September 15, 2014

Medina
Mostly clear
46°F

Donkey Days

By SANDY BARNOSKY
The Pet Lady

Rosewood Farm is home to four miniature donkeys owned by Sheri and Ron Knorr. They started with just two of them about 12 years ago, but fell in love with the gentle, affectionate equines and began a small breeding operation.

“When we sold one, we were always sure it got a good home and that it had a buddy,” said Sheri. “Donkeys are herd animals and should have another animal for company. No matter how much time you spend outside with them, they’ll be lonely and stressed-out if left alone. A horse or a goat could be used for a companion, but donkeys really love other donkeys, so it’s best if you have at least two.”

Their four females, Dolly, Buttons, Bitty and Emma, are kept as family pets and have paired up into two close friendships, proved by a spot of indented hair on Buttons’ back where her best buddy, Bitty, always rests her head and has rubbed the winter coat short in that spot.

Miniature donkeys, originally imported into the United States, were native to the Mediterranean islands of Sicily and Sardinia. They were not bred down in size like many other miniature animals, but are naturally small, standing about 32 to 38 inches high. The average weight is 250 to 450 pounds with most animals being in the lower-weight ranges. Males are known as jacks, while females are jennets. They’re loyal, playful and generally much smarter than other equines. They form close attachments to their owners and seek attention with their antics, friendly nudges and brays to get attention. If ignored, they may pull on a pant leg to get attention. They’re also very curious.

“While I’m working on a project or fixing a fence they’ll come over and quietly pick up a hammer and walk away with it to investigate it,” Knorr said.

For happy, healthy miniature donkeys, they should have a minimum of one acre of pasture to graze and get exercise. Many shrubs and trees are poisonous to donkeys so anyone keeping them in a fenced yard should be sure the plants within are safe — and they’ll eat landscaping plants too, she warned.

Grazing won’t meet their nutritional requirements, so they need good quality grass hay, a small amount of grain, a salt block and fresh water. She also provides hers with apple branches to chew on.

“It gives them something to do in the winter,” Knorr said. If overfed, they could develop a fat roll on their necks that will remain for life. They need a barn or shelter from rain, snow, wind, hot sun and flies. Their long and shaggy winter coat gets brushed out in late spring, but they shouldn’t be shaved down because their hair gives them protection from fly bites in the summer.

Donkeys don’t breed true to color, and the foal can be a color- or hair-type different than the parents. Gray-dun is the predominant gene, but they can be variations of gray, brown, red, black, white or spotted. The texture of the coat could be curly, wiry, long and shaggy, or flat and smooth.

Some have long tails and some have short, but they all have the donkey’s cross, a dark-colored stripe down their back and over their shoulders to mark them as the holy animal that carried Mary and Jesus. If they were shaved down, their skin also would have the color of the cross.

Miniature donkeys are remarkably hardy and healthy, but require the same yearly vaccinations and worming as horses and must have their hooves trimmed three or four times per year.

Because of their small size they’re easy to manage, but they’re very strong, and when they don’t want to move, they plant their feet and are impossible to move, Knorr said. They bond with their owners, get attached to them and remember them. When Buttons was a small foal, she rode home in the van with her head resting on Knorr’s shoulder like a baby and still cuddles with her in this manner.

“She follows me around like a farm dog and is my favorite,” Knorr admitted. Emma was a 50th birthday gift for her husband, who wanted a black donkey, but when they purchased her, Dolly, a tiny foal that had been rejected by her mother, ran out of her stall and jumped right into Knorr’s lap.

“I had to have her,” she said.

They no longer breed their donkeys, but once a year the Knorrs host a Donkey Day to educate children about the breed. With their easy-going personalities, geldings or jennets make wonderful pets for children. Life expectancy for well cared-for miniature donkeys is around 30 to 35 years, so if you want a friend for life, a miniature donkey is a wonderful choice.

Barnosky can be reached at 330-725-4160, ext. 4075, via e-mail at petlady@roadrunner.com or by writing The Gazette, 885 W. Liberty St., Medina, 44256.