If you are contemplating owning a miniature donkey, once you see these delightful creatures, you will instantly fall in love, as will any children you may have. They are cute and loving, but like all animals, only take them on if you have time to properly care for them. They are quite hardy, but the basic husbandry involved in caring for any four-legged friend, remains the same. They really should be kept as pets and not as showpieces, but it is more than acceptable for them to be popular at a child’s birthday party or similar event.
Most UK miniature donkeys have originated from the Mediterranean region, particularly the islands of Sicily and Sardinia. Historically, they were used for pulling stones around a mill to grind grain for peasant families. Their history can be traced in art and wood block images depicted on the islands, but very few miniatures remain there now, and breeding is all but extinct.
Imports from the United States have made miniature donkeys increasingly popular in the UK, and there are now several respected breeding farms.
A quick run through of terms used for miniature donkeys (and donkeys in general):
A female donkey Jenny
A superior male donkey Jack (expected to be a frequent herd-sire)
Baby donkey (until weaning) Foal
Castrated Male donkey Gelding
Separated early from mother Weanling (4 months to 1 year old)
Donkey between 1-2 years Yearling
These terms are like those for horses, except for Jack and Jenny.
At birth, the foals are around 45-63cm/18-25 inches in height and weigh between 8.5-11.3kg/19-25lb. A ‘jenny’ or female will have a gestation period of 11 to 13 months, so caution is needed during the final stages, as you are not quite sure when the new born will arrive!
When mature, you can expect them to reach a height of 81-86cm/32-34 inches at the withers. In order to be registered, they must be less than 91cm/36 inches high. Any ‘jennys’ under 76cm/30 inches high will struggle to give birth which could be fatal for them, so bare this in mind if you intend for your jenny to have babies.
Expect your miniature to reach at least 113kg/250lb in weight, but they can be as much as 159kg/350lb at maturity.
The life expectancy for miniatures is 25-35 years old, but it can be even longer. As respected breeders will not normally sell you their young until they have reached maturity (3 years old), you will still have plenty more joyful years with your pet.
Please be aware that you should never contemplate breeding a Jenny under the age of 3 as they are neither mentally or physically up to it, and this would potentially be a danger to their health.
Donkeys come in a variety of colours with different shades of black, brown and red. There is also another standard colour of grey-dun, which is commonly seen in all breeds of donkey. They can also have bodies that are a solid colour but with a white blaze on their face (masked spotting factor) or no white markings on the belly, muzzle, inside the ears or around the eyes (no light points). All these colours are very attractive, particularly when their coats get a little long.
In terms of food, nothing could be easier, if you have a decent pasture area with good quality grass. If you feed hay, this must again be of good quality. Always monitor the amount of food you give them, just like you would with other pets. Foals and Jennys who are pregnant can also do with a grain such as oats for more vitamins and minerals.
A constant supply of fresh water in pastures, stalls or stables is essential. When you buy from a respected breeder, they should supply you with feeding information anyway, and any recommended supplements that your miniature may need. They will also provide you with vaccination information, and a list of any specialist donkey veterinarians.
They do need to be wormed, but vets seem to have different opinions on the frequency of this activity. There have been known cases of over-worming, and consequently, the miniatures (and other donkeys) have started to develop resistance to certain de-wormers. Some specialist vets are recommending inspecting samples of faeces to establish whether and when it is necessary to worm. Unpleasant as it sounds, it’s a better solution than too many drugs.
Like any other equine, their hooves need regular attention and should never be allowed to get into bad condition. You may have seen the TV adverts of donkeys in the Middle East whose hooves have turned up like Turkish slippers. Trimming is needed at least three times a year, so before buying your new pet, ensure that you have details of a farrier nearby and keep in touch with him.
If you don’t intend to breed, a gelding is your best bet, as they have been castrated. They are charming, gentle and fun to have around, a perfect pet for your children. They will also be your cheapest option, as opposed to Jennys or weanling Jacks.
Whatever you do decide, it is worth remembering that to get the best out of your miniature is to give them a companion. Being sociable animals, they like to have ‘buddies’ whether its one or two others, which makes them very happy and they will thrive in this environment.
Most combinations will work well, with one proviso – never keep an intact Jack with a breedable Jenny. Natural animal lust will generally take over!
These animals are truly adorable to look at and keep, so look after them.