Scientific name: Equus africanus asinus
Other common names: Ass; Burro; Jack; Jenny
The modern domesticated Donkey is a descendant of the African Wild Ass, now considered an endangered species. Historically, the donkey is recorded as having been domesticated about the same time as the horse and became an essential beast of burden in ancient Egyptian, Nubian, and Middle Eastern cultures because they could carry close to a third of their own body weight (horses can comfortably carry 20%).
Donkeys were introduced to different parts of the world but only became popular in the United States in the mid-1800s as pack animals for miners and gold prospectors. After the gold rush, many donkeys were released into the southwest deserts. In the 1900s, donkeys regained popularity as pets, farmland companions, guard animals, and for pulling carts and wagons.
Hybrids of male donkeys (Jacks) and female horses (Mares) are called Mules. The mating of a male horse and a female donkey produces a Hinny.
Please see the separate pages for the Mammoth Jack Donkey and Miniature Donkey. Also, there are a number of sub-types of the standard sized Donkey. Please see our pages for Australian Teamster Donkey, English / Irish Donkey, and the Poitou Donkey.
Appearance / health:
Donkeys often vary in body coloration, from black to gray, brown, or tan, but the common characteristics occur in most animals, such as dark markings on the ears and throat, and white markings around the eyes, on the muzzle, on the belly and inner legs. Most donkeys have a dark dorsal stripe and a shoulder cross. The ears are large and long. The back is straight. The mane is course and stiff. The standard donkey is about 44 inches tall.
A donkey’s health is dependent on its habitat and nutrition. They are typically hardy and resilient but can suffer from health problems if overfed. Vaccinations, de-worming medications, and hoof care are essential in keeping the donkey clean and healthy. The care and monitoring of a veterinarian is recommended.
Behavior / temperament:
Donkeys have become popular as pets and companion animals, even as guard animals because of their high intelligence. They became notorious for being stubborn, although this stubbornness is said to be the result of their strong sense of self-preservation –- no one can force them to do something they perceive as a threat to their survival, especially going into water. Donkeys are used as guard animals for herds of sheep, goats, and cattle because they are protective and can be aggressive when deterring predators. They are calm and good-natured, but will kick and bite when threatened. They emit a loud and persistent call referred to as a bray.
Housing / diet:
Donkeys are grazing animals and require pasture for food and fresh air. The recommended pasture area is an acre per donkey per month. Mammoth Jacks require slightly larger areas. A barn or similar enclosure must be available to shelter them from harsh climates. Donkeys do not like rain and snow because they easily chill and become susceptible to disease.
Donkeys are native to sparse deserts, therefore they require vegetation that is low in protein and high in fiber such as Timothy Hay or Bermuda Hay. A salt block should always be available for mineral supplements. Clean fresh water should also be available at all times. Treats like bite-size carrots can be offered sparingly. Donkeys enjoy eating and if allowed to self-feed will become obese and susceptible to various health risks.
great pets, endearing, intelligence, great companion animal, herd guards, developing country
bray, wet climates, little stubborn, dual personalities, mutual respect, screaming
dressage movements, good scratch, BLM, routine worming, ground manners
Sarah, the non-cart donkey.
It has been said that Southern Africa could not have been tamed without the humble donkey, and even though there are several monuments to various donkey breeds in South Africa, I cannot agree with this sentiment. Donkeys may have played a part, but the work would definitely have gone faster had donkeys NOT been involved.
Perhaps it is that I do not understand donkeys. I received a 3-month-old donkey foal from the rescue group I was volunteering with in 2009, and it would seem that my donkey mare, named Sarah, had taken the rescue as a sign that she was somehow special, and above having to pull the little cart I made for her to exercise with.
She seems to have the idea that having to work off her rotundity is somehow distasteful, and no matter how many times I show her pictures of her hardworking forbears, she is just not interested; almost as if she has no pride in the history of her race.
And she needs excercise- standing around chewing the fat with the emus has caused her to run to fat just a litle bit, and I think it is here that I went wrong one day when I told her that she was getting fat. That was three years ago, and still she has not forgiven me. I have tried every trick in the book to get her hitched to the little cart, but nothing doing- she just flops her long ears, bares her teeth, and gives me the LOOK; that look of pity, disdain, and just a little arrogance that makes it painfully clear that she is never going to pull the cart. Ever.
And this is what I don't understand. Why not? Why not just pull the cart the little way up to the gate and back? It is after all what donkeys do, right? Sarah however, clearly disagrees, and we have now agreed to disagree on the importance of regular exercise for donkeys and for now, that is where matters stand. In all other respects though, Sarah is an exemplary pet; she greets me with a loud bray every morning provided the hateful cart is not in sight, she has never been ill, and she does not intimidate the chickens the way the emus do. She is calm, unflappable, and friendly with the neighbor's children when they feed her apples. If only it wasn't for that stupid cart we would have the perfect relationship- I would think I own her, and she would not have to keep reminding me that I don't.
Despite our issues with the cart, Sarah and I have a good relationship, and based on my experience with her, I would certainly recommend keeping a donkey or two as pets. They are easy to handle, not overly active and provided they have at least a couple of acres to themselves, they are not demanding or difficult to keep. Just do not let them see you building a cart for them to pull-even if you think it is for their own good..
From reinier1 Apr 6 2015 3:24PM
A fun, helpful animal to have around!
My family got this donkey to be a watch animal and keep coyotes away from our chickens. While we've still lost a few chickens to coyotes over the years, I think that having Pedro around has kept predators to a minimum. Some others pros of having him around is that he is a fun, kind creature. Donkeys are trainable, self-sufficient, and affectionate. Over all, they don't require a ton of care. They're grazers, so if they have a grassy place to hang out, they'll be happy. The only negative is that they can be pretty noisy (but that can also be a good thing if there is someone in the yard who shouldn't be there). Overall, I would highly recommend this sweet and loving fuzz ball!.
From ClareAlise Jul 8 2017 5:49PM
I do not enjoy donkeys.
One summer I lived and worked on a farm that happened to have two donkeys, they didn't really have any job or purpose around the farm, except perhaps keeping the grass trimmed around the house, I think they were just kept there because the kids liked them.
Both donkeys were very hardy and managed to cope with the hot summers and extremely cold Finnish winters. They required very little maintenance except a quick daily brush to get the dust out of their fur and having the snow taken out of their hooves before they were put in the stable overnight. They also cost practically nothing to feed as they were to munch on whatever they could find and would eat practically any leftovers we gave them. Health wise I think the only problems they ever had were with mites that were easily treatable.
Saying that I really didn't like these animals, they were a hassle to handle and would usually run if you approached them (especially if they knew we were taking them inside for the night) often at this time they would run around the farm in circles and take ages to catch. They would also escape to the neighbours fields and eat his corn which resulted in some angry phone calls. They could be quite aggressive and on one occasion one bite me and left a nasty bruise, I was always worried they would kick someone.
Overall I thought they were more hassle than they were worth but if you want a donkey its up to you (I have no idea why anyone would want a donkey)..
From Chelta Jan 8 2015 7:32AM