Miniature Mediterranean Donkeys
Care of the Miniature Donkey
With proper lifelong care, 25-40 years
36" or under (IMDR Class A Registry), 38" or under (IMDR Class B Registry)
200 to 450 pounds
Any age male is called a Jack
Any age female is called a Jennet
NOTE: See "Most Common Newbie Questions" at the bottom of this page.
Miniature donkeys are native to the Mediterranian islands of Sicily and Sardinia. It is difficult to import them now because 1) The quality of donkey left in Sicily and Sardinia is not good, and, 2) It is very difficult to pass the tests given by quarantine stations at the Dept. of Agriculture. However, this writer purchased two donkeys imported into this country from Sicily some time ago so the task is not impossible, just improbable. Miniature Donkeys have not been bred down in size per se. The 25-30 Miniature Donkeys originally imported into the U.S. were between the sizes of 32" and 38" with the majority of them being in the 35"-37" size range. Over the years, breeders have concentrated more on the 32"-33" size and today your most desirable and well-conformed donkeys are from 31" to 35". The word "miniature" usually connotates animals that have been bred-down in size, so keep in mind that 'miniature donkeys' are simply diminutive and not bred down such is the case of many other 'miniature' animals.
The most prevalent color for Miniature Donkeys is gray-dun which consists of a gray colored body, light colored nose - or dark colored nose -, light colored belly and inside legs, with a dark color dorsal stripe down the back and over the shoulders. The dorsal stripe is known as the donkeys cross. There are variations of this gray-dun from dark to light. As with most animals, donkeys can range in color from black to white and everything in between. True blacks are rare with black/browns (not quite black) being more common. There are chestnut/sorrels which are various shades of reddish brown. There are also white donkeys and "spotted" donkeys. Some people refer to spotted as "pinto" and this really boils down to semantics. Spotted or pintos are generally gray or brown and white. There are also various colors of roans. Roan coloring is black, brown, gray hairs intermingled with white hairs. Donkeys do not breed true to color. Since gray-dun is by far the predominant gene, you can breed black to black and get gray-dun, spotted to spotted and get gray-dun, etc. Never knowing what color foal will be produced is part of the excitement of having foals. Colors other than the typical gray-dun makes the donkey more exotic looking therefore increases their price.
Jennets can become fertile at one year of age (or earlier) but if bred, can make very poor mothers and many will reject their foals (meaning YOU need to bottle feed, every 2 hours, 24 hours a day), others may abort early which can cause serious medical problems. Jennets can be considered for breeding after the age of 2-1/2 to 3 years depending on their overall physical and mental maturity. Miniature Donkeys, on average, carry a foal for 12 months. Average Gestation: 11 months, 3 weeks, 5 days. (Unlike other animals, donkeys can carry their foals from 11 months to 13 months.) Most are not rebred until their second heat cycle, some 30 odd days after foaling. Some jennets will not conceive until their foal is weaned. Taking all into consideration, the average jennet produces one offspring every 13 to 14 months.
Jacks (males) can be fertile at one year of age, sometimes earlier, sometimes later depending on when their testicles descend. The famed herd sire "Charlie Bandito" owned by Pleasant Meadow Farm in Maryland, produced his first offspring at the age of 12 months and his first son, "Guido Bandito" produced his first offspring at the age of 12-1/2 months. BEWARE: We've had two letters now in Miniature Donkey Talk Magazine of 7 month old jacks reproducing! Jacks inherit much of their overall fertility and libido from their sires. Twinning in Miniature Donkeys is rare. Birth weights are generally between 18 and 25 pounds. Jennets between the size of 32" and 38" usually have an easy time foaling. Smaller jennets may need human intervention.
Miniature Donkeys are very healthy animals. They require the same yearly vaccinations as equine. They should also be dewormed, with an equine dewormer, at a minimum of three times per year, preferably six times per year. They require the same hoof care as equine and should be trimmed at least three or four times per year. See the book Caring For Your Miniature Donkey for detailed health care/management information including photo-by-photo, step-by-step instructions on how to trim your own donkey's hooves.
Donkeys can survive on good quality hay alone. A good hay to feed donkeys is pure grass hay. A little bit of alfalfa mixed in would be ok. Pure alfalfa is too rich a feed for Miniature Donkeys and does not set well with their digestive systems. They can also become extremely fat. With severe droughts often occurring in different parts of the country, sometimes only poor quality hay is available and in this case, donkeys should be supplemented with a SMALL amount of 10-12% protein equine sweet feed. Please avoid feeding horse supplements to donkeys. Latest research from equine teaching hospitals reports that VERY few equine need these supplements and can easily cause obesity. Donkeys are termed as "easy keepers" meaning they utilize their feed very efficiently and you must be careful that they do not get fat. Fat donkeys will develop a "crest" - or fat roll - on their necks that will be there for life once it develops.
Limited acreage can go hand in hand with Miniature Donkeys. You could easily keep 10 donkeys on an acre of land. This however doesn't mean they could live off pasture grasses. It does mean they could live comfortably being fed hay year round. You basically need a pasture large enough for them to run and play in to receive enough exercise for them to remain healthy.
The first and foremost attraction to Miniature Donkeys are their loving personalities. They demand attention! They form close attachments to their owners and to other donkeys. Donkeys are herd animals and one lone donkey is a very lonely donkey. Because of their laid-back, easy going personalities, they make wonderful pets for children, the handicapped and the elderly. I do not recommend that you buy an ungelded adult jack as a pet. Even though the donkey's nature is to be much less nervous and tense than an ungelded horse, you cannot remove his basic instincts. You can buy an ungelded jack foal and at approximately one year of age, have him gelded making him safe around seniors and children.
Donkeys communicate with their human owners and with other donkeys by "braying", also more commonly known as a hee-haw. Every donkey has their own style of braying with some sounding quite comical. They range from barely being audible to a loud thunderous bray. Donkeys develop schedules and if you are late in feeding, you will hear about it! Jacks pastured apart from their jennets, will call to them several times a day. On the whole, donkeys are very quiet animals.
Prices on donkeys vary greatly depending on the region of the country and the quality of the animal. Pet jacks are the most economical in the $200 to $600 range. (Please note: Your $200 price range is the lower end of the scale and a typical jack in this price range would be: A yearling, may or may not be friendly, gray in color and usually will mature on the tall end of 35" to 38".) The next step up would be a breeder quality jack, weanling or adult, any color, friendly with nice conformation and will run in the neighborhood of $700 to $1,200. Top quality jacks and jennets can run upwards from there.
Every breeder has their own idea of what they want to breed for. This is their privilege and their right as a breeder. There are miniature donkeys that are compact with a draft type build and other donkeys with slender more leggy builds. The International Miniature Donkey Registry has Breed Standards© for Miniature Donkeys (no charge) which are well worth reading.
Most people do not realize just how very important the conformation of their breeding jack is. A jack will determine 50% of the conformation of the foal. Not all jacks carry this strong conformation gene, however, if you desire to begin a breeding operation, your jack should be your most important purchase! When looking at breeding age jennets, smaller is not necessarily better! You want to keep the majority of your breeding jennets between the sizes of 32" to 36" and a breeding jack 29" to 32". The original donkeys brought into this country were between the sizes of 32" and 38". The International Miniature Donkey Registry in Maryland has a Class A - donkeys up to 36" and a Class B for donkeys 36+" to 38". jennets under the height of 32" may have foaling (birthing) problems with their first foal. Also if you want donkeys you can train to pull a cart, you want donkeys in the 34-37" range.
Four serious conformation defects you want to avoid when buying donkeys you intend to use for breeding purposes are extreme parrot mouth or monkey mouth, turned out front legs and cow-hocks. Parrot and monkey mouths are where the top or bottom teeth protrude out further than 1/4" from the opposite set of teeth. As an added note, I have personally looked into the mouths of hundreds of donkeys and can honestly say that many, many of donkeys have slight over or underbites of 1/16 to 1/4 inch. Many donkeys stand slightly cowhocked. You simply cannot compare the stature of a donkey to a horse and will do a donkey injustice if you do so. Severely cowhocked hind legs is a definite conformation defect and these donkeys should be avoided when you are purchasing breeding stock. See the book Caring For Your Miniature Donkey for detailed drawings/charts on correct and incorrect conformation. PLEASE do your homework BEFORE you buy so you won't be disappointed!
The International Miniature Donkey Registry in Maryland is a graded registry. If your intended purchase carries IMDR registration papers and that donkey has been graded (rated) by IMDR, and has achieved a Two or Three Star Rating, you can be certain that you are purchasing a quality animal. Even if the donkey only has a "standard certificate", it also means that the donkey has been reviewed by professionals at IMDR. If the registration paper does not say "pet quality" than it is in fact a breeding quality donkey. Never dismiss a donkey simply because it does not have an extended pedigree. Also, do not dismiss a donkey if it is not registered. Inspect your intended purchases closely, check their teeth and conformation, and make your decisions based on the quality of each individual animal. We HIGHLY recommend that you subscribe to Miniature Donkey Talk Magazine and get their book, Caring For Your Miniature Donkey. Read the magazine and book and educate BEFORE you buy to avoid making costly mistakes!
With life long proper care, donkeys can live well into their 30's and jennets can produce foals into their early 20's. Older jennets are normally wonderful mothers and fantastic baby sitters to put in with foals being weaned.
Desirable heights of Miniature Donkeys will vary with almost every person you talk to. I suggest that people purchase jennets to be used for breeding be between the height of 32" to 36". The International Miniature Donkey Registry has a class B for sizes 36+" to 38" for original foundation stock donkeys. jennets between the size of 33" to 38" tend to have better conformation and an easier time of foaling than do smaller jennets. When buying jacks, again pay particular attention to conformation first, size second. I can assure you that Grandparents can play a large role in the conformation, coloring and height of a foal.
Before buying any breed of animal you should do your homework and have an idea of what you are looking for. Hundreds of breeders advertise and will be happy to talk to you and share with you their experiences in raising and breeding Miniature Donkeys.
There is a big misconception that ALL donkeys make excellent guard animals. Not all donkeys make good guard animals. A jack that has not been gelded should never be used. There is only a 50/50 chance that a jennet or gelded jack will make a good guard donkey. It all depends on the donkey's personality and temperament. This goes for all sized donkeys. If you purchase a donkey from a breeder to use specifically for a guard animal, you should have arrangements with the breeder that if the donkey does not work out, you can return the donkey. Most people want guard donkeys as protection against coyotes or dogs. Not all donkeys hate dogs. Again, never assume that all donkeys are good guardian animals.
How much land do I need to keep a donkey on? Donkeys should have a minimum of one acre of land. They need room to run and play and exercise. They also need shelter - preferably a darken barn in summer to get away from biting flies. One acre of land will not meet their nutritional requirements of course so you would need to feed them hay year ‘round. You also need to check your zoning laws. Donkeys are livestock. Some localities require 3 acres for livestock, others one acre and still others 5 acres.
"I bought a year old jack and a 5 month old jennet. The "breeder" told me I can raise them together because they will not breed until the jennet is old enough to breed." OH PLEEEZE! Surely you didn't fall for that! Never buy from a person who would tell you such a terrible thing. These two need to be kept separated permanently until the jennet is at least 2-1/2 to 3 years of age. If the jack has descended testicles, he can reproduce and many jennets start producing eggs that can be fertilized at 9 months of age so obviously you cannot pasture these two animals together. (Miniature Donkey Talk Magazine has published two letters from owners confirming 7 month old jennets becoming pregnant.) If you allow such a young jennet to become pregnant you are asking for big trouble (see above under reproduction). Not to mention, your reputation as a responsible "breeder/owner" will be ruined.
Can donkeys be housebroken? No. Of course there may be a handful of people on this earth who claim they have a housebroken donkey and if you look hard enough, you may just find one that really is. Use your common sense here. Again, donkeys are livestock. How many housebroken horses have you heard of? How many housebroken cows? Goats? If you give it some thought, the concept of attempting to housebreak livestock is a silly one and should not be given serious thought.
Will donkeys get along with my dogs? 90% of all donkeys have a dislike of dogs. Most seem to really detest small dogs. HOWEVER, many many people who have donkeys also have dogs !! and if breeders raise newborn donkeys around dogs, there’s a chance that they can get along nicely. Mothers with foals can never be trusted around dogs even if they got along with them before they had their foal, simply because new mothers are so protective. My pastures that surround my yard are 4-board fencing and because we have small dogs, we lined the bottom of the fence with small guage wire so that the dogs cannot get in the pastures, so there IS a workable solution.
Can you put donkeys in with horses? Yes. Most of my donkeys are pastured with two horses. My gelding horse adores the donkeys and his greatest thrill is to lick a newborn donkey foal! The other horse is a mare and she would be happy never to see a donkey again. She would not hurt a donkey, but the donkeys know to give her plenty of room and to avoid close contact with her. Generally, donkeys and horses get along fine. Our barn is left open 24 hours a day so the donkeys and horses can enter and leave the barn at will. The donkey's section of the barn is cordoned off so that the horses cannot enter their section.
Will donkeys get along with my goats and sheep? Sometimes. It has come to my attention over the years that a few breeders like to tell people that young jacks (males) make great companions for goats. FALSE! An ungelded young jack should never be pastured with goats or sheep. The main problem seems to be that jacks like to play with goats the same way they play with each other - by grabbing the goat by the necks with their teeth. I lost count of how many phone calls I've gotten from grieving goat/sheep owners telling me how they found their goats dead from a broken neck. As a young jack comes of age, play turns to sexual aggression and the problem is worsened. Even gelded jacks may not have the personality to be able to be pastured with goats/sheep. So, can jennets (females) be pastured with goats? Possibly. Jennets do not play as aggressively as jacks so the chances of a jennet being pastured with goats has a better chance of working out. Many owners have told me that they give their goats an 'escape route' so if a jennet decides to play with or chase the goats, they can jump up on a large wooden box or have a small entrance into a separate barn that the donkey cannot get through.
Can I buy just one donkey? Donkeys are herd animals. They love being with other donkeys. I personally will not sell one donkey to a person who has no other livestock. A lone donkey is a lonely donkey, a lonely donkey can be a stressed-out donkey, and a stressed-out donkey can end up being a sick donkey. It's always best to have two donkeys. They’ll develop an extremely close friendship that will do your heart good. If that is not possible, a horse or pony can be a good companion. I do not particularly like donkeys in with cows because cows attract so many flies and it is the donkey that suffers. Also donkeys will not develop a 'friendship' with a cow so you still have a lonely donkey!