are very cute and sort of like a puppy. They are adorable but they do grow up and donkeys can live to 35 or 40 years old. Getting a foal is a very long commitment. There are so many older donkeys that might already be trained, gentle and safe to be around children. Maybe you aren't sure how long you will realistically be able to maintain your donkeys (are you getting them for retirement buddies?) Sometimes I hate to do this math but if you are 65, do you really want a foal that will be 20 years old when you are 85? lol! The foals do need to have training, just like a puppy, in order to be a good family member. They need to practice leading, tying and picking up their feet. Your farrier will thank you. They'll also nibble on you and they need to be taught that this is, well, bad manners.
The positive to getting a pair of foals, aside from their sheer cuteness, is that you do get the rewarding feeling of training them and can build that bond from the start. They can also be less intimidating.
What Size Donkey?
There are 3 sizes of donkeys: miniature (36" or less at withers), standard (36'-52" at withers) and mammoth (over 54" at withers). We have found all of the donkeys to be similar in regards to relating to humans and being very laid back. Miniature donkeys don't really take much less space than a standard or mammoth. Their stall might be a little smaller but they all need about the same amount of room in their pastures/pens and not a huge difference in the amount of feed either. A miniature might be little less intimidating than a standard or mammoth for first time donkey owners.
Some people call and are looking for 'micro-minis'. A micro-mini is a miniature that is less than 30" at the withers. I am sure there are micro-minis with good conformation out there but we have not come across many. What we have observed is that donkeys that are bred down to that height can exhibit dwarfism traits. They often are cow hocked and more importantly they sometimes do not have enough room in their mouths for their teeth. Dental issues can cause problems processing food and in turn weight issues. This is only our opinion, but we breed our donkeys 30-32" for halter and up to 34" for performance like driving to avoid these issues.
Whether you decide on a breeder or rescue, a mini, standard or mammoth, there are a few things to look for. Donkeys should stand squarely. If you look at them from the front or back their feet should ideally not be pointing in or out. It isn't a big deal if their legs aren't perfect on a rescue or gelding that will be a pet. Many donkeys are cow hocked and get around just fine. If you are considering breeding please look for the best stock you can find. If you are planning to breed good conformation should be a top priority. If you are looking for pets conformation is not nearly as important. These photos are of our jack, FHF Ladies' Man. He has good conformation with straight legs when viewed from the back or front. He has a deep hip.
One thing that is important is the 'bite' on the donkey. The teeth should meet in the front with no more than a 1/4" of difference from top to bottom. If the donkey is going to be a pet this over/under bite could be a little more pronounced but it could be a problem for the donkey processing food correctly. If the donkey is mature and is not underweight it is reasonable to assume that it is not an issue for that particular donkey.
Miniature, standard and mammoth donkeys come in many colors but the terminology is a little different than that for horses. Basic colors are Red, Gray, Black, Brown and Spotted. A red would be similar to a chestnut horse. A spotted would be called a pinto or a paint in the horse world. In addition there is designation for No Light Points (NLP) or Light Points, light muzzle, belly and/or eye rings. Miniature donkeys have a cross down their spine and across their withers. It can be seen on most but is not visible on black donkeys. Standards and and mammoths typically do not have this marking.
Donkeys As Guardians
Please don't get a mini donkey to use as a guardian. I understand that there are success stories of donkeys and other species living together but there are just as many stories about situations like this that ended tragically. It is not a good idea, especially for mini donkeys. Here is an article to read about this. Donkeys as Guardians. Miniature donkeys can be killed by a couple dogs or coyotes and need to be guarded themselves. Even if you find a standard or mammoth donkey there are many things to consider. It is not as simple as just putting the donkey in with your sheep or goats. Certain donkeys might even be aggressive towards or kill the livestock they were guarding.
Jack, Jennet or Gelding?
Should you get a male or female? As I stated above, please don't get a jack for a pet. A jack is a male that has not been castrated. There are stories out there of how gentle someone's jack is. This may be the case but I will tell you that the only time my husband Karl got really hurt by one of our donkeys was by our beloved Badlands. He is the sweetest donkey around us every day. He is so gentle you would think he is a gelding. One day he opened his stall door that wasn't completely latched and went over to the gate where another jack was. The two started carrying on. It is like a switch flipped and they wanted to kill each other. They compete for the jennets (girls). My husband got in between them trying to separate them and Badlands accidentally bit Karl in his rage for the other jack.
We also know first hand of a jack at another farm that killed a goat when the goat slipped into his pen.
They can chase dogs, goats, sheep and I am sure children, even if there is no other donkey around. I would not trust a jack as a pet and they would be frustrated if they were not allowed to breed. If you do find a jack you could invest in having him gelded and after a few months their
testosterone level decreases and they calm down and can make great pets. You can expect to spend $400-$500 to have a donkey gelded in the Northeast. I am told that the cost is less in other parts of the country. We recently took in an aged jack (Bradley) and had him gelded. He is pictured here at his new home with his 24 year old gelded horse friend Concho. They have become best friends and he is one happy donkey now.
Geldings and jennets (a female donkey) can be paired together but the jennet will cycle every 21 days. She may exhibit mouthing and other behavior. The gelding may mount her. Our geldings don't pay much attention to the jennets in season, but it could happen. A pair of jennets works great too if you prefer females. Families looking for pets will often times go with 2 geldings only because the geldings are usually less expensive when they come from a breeder. If you are buying from a breeder your donkeys should already be gelded when you get them unless arrangements have been made to have them gelded afterwards for some reason.
Final thoughts on which donkey to choose. I have always said that it costs the same amount and takes just as much work to keep a the 'right' donkey (or horse) as it does to keep the 'wrong' one. It makes sense to pick a donkey that speaks to your heart, that is a good fit for your family and other animals and that you feel a connection with. You are making a purchase of an animal that could be with you for 30+ years. If there is a color that you love, look for that color. You will be with your donkey every day. Purchase one that you just love to look at, be with and that fills your heart every time you walk out to the barn and he/she is waiting for you.