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Thursday, December 8, 2011

Herd dynamics

I've had donkeys for 10 years now and during that time, we've offered a home to a variety of ages, sizes and genders.  This has me thinking about how the donkeys have related to each other and what factors contribute to creating the right dynamics.  Of course the donkeys themselves will ultimately determine how they get along, but I realize now that since I'm limited by the size of my land and barn space, I am creating an intentional herd so to speak, and if I'm going to look for a donkey to adopt, I might want to consider some options that I hadn't thought about when I first started.

Dorica & Siog at Play

First of all - age is important to think about.  Donkeys, like other animals, are best socialized by their own kind. What I mean by this is that mother donkeys are the best teachers for their young.  They teach their foals how to behave by body language signals using their ears, mouth, hooves etc.  Although we humans need to teach them about appropriate donkey-human interaction, I think it's important that they get a lot of information from their mothers and other herd members.  I had an orphaned foal who had been raised for his first year on a bottle.  He thought nipping, rearing and kicking were just fine.  He also thought he was a person.

My first two donkeys were young and on their own.  The jenny was 2 years old and the gelding, just 13 months.  Now I see that this was like having two toddlers alone in the house with no one older and wiser to guide them.  I think they were a bit lost.  The gelding spent a lot of his time hanging onto the the jenny's neck and she, although bewildered, didn't have the experience to discipline or instruct him.  They both needed an older protector.

When donkey Annie tragically died, Dorica was completely bereft.  I went searching for another donkey and found Deenah.  Without realizing it at the time, bringing home an older mature "auntie" for Dorica was the very best thing I could have done!  Deenah took Dorrie under her experienced wing (hoof?) and Dorica's confidence grew.  Many people starting out with donkeys will choose two youngsters to bring home.  I'm not saying this can't work out, but in my experience, an older animal can be of great benefit.

Gender is another factor.  Male donkeys are really different than the jennys.  A young male, whether gelded or not can have a lot of restless energy.  He needs someone to rough house with who shares his enthusiasm and male temperament.

Ringo was 6 years old when he came here.  He was also the biggest donkey and consequently he hassled the two jennys.  When he wanted to play, Deenah, being old, ignored him.  Dorica tried at first to play but being a mini, ended up getting hurt, so when big strong Ringo got playful, she'd go and hide in the barn!

When Ringo left, Deenah and Dorica were here together. Then Siog arrived. At three years old, she brought out the very best in Dorrie!  Although Deenah and Dorrie are pals, Dee is just too old to romp around and so Dorica would stand quietly by her side.  Enter Siog the youngster and watch the minis play together!

Now this is a great little herd of jennys.  Dorica has her auntie Dee to offer security but also has little Siog to romp with and groom.  Siog has her older mates but at least one who is young enough to play with her.
Deenah is the matriarch and watches over the others but is also closely bonded to Dorica.

My only consideration now is whether three donkeys creates the right dynamic. I would dearly love to add just one more!  With four, the donkeys could pair up and I could take them out in pairs if need be.  So if I were to add a fourth donkey, what would I look for?

Knowing what I know now, I would add either another mini or a small Standard female.  And considering age, I would probably choose someone in between Siog, now 4 and Dorica, who is 13.
I want to ensure that the youngsters have playmates, but also that there is an older, experienced female.

Given that I want to walk, trek and pack them, I'd also look for a healthy donkey with good bones, good hooves and a gentle disposition.  If I had more land, I'd adopt any donkey needing a good home!


  1. Hi fellow donkey lover,
    I have a sweet mini female who is around 13, and am trading in her horse pasture pal for two young mini donkeys, a 3 year old gelding and a tiny two year old chocolate female. They have been together their whole lives. I am so glad to hear that you believe an older donkey can school younger ones, but I am wondering how to introduce the two new ones to the farm matriarch. Thanks for your advice, and you have a wonderful blog! Donks rule!
    Patty McNeil

  2. Hi Patty,
    Sorry for the delayed response - I have been away. Your donkey will miss her horse companion, so I would
    offer her lots of attention and understanding. Donkeys form strong bonds. Then I would introduce the two new ones on the other side of a fence, at least for a few hours. Personally, I have not had to separate new donkeys for long. Make sure the new ones are healthy, have had their vaccinations and have been dewormed. But don't deworm the new ones at your farm (if they haven't been) for at least a month. I would keep things very calm and smooth for them without putting chemicals into their systems until they adjust. Avoid any resource guarding when it comes to feeding - your older donkey shouldn't be put under stress either. Good luck and let me know how it goes!!

  3. Hi! great blog! We got our first donkey (a 2.5 year old mini jenny) about 5 weeks ago. We absolutely love her, but think that she needs an equine companion (she was trained as a herd protector and pastures with three boer goats, but hasn't really bonded with them). We found a weaned 5.5 month old mini jack that we like and would like to get him as her friend. He seems sweet and we are going to get him gelded as soon as it is physically possible. Our donkey can be a bit bossy with our goats, but we don;t think that she will ever hurt them. Does this seem like a suitable situation in which everyone should get along? The one that we are considering adopting is about the size of our goats now, and will be several inches shorter than our donk. We are concerned that he may play to rough with the goats (he has been around goats) and/or he might not be the right fit for our Jenny who is persnickety. Can you please advise us? Also, if we do get him, how long should he be separated by a fence before we integrate him with our little herd?

    Thanks so much,

    1. Hi Amy,

      You're right, donkeys love their own kind and a donkey companion for your jenny would be great! However, at 2.5 years old, I would be looking for an older donkey instead of a weanling. Please read my paragraph above where I describe my experience with having 2 youngsters. Not that it can't work but an older "auntie" would be wonderful for your jenny. At 2.5, she's still practically a baby! Donkeys mature slowly. An older animal will help to socialize her.

      I have no experience with donkeys + goats - I have heard that it's important to have a small goat escape door in the fence, so the goats can get away if they need to. Re separating a new donkey - it really depends on the animal- you have to watch and see.

      BTW- 5.5 months is SO young for a donkey to leave its Mom - the little guy may really have separation anxiety, so I'd want to integrate him with the jenny asap - maybe introduce the goats later. Hope this helps - keep me posted!

  4. Thanks so much for your advice! We did end up getting the little guy and it is not going well. He does have separation anxiety and desperately wants to be with our jenny. Our jenny wants no part of it. At first she ignored him. It's been two days. Today we tried to introduce them in a very controlled setting and our Jenny was very aggressive (trying to kick him). We are going to keep them separated for awhile longer and see how it goes, but I think our inexperience ( we just started rescuing farm animals) has moved us to get a pair that might not work. Is it common for a jenny to be that aggressive? We're not sure whether more time will help or not. Thanks again, Amy

  5. Hi Amy, Is the young jack a rescue? If not and he could go back to his Mama, that would be the best option. But if you are going to keep him, hmmm... I think things should improve in time but I don't know for sure. Could be your jenny thinks she needs to protect the goats.

    Two thoughts: Can you remove the goats for now? Jenny might be better able to bond with him if she isn't thinking about them. Can you put him where he can see and smell the jenny, i.e. just on the other side of the fence? And I would spend lots of time with him and the jenny - he will be sad, confused and anxious - and you want to minimize stress. Let both donkeys know that you love them! Donkey time ...

    Keep him and the jenny nibbling free choice low sugar hay - that should help and you want to keep that rough going through them.

    Also meant to ask: what is the jenny protecting the goats from? Minis are not really cut out to fend off big predators like cougar or bear ... just wondering. Feel free to email me directly from my website address (listed onto on the right in green!) Fingers crossed that things improve!

  6. Hi! I am so glad I found you. I am a new donkey owner. Actually less than a month ago I bought a 2 year old. Before I brought him home I had him castrated. They warned me that he was a nipper and would rear. I felt from my knowledge (I did have horses years ago) that it was probably a youngster thing or being spoiled! We are getting to know each other. As he is an only donkey I spend as much time as I can with him (I work)...an hour in the morning and an hour at night. I have tried everything to stop the constant biting and nipping. The rearing has improved (is this play?) but he still is not pleasant to be around most of the time. I take him for walks, have started lunging him. He's very willing to try anything new. I have started clicker training him...carrots when he plays with his toys and everytime he doesn't bite me! I have purchased a 4 month old that the people want off their farm in a couple weeks. How do I introduce them ..... this is beginning to sound like a nightmare. I would leave the baby but the people won't keep him. I have paid 1/2 of the money. Any help would be appreciated. Thanks

  7. Hi Mary, Thanks for getting in touch! I have a few comments: first of all, it's wonderful that you are getting another donkey!! A donkey on his or her own gets too lonely and that can lead to all kinds of problems, both health and behaviour. They need interaction, socialization and mental stimulation! It's fantastic that you spend so much time with him but you are a human and it's not the same as a donkey companion, plus he has many hours on his own.

    However - 4 months is too young for a donkey foal to leave its mother! Can you take the mother as well? The foal will really be lost without her and a two year old gelding won't have the mothering, socializing skills that the foal needs. In my opinion, two youngsters together are kind of like leaving 2 kids home alone with no adult guidance. The best thing I ever did for my small herd, was to bring in an older jenny!

    I imagine you'll probably think I'm crazy to suggest this but if you could possibly purchase the foal's mother OR another mature adult, that would be the best scenario.

    As far as biting and rearing, your gelding just needs to be taught what he is supposed to do and how fabulous that you have started clicker training! It's a wonderful and positive approach! I study with Alexandra Kurland - if you could order her book: The Click That Teaches: a Step by Step Guide in Pictures, that will get you going on the right track. teach good manners FIRST! And if you do that correctly, you can cure biting (and everything else!)

    Feel free to email me directly from the contact on my art web site (scroll up, on your right) I would be pleased to help you more!

  8. So glad I found this site! I'm needing some help with my herd. We have had a thoroughbred mare alone in our pasture for a year. About 4 months ago we were given a jenny miniature donkey by someone trying to downsize their farm. They weren't sure of her age, but thought she was around 4 years old. We kept the horse and donkey separated by a fence for two weeks. They have seemed to do fine together and the jenny was really warming up to me. I wanted her to have a donkey companion, so we found a precious registered 4 month old jack. He immediately warmed up to the mare and follows her everywhere. The jenny will have nothing to do with him, and has been isolating herself from the two. She has also become skittish around me, and walks away when I try to pet her. I can't stand to see her so unhappy. I am new to the equine world, and would appreciate any help I can get. I want my animals to be happy!

  9. Hi Susan, A couple of things come to mind. Firstly, it's wonderful that you got a donkey companion for your jenny (they really do love to have other donkeys around and their diet is different from horses, i.e. you cannot feed a donkey as you would a horse!) Please see the posts on Feeding Donkeys.

    I'm hoping that you plan to geld the jack! Unless he has "perfect" conformation and teeth, etc. he should not be bred and, there are SO many donkeys looking for homes, I don't really supporting breeding. It's possible that the jack follows the mare when she is in heat, not sure.

    So after you have discussed gelding with your vet, could you separate the mare on the other side of a fence and keep the 2 donkeys together for awhile? The jack will be able to breed soon, though so do talk with your vet! Once he is gelded, the jenny may bond with him - it could be that he is bugging her!
    Regarding the jenny being skittish, I would pull up a chair and just sit with her. Do this for awhile every day. Have some treats with you and when she approaches or even makes the slightest move towards you, offer her a treat. Let HER approach YOU!

    I am a passionate clicker trainer and so what you are doing here is reinforcing the behaviour of coming towards you. You would then need to teach her how to accept food politely (and safely) but that's a whole other story!

    Let me know how you manage! Keep yourself safe though - you can also feed her in a pan, rather than your hand.

  10. Hello! Been getting caught up on posts and replies...I did a bunch of reading on your site before jumping into the mini donkey lifestyle. We brought Gus home about 3 weeks ago. Gus will be 1 next month, and he is intact. (The vet is coming for a farm call tomorrow!!). Things have been going great with Gus. He's gentle, getting better and better on a lead, and follows me around as I work out in the pasture and around the barn. However, that all changed yesterday when our friends brought their 6 year old, intact mini to live in our pasture. Both boys have only been on dry lot, so we've been introducing Gus to the grass pasture a little each day, and he's out there almost all day, now, but in the barn at night. Zeus, our newest member, has only been on drylot, too, so he can't be turned out to pasture fulltime, yet, so he's in a stall next to Gus, with a wire panel separating them.

    Well, Gus changed overnight--he is pacing, putting his head down, and not wanting to be out in the pasture at all. I gave him a bunch of love this morning, but he wasn't too receptive. When I put a lead on him and took him out in the pasture, he pulled and tugged until I finally let him off lead and he ran back to the barn, pacing around all 3 sides of Zeus' stall. He even dashed across the very large pasture as if he was going to stomp my llamas to death, though he had pretty much ignored them previously. :-(

    Both boys are going to be castrated tomorrow morning, and I'm hoping things might calm down after a few weeks so we can try introducing them without too much violence. Do we have any hope of eventual peace? I know Zeus getting castrated at 6 years of age is way later than it should be, but the folks who had him before kept him with large horses and/or cows, and occasionally their pony, and though he played a bit aggressively with the pony, they said he did fine with them. Gus, our little guy, lived with a baby camel (adorable!!), llamas, and mini horses until we brought him home, and he was ok with them. Just typical mini behavior!

    Thanks, ahead of time, for your help. I'll look forward to hearing from you!

    Sheri Hardy

  11. HI, I hope you can help me, I have a miniature Donkey 4 year old gelding, I've had him since he was 4 months old and he's the sweetest guy, but his miniature horse companion passed away last fall, I've been looking for a friend for him since then, but its been a difficult search. I've found one now though a 6 month old colt, he has a seperate paddock but they share a fenceline, its only been 2 days and the weanling is breaking my heart crying every time my gelding leaves the fence line, I'm so scared to put them together though, I've heard how hard boys play and my older boy is built like a tank in comparison to this little baby, do you think they'll be okay together

    1. Hello, The weanling is of course upset to find himself alone and suddenly without his Mom. I think what I would do is halter train the weanling and when you introduce them have halters and lead ropes on both animals. Could someone walk one while you walk the other? That way you can separate them if needed. They should be fine together in time I think. You'll have to play Mom to the 6 month old until he is sturdy enough to be left with your donkey. Good luck!

  12. Hello, last year I purchased a mother donkey 5yrs old and her daughter 3yrs old. The mother is bred and I am still watching and waiting.She must be one of the jennys who carry longer then a year.Ive recently been offered another Jenny with a colt at her side, do you think it would be wise for another addition while Mama is expecting?Should I take Mama's daughter out of her corral when she starts to bag up.I have left them together for company and less stress on Mama. How well do Jacks get along with youngsters and when would it be safe to have them all together. I know I really don't want to have her bred until at least next spring.

  13. Hi, we have 2, 5.5 year old Jennys, never been bred, been together since birth. We just brought home a 2 year old intact Jack. What is the best way to introduce them?

  14. So sorry for the delay in replying. Please contact a donkey breeder for answers to your questions above. I would remove the pregnant donkey when she bags up and put her in adjoining paddock or stall so she can birth safely. A breeder should be able to offer more advice.