Donkeys are making a come back in West Virginia and many other states that have large herds of cattle. With their protective nature and over all hardy bodies many people find them the perfect guard animal for the hilly mountains of West Virginia. With the increase in use as guard animals and the discovery that they make wonderful pets our farrier business is booming with the once over looked Donkey.
What you might not know is with the growing population of Coyote in West Virginia farmers have taken to using them as second set of eyes on their farms. Much like sheep herders have used dogs for thousands of years. They have a natural instinct to protect and alarm if some thing is just not correct in their pastures. This could mean any thing from a pack of coyotes is hunting a new-born calf to a cow down in a creek bed. They seem to know when to sound the alarm when a fence is down and 1/2 the herd is wandering down a road way or a strange person is near the barn. They save small-scale cattlemen ( less than 300 head) from having to worry that while out working their day jobs( most farmers need that income too!) that there is some one who will be on guard protecting the newest members of the heard.
Donkeys are hardy animals most have heavy bone structures and can easily survive on a grass alone diet.They tend have more of a fighting instinct and a higher tolerance to spending lots of time alone then their cousin the horse. They rarely have the health issues of the other equine, so farmers commonly add one or more to a herd of cattle and leave them to do their job for long periods of time.
This is where Toms second job as a farrier comes in to play. After turning out a donkey for several years you may end up with a crippled guard animal if they are forgotten and not regularly cared for.
Apple Jack is a wonderful donkey that a farmer decided to sell at a local stock sale. He ended up with an animal hoarder and placed on a hundred acre farm with 22 other equine and left for three years. Apple Jack and friends were eventually confiscated by the local police and transported to a horse rescue. The owner eventually faced 24 counts of animal neglect. The owner of the rescue took this photos for her files and asked Tom if he could save him. Apple Jacks’ feet were one of the worst we had seen that summer. Tom got to work trying to remove the excess hoof and correct the twist of his front legs caused by the long hoof growth.In months Apple Jack was ready for adoption and found a good home with friends of our family who love him and take great care of him and his horse buddies. This is Apple Jack today seven years later.
Although Apple Jack is not a guard animal for cattle, he does watch over a small herd of goats. He is also a wonderful mount for a boy Christopher’s age. He is friendly and enjoys us coming to see him about every 3 months to keep is feet healthy
This is a case that Tom just finished up this week (6-9-2014). This is the hooves of a 7-year-old Jenny Donkey with sever neglect . It is hard to believe that she was able to walk at all but some how she managed to get around for about 4 years like this.
With just a little effort Tom was able to get her feet looking like a normal animal and she should remain looking healthy for a few months but the long deformation of her hooves will return if the are not trimmed regularly.
Donkeys are also great for showing and jumping contest. Our communities have several Mule and Donkey shows every summer. People show their Donkeys at Halter ( for confirmation), in riding classes and driving classes. Donkeys and mules also show in a class that is all their own ” The Coon Jump”. Mules and donkeys have a wonderful ability jump great heights from a stand still. Frontier-men and Coon Hunters discovered that their mules and donkeys could jump fallen logs or tall fences while in the woods from a dead stop. With a little encouragement these animal leap feet into the air to clear a wooden bar set on two posts ( think the Limbo except going over not under). It is exciting to watch a mini donkey of 32 inches tall challenge a standard Donkey at 45 inches to see who can jump the highest. In our area usually it is a mini donkey who wins.
Donkeys are also generally more suspicious of strangers then horses.When working with them it may take more time for them to get to know you and understand that you are not going hurt them. So Tom and I take our time talking and petting them before handling them.
Just for fun I will remind you why many people chose not to have donkeys……. they bray! The bray is a farmers alarm clock, fire whistle and general alarm sound off in the pasture and you either love it or hate it but it is all Donkey either way.
One of the funnest things that we deal with when working with Donkeys is that we usually get to hear their bray either when they see Tom walking out to the pasture or on our way out. They maybe saying , “Hell No We Wont Go.” or maybe” Get the Heck Outa Here.” either way, we always get them stirred up and hear the bray while we are around.It is one of the traits that sets these wonderful animals apart from the reset of the equine world and Tom and I just love it.
Donkeys are unique and wonderful smaller equine.They can be trained to pack, ride, drive, show or just enjoyed as a pet . Tom and I find that we are spending more time with these funny animals and we are both glad about it. I hope that post has put a smile on your face because I can not hear a Donkey bray without laughing just a little…. LOVE THEM LONG EARS. One day I am sure to have a bunch myself.