Stubborn, loud and a pain in the... Behind! Those might be words someone may use to describe a donkey. The truth is, there's a reason why they're utilized all over the world. They serve countless purposes on the homestead. Big and small, mini and mammoth, they all have a purpose. They can serve the role as companion animal or even a livestock guard animal. Not only can they keep an eye on the cows, they can work, drive, show or take you for a ride.
What? Donkeys can be ridden? Yes. They are used for transportation throughout the world. They can also be taught to drive! There's even an association that puts on shows for donkeys and mules to show off these riding and driving skills.
Besides the fact that they can hold their weight in competition, they can be a valuable asset to working on the homestead. They can be taught to drive, which means that they can pull work carts, sleds or even farm equipment. A donkey can also be a form of transportation or serve as a pack "horse" for the homestead!
Along with riding, driving and packing, standard or larger sized donkeys(not minis) will keep cow pastures free of coyotes and dogs. Anyone who's ever lost a calf to a feral dog or coyote knows the value of this protection. A jenny(female) or gelded jack(castrated male) will typically be better for this job. Stud jacks can be on the aggressive side, but that doesn't mean they don't serve a purpose!
Jacks can be bred to mares(female horses) to produce another animal valuable to the homestead, a mule. Mules can also be trained to ride, pack or drive like donkeys. They have long been considered vital on the homestead, similar to donkeys.
With such great capabilities, you may be asking yourself, "Where can I get one at?" That depends on what you want out of your donkey! If you're wanting one to ride, pack or drive, I would suggest finding a breeder or trainer that can work with you.
Many donkeys are turned out to pasture with the herd, so some can be on the wilder side. Some people prefer this, if they're being used strictly for herd protection. These will typically only be handled for vet care/weight management. If you're looking for a donkey for herd protection, they can often be found on your local buy and sale page, in the newspaper or posted in your local feed store.
On the other hand, if you're looking for one for riding or driving, try doing a search for local donkey breeders and reaching out to them. Of course, this comes after doing your research on the proper care of your donkey and spending some time with an experienced owner. A local vet and/or farrier can help get you on the right path.
Alongside learning from someone with experience, some solid research will help you to take the best care as possible of your donkey. Donkeys will/should not "eat anything." They need a balanced diet of grass/hay and sometimes feed. Feeding them properly and monitoring their weight will help keep your donkey in the best shape.
With the research for proper nutrition under your belt, keep in mind they'll also need to be wormed. Worming schedules and vaccination recommendations differ for every area, so this should be discussed with a veterinarian. Your local veterinarian can give you more information based on where you live.
On top of veterinarian care, your donkey will also need their hooves trimmed on the regular. Talk to local horse people, or fellow donkey lovers, in the area. They should be able to recommend a farrier. Horse or donkey groups on social media can also help you find a farrier, a vet, and information as well.
Now that you've read about getting started with a donkey on the homestead, here's a few resources to help get you started:
I found a few videos so that you can see these guys in action!
This guy is plowing with a team of donkeys- Click here for the video.
Driving a donkey- Click here for the video.
Donkeys make excellent jumpers! Click here for the video.
Please note, these resources are based in the UK, so some of the advice(like passports) may differ slightly to American readers. Nonetheless, this is great information!
Donkey Wise: A great, in-depth article on caring for donkeys!
The Donkey Sanctuary: This is an excellent article on purchasing a donkey
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