BEFORE YOU BUY:
The first question any intending donkey buyer must ask is WHY do I want a donkey? What do I want to DO with him? Do you want a donkey simply as a pet to help keep the grass down; to teach a child (or yourself) to ride; to put to harness or to perform light work on your property? Until you can truthfully answer all of these questions, then the selection of a donkey should be delayed until you have decided exactly what is required, as a donkey that can perform one function may not be suitable for another.
The next question to ask yourself is where and how will I keep him? A donkey is NOT an animal that can be kept happily in a suburban backyard. He needs a minimum of about half an acre to exercise in, preferably more. He will soon turn anything less into a dust bowl, especially if you expect him to live off the pasture. A donkey will need about one acre of GOOD pasture if he is to be grass-fed. He will need constant access to good clean water, some shade from the summer sun and shelter from the winter winds and rain. His paddock needs to be well fenced (avoid barbed wire, if at all possible), free from dangers such as old barbed wire, broken glass, etc., and free from any poisonous plants.
In purchasing a donkey it is very advisable to add up the costs involved. Although they can be purchased for much less than a horse, the overall running costs are not that much different. They still need to be fed, have their hooves attended to, any illnesses seen to. A vet bill for a sick donkey will be the same as that for a horse. A “cost” (in TIME) that many people overlook is that involved in the removal of the “end product”. The manure from a donkey cannot simply be left in a small paddock, as a donkey will not graze around its droppings. If they are not removed the amount of usable grazing will steadily decrease until there is none left.
Another point to consider is that a donkey is a HERD animal – without company, he will feel insecure and will call loudly (VERY LOUDLY) trying to locate another donkey. A lone donkey can be kept with an animal of another species as a companion, but this is a very poor substitute for the security and mental stimulation that another donkey will provide. Two donkeys will be much, much happier than one. (Also, you will receive more enjoyment yourself -–donkeys are quite addictive!)
WHAT TO BUY:
When purchasing a donkey several points must be considered. The first and possibly the most important one is the sex of the animal. Through domestication, donkeys come in three basic types, the male (known as a JACK), the female (a JENNY), and a castrated male (a GELDING).
Under NO circumstances should a novice consider purchasing and keeping a mature, entire Jack. He is a breeding animal, with all the instincts necessary to serve a herd of females and needs to be treated with a great deal of respect – leave him to the experts. Purchasing a mature Jack, then having him gelded is not really a good idea as his breeding instincts will still remain. Buying a young colt and having him gelded BEFORE sexual maturity is, however, a valid option, as he will not generally develop all the aggressive temperament of a Jack. It should be noted, however, that many geldings, regardless of what age they were gelded, may still exhibit sexual behaviour when presented with an in-season Jenny.
Many buyers are taken with the idea of acquiring a Jenny and possibly breeding a foal from her at a later date. Donkey foals are so delightful, everyone seems to like the idea of having one around. If you purchase or breed a foal from your Jenny, please remember that it is born with NO basic training! It will be up to you to provide this. Taking on a completely untrained animal, even a foal, is a big undertaking and requires a high level of commitment. A jenny that you don’t intend to use for breeding can be a good choice, however, some jennies can be a little “moody” when in season.
A Gelding is not subject to these regular mood swings and will remain fairly stable all the time. They are just as affectionate as a Jenny, just as trainable. All things considered, a gelding is probably the best bet for the novice donkey buyer. Once you have gained more experience, then you may consider a Jenny (and possibly a foal).
The next question the buyer needs to consider is the type and size of donkey required. If you simply want a pet to help keep the grass down, then this question is not that important. If you want an animal to ride, or pull a vehicle, then the animal must be capable of the intended task. Expert help from members of the Donkey Society should be sought to help make the selection.
The colour of the animal is not important, as it is a personal choice. Buyers should be aware, however, that some very pale-coloured animals with un-pigmented skin can suffer from sunburn in summer.
An animal’s Temperament is the MOST IMPORTANT. He should be friendly, easy to catch and handle, be used to having his feet attended to and basically be fun to be around. A young foal needs to be taught all these things and may prove a handful for inexperienced owners. Don’t take the seller’s word that an animal is trained…make sure that you see it perform as advertised and that YOU, personally, can get it to perform also. After all, YOU are the one that will be handling it in the future.
Once these questions have been attended to, it is time to actually go out and take a DETAILED look at the animal. Does he appear alert, healthy, FRIENDLY? Is he pleasing to the eye? A well-conformed animal will look as though all parts belong together. Unless you are planning to breed from the animal, then perfect conformation (very, very rare) is not all that important to the average owner. As long as the animal has no defects that would render him unfit for your intended purposes, then he is a possible buy. A thorough check-out by a knowledgeable, unbiased 3rd party (usually a vet) is heartily recommended before the final purchase. Resist strenuously the urge to purchase the first donkey you come across – look around and make the right choice.
A FINAL WORD
You may have heard the expression “Donkey’s Ages”, referring to a long period of time. This is not just idle chatter, as a healthy donkey can live for up to 30 – 40 years. So what you are buying may become a life-time companion. He will give you many years of fun and devoted service, and, if the time comes when you have to part company, then it is YOUR responsibility to see that he goes to a good home. Please don’t sell him at auction, the chances are that he will wind up being purchased by a “Dogger”, sent to the knackery and turned into pet food! – a sad, undeserved end for your faithful friend!