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!