Purchasing Your First Donkey
Updated: Mar 11, 2021
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.