Unexpected Benefits of Raising Donkeys
Updated: Mar 11
It is 2020 and Covid 19 has taken hold throughout this world. Many people are struggling, tension is high and people are becoming disconnected. Karl and I are fortunate to have our beloved donkeys that need our attention every day. They are completely oblivious to the Covid crisis. They look to us for their food twice a day and a clean stall to bed down in at night. It is just this routine that has kept us going all year.
We had 18 foals this year. All were sold before they were born. I think many people are connecting with nature, gardening and animals. Maybe some are even enjoying the relief from the frenetic pace that many were on before Covid hit. Time to do the things that we never had time to do. Emptying of the mind to allow creativity, to do the things that brought us joy when we were younger, when time seemed to have no limit.
Karl and I love our donkeys. Watching a jennet give birth is just as fascinating the 50th time as it was the first time. I look forward to it all winter and can't wait to see what our breeding crosses will produce. Going out to the pasture in the early evening and just sitting on a bucket and watching the donkeys is so relaxing and entertaining. When I was younger (before donkeys) my husband and I had a small boat. I had a stressful job and had trouble sleeping and forgetting about it during down time. The boat was the one thing that would give me a reprieve from the stress. The motion of the water and the salt air would make me completely relax. Donkeys do this too. Whether I am cleaning stalls, trimming feet or just moving donkeys around in their pastures I forget about time and all of the trouble in the world. Our volunteers call it 'donkey therapy'.
It is easy to see how donkeys bring the joys that I have described but the unexpected benefit of keeping donkeys has been the friendships we have forged with so many amazing people. Our volunteers, other breeders, trainers, clients, visitors, veterinarian teams, hay and feed suppliers and farriers.
We first saw a miniature donkey foal at a horse show in Ohio. A woman was carrying this foal around in her arms. Karl and I looked at each other and said, 'We have to have one!' We got home, learned that we needed 2 (so that they have a companion) and had a pair of boys within a couple weeks. It didn't take long to determine that breeding donkeys could be fun too.
When we first decided to breed miniature donkeys we bought our first 3 breeding quality donkeys from Jane Savage of Flight of Fancy Farm in New Hampshire. Jane was a well respected breeder for many years in the US. We were fortunate to purchase Wit's End Badland's Marauder (one of our
current jacks) from her and 2 beautiful jennets. These were her last 3 donkeys. She decided to give up breeding and travel. For those of you who have donkeys you know that it is very difficult to travel with a barn full of animals. She was retiring and we were so happy to have the opportunity to purchase these 3 from her. Jane was so kind and gave us many items from her barn because she knew we were starting out. I remember she gave us a few little blankets that she handmade for her foals. I still have and use them them and think of her each time I take them out. Her barn was spotless. I loved that. We knew that we definitely wanted Badlands. She had 2 jennets but we really wanted to just take one. Kiwi was small and we loved her color and body type. I remember Jane saying that Mystic (the other jennet) was a really nice jennet that would produce beautiful foals. I thought Mystic was too tall and big, but she was a nice color. Jane convinced us to take all three. Mystic and Badlands are still here today. Kiwi had one foal and we could never settle her in foal again so she was sold to a wonderful pet home. Mystic has produced some of our most beautiful foals and all have been around 30", very small. Jane was 100% right about her and I am so happy that we have her.
When we were picking up the donkeys I explained to Jane that we really wanted to learn everything we could about donkeys and breeding. We did not want to be back yard breeders but wanted to breed for excellence with well thought out crosses and bloodlines. We wanted to learn everything we could. I asked her if she could refer us to a breeder who might be able to teach us and sell us some well bred foundation stock. She said that Joe and Dayle Haworth of Half Ass Acres in Chapel Hill Tennessee were the people to contact. So we did.
We are located in the Northeast in Connecticut. People tend to be reserved. When I called Dayle I told her that Jane referred us to her. We spent a good amount of time on the phone looking at her website and discussing all of the donkeys she had for sale. Karl and I decided to take a trip to Tennessee to meet Joe and Dayle and see their farm and donkeys. When I asked Dayle if we could visit she said, "Sure!" We went there and Joe and Dayle were so welcoming. We have visited many times since and have become great friends. I can't even begin to describe how much we have learned from them both. Joe taught us how to trim our donkeys' feet and so much about setting up our farm to accommodate the donkeys. Dayle and I have spent hours and hours talking about donkeys, breeding, bloodlines, health issues, training, showing and even doing right by clients in sometimes tough situations. Dayle has such a wonderful sense of humor and a light in her that shines bright. She taught me about donkeys but she also taught me how to be a better person.
We went on to meet many other breeders who have been so open, welcoming and professional. Coming from 'horse world' I definitely notice a difference. We met a lot of great people through horses too and had some really fun times but the folks in 'donkey world' seem to be just a little more friendly and open. Early on was showing one of Dayle's donkeys in a driving class. It was the first time I had ever done this and only had driven donkeys a few times before. There were several of Dayle's donkeys in the class so I was sort of on my own as Dayle had her hands full. A trainer and friend of Dayle's, David Sessum from Texas was there. He could see that I was nervous and jumped right in to coach me and talk me through it. He put me at ease and I thought wow, how nice was that for him to do that for me???
Our donkey numbers grew and we found ourselves needing help with maintenance, socializing the foals, training and routine medical care. A handful of amazing women and men came on board and our volunteer program was started. This is another way that the donkeys have unexpectedly brought us together with the most kindhearted and wonderful people imaginable. We have become good friends with the volunteers and the volunteers have made friends working together with the donkeys. We spend time together taking donkeys to events, driving in the truck for hours to deliver and pick up donkeys, cleaning the stalls, caring for the donkeys and watching the births. We laugh a lot and cry sometimes (like when we deliver those special donkeys to their new homes). We appreciate all of the help that our volunteers give us but we value the friendships we have made even more. We are blessed to have all of our volunteers as friends.
When we first decided to breed donkeys I thought about the miracle of birth and being able to witness it. I looked forward to watching all of the foals as they grew and planning the crosses of the different bloodlines. I knew that we would be selling the foals but really never anticipated how much joy it would give us to share these little creatures with our clients. Just like our volunteers we have met some very special people who purchased donkeys from us. It is very fulfilling to see how happy our clients are when their donkeys arrive.
This year we had a pregnant jennet, Gracy, that was on deposit with her unborn foal. She was to be delivered to her new owner, Julie Carleton, with her foal a few weeks after birth. Julie would be a first time donkey owner and was very excited. Gracy gave birth to a sweet little jack, Hank, but rejected him immediately. We bottle fed him and he was doing great for a while. Julie came to visit Hank every Sunday for weeks with her daughter Jill. It was decided that Hank would need to go to Julie with another foal instead of his mother so we offered Julie another boy, Otis, that we were going to keep for ourselves.
Hank developed digestive health issues after a couple months. He spent time at Tuft's and after coming close to losing him he came back to the farm. We made the tough decision that Hank should stay at our farm in case he developed more issues. Julie and Jill were heartbroken but were understanding. They would wait for another foal to be born. Meanwhile other foals were born that were on deposit for other clients. One of our clients, Shelley Olson, had purchased two foals from us earlier in the year, Emmi and Codi. She had horses so Emmi was at Shelley's farm already and she was just waiting for Codi to be old enough to join Emmi. Shelley lives close to our farm and had been visiting Codi several times a week since birth. She was clearly attached to him. When Shelley learned of the situation with Julie and Hank she offered to let Julie have Codi and that she would wait for another foal to be born. This was such an amazing act of kindness and that is what happened. Codi (now Fergus) and Otis went to live at the Carletons.
We had another client last year who purchased a pair of foals from us. She was retired and a first time donkey/livestock owner. She was just thrilled with the foals and provided a wonderful home for them. I was following up with her this year to see how everything was going. She shared with me that she was going through intensive cancer treatments during the time when she got her donkeys. I had no idea as she always seemed strong, healthy and positive. She explained that the donkeys were what kept her going. They brought so much joy to her each day. She is now cancer free and still enjoys her donkeys and added a few more.
Somehow the donkeys connect people who are like minded. We all love the donkeys but it is more than that. We are from different backgrounds but seem to look out on the world in the same way. I could talk to anyone from our donkey family for hours. It is all of this that feeds my spirit and is an unexpected benefit of raising donkeys.