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      08.06.2008 17:13
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      Thanks for reading!

      Donkeys- they are certainly not most peoples idea of an ideal pet, but if you are ever in the position to be able to keep them, then they are an animal I strongly recommend!...
      I purchased my cottage in England without viewing it, as I was still living in America at the time, and it wasn't until I moved in a few months later that I discovered a paddock and stable was included, now I'm not a fan of horses- for some unknown reason they have always made me nervous, and of course I couldn't let the paddock and stable go to waste- so, donkeys seemed the perfect animals to occupy them!

      *Purchasing a Donkey*
      A donkey obviously isn't an animal that you can simply go out and purchase just like that- and it's a good job too! Donkeys require a tremendous amount of care and attention and are not an animal to be taken on lightly, without a considerable amount of thought, planning and financial budgeting. Once you've decided you have the time and dedication to care for a donkey, aswell a suitable area in which the donkey can live, then its time to start the difficult mission of sourcing one (or two, as donkeys should *always* be kept in at least pairs, or with other horses and ponies). There are many rescue organizations across the country, such as Redwings, the RSPCA and small local shelters that are almost always full to the brim with retired working donkeys, ones that were unwanted pets or victims of cruelty, that need permanent loving homes, and if looking for a donkey, it would be advisable that these are the first places you check out. The organization will carry out a 'home-check', where the area in which you plan to keep the donkey will be examined and if deemed suitable, and the organization are happy with you in general-ie, you have a good knowledge and experience of caring for donkeys or horses, the adoption process will get underway and once a donkey suitable for you comes available, you can offer them a new home.
      If, however, you are specifically looking for a certain breed of donkey or would like a younger one, you should contact a stud farm, which can be recommended to you via a local stables or farm. Or, check the advertisements in horse magazines for donkeys for sale. Rescue centres request an adoption fee for adopting their donkeys, but you should expect to pay anywhere between £200 and £900 for a donkey through private ads or stud farms.

      *Appearance*
      I won't insult your intelligence by explaining what a donkey looks like, as we've all seen one before! But I'll tell you a bit about the breeds of domesticated donkey available:
      - Poitou Donkey: These orginate from France, are a bay (brown) in colour and have a long, thick and natuarally 'shaggy' matted coat and have no 'dorsal stripe' seen in other breeds. They stand around 14- 15 hands and make suitable pets, although extremely hard to come across.
      - American Spotted Donkey: A predominately white, cream or fawn coat colour, spotted with darker patches of brown and black. Stands around 11 hands.
      - Standard Donkey: Just a plain bog standard donkey! Mostly commonly found with grey coats, although can vary in colour from chocolate, to black with white dorsal stripe or roan colours. Stands around 11-12 hands.
      - Miniature Donkey: Comes in all the colour variety of the standard donkey, but stands at around 8 hands, and considerably more expensive, costing between £1,500 and £3,000.

      Donkeys are a life long commitment, living between 30-40 years, so although not a nice thought- plans should be arranged in advance regarding your donkeys care should anything happen to you.

      *Temperaments*
      Donkeys are very friendly, affectionate creatures that absolutely love human attention and form strong, life long bonds with their owners. They can, however, be slightly wary of strangers or loud children and have powerful hind legs that can give an extremely strong kick, and they can bite if scared too, although extremely rarely. Un-neutered males cannot be kept as pets, mares (females) and geldings (neutered males) both make equally excellent pets, the geldings however can be more willing to please so are better suited if you wish to use your donkey for the occasional bit of riding (children, or under 8 stone in weight only!!) or working.
      Donkeys *must not be kept alone*, they should be with at least one of their own species and can happily live with horses and ponies too providing they are well socialised. Donkeys that have formed bonds with one another should never be separated.
      I have two mares, Mabel & Tilly, both Standard Donkeys who spent their early years giving rides to children on beaches, they are now 15 years old and living out their retirement with me, and I obviously don't use them for riding, but I do very occasionally work them (carrying small loads, eg big sacks of dog food), it just gives them a task to do and helps me out but other than that they have a very relaxing retirement pottering around and grazing in the paddock. Initially they were very shy, and it took around 3 months for them to venture out of their stable and then a further 3 months to trust me, they are now so loving though, coming when called to their names and very affectionate, always looking for rubs and cuddles, and sticking their noses in your pockets to see what treats you've brought them!

      *Housing*
      The size of the paddock you have will determine how many donkeys you can keep, as a general rule- each donkey should have 0.5 acres, my paddock is only an acre, hence just the two donkeys, and the area should be separated into two sections. One to be in use, and the other to be resting- allowing the grass to grow whilst your donkeys are in the other area, I rotate the section of the paddock they are in on a weekly basis but it depends on different things such as the condition of the grass and size of your paddock. Fencing should be secure (go round giving your fence a good kick once a month or so, making sure they are no weak spots which your donkeys could easily escape form), and at least 1.5 metres high for a Standard Donkey.
      As well as a paddock, your obviously also going to need a stable- somewhere for your donkey to go in bad weather, during the winter months and at night. It should be water proof, insulated, secure, and at least 3 square metres of floor space per donkey, with a separated stable door, allowing your donkeys to see out ect, but keeping the bottom half closed to keep them in there when need be. For ease of cleaning, the floor should be solid concrete, and bedding will need to be provided- a thin layer of wood shavings to cover the floor, with more in the corners to absorb urine as these are the areas your donkeys are most likely to use as a toilet and then a thick bed of straw for your donkey to sleep on. Wet wood shavings will need to be removed and replaced and solid waste mucked out daily, and then complete removal of old bedding, scrubbing the floors and walls with disinfectant and clean bedding put back down must be done weekly.
      During the summer months (July & August- providing we have good weather),I keep my stable out of use. Mabel & Tilly are kept in their paddock day and night, with a small shelter they can use if it rains, and to sleep in if they wish. But during the winter months they have time in their paddock during the day and go back in their proper stable to sleep.
      I'm lucky enough to be able to keep my donkeys on my property, however not having a stable/paddock of your own doesn't necessarily prevent you from keeping donkeys. There are many boarding stables where you can keep your donkeys for a fee, but you must visit them twice daily to feed, exercise, take out to/bring in from the paddocks.

      *Feeding*
      A donkey needs a very high fibre diet, with the base being good quality barley or oat straw, and then made up with equine pellets, time to graze and then fresh fruit & veg (carrots and apples are extremely popular) can be feed in small amounts daily. Hay only needs providing in a unlimited supply during the winter months when grazing time is limited, however most donkeys appreciate a small amount all year round. Treat wise, the good ol' sugar cubes and polo mints still go down well, just not too many! ;)

      *Health Care*
      - Donkeys need yearly vaccinations and regular dental check up, their teeth can very easily become overgrown will makes it painful for them to eat. An equine vet can do this for you, and file the teeth down if necessary.
      - Mud Fever: This is caused when donkeys are left in extremely wet and muddy fields for long periods of time, it occurs on the lower forelegs and causing the legs to swell and if left untreated, will make the donkey lame. This can be prevented by keeping mud to a minimal in the paddock by dividing and then rotating the area the donkeys are allowed in, and by putting your donkey in their stable during extreme weather.
      - Lice: Lice are easily caught from long grass or other animals and infected donkeys will continuously try to scratch by rubbing them self's up against fences and gateposts, this irritates the skin and causes open sores to form. They need to be kept clean, and a vet called immediately to rid the lice and treat the sores.
      - Worms: Just like cats and dogs, donkeys can pick up worms and will need regular faecal testing and treated only if they do actually have worms, not like cats & dogs that need to be wormed regardless or not they do or don't have them.
      - You will need a Farrier every 6 to 10 weeks for hoof trimming.
      - Ragwort is a highly poisonous yellow weed that can grow in paddock, especially when there has been no rain for a little while. Check your paddock regularly for it, and remove any that is growing. Its also harmful to humans, so wear gloves when handling.
      - Donkeys can be microchipped, just like cats and dogs- please, please, please get it done!! It's the only way you can prove ownership should, god forbid, your donkey get stolen. They are also used to trace you should your donkey escape and be found.

      *Items You Need For Your Donkeys*
      - Salt Lick: Like you may provide a salt lick for rabbits, hamsters ect, there are similar giant versions available and these should be provided for your donkey in their stable. They generally resemble large yellow bricks and will need to be hung in the stable, these provide something for your donkey to chew on, therefore keeping teeth in good condition aswell as adding essential salts and minerals to your donkeys diet.
      - Grooming tools: You will need a brush to groom your donkey at least every other day. I've found the Kong range of rubber brushes best, and you'll also need a Pick, donkeys need stones and grit picked from their hoofs daily and this is tool you will need to do it.
      - Hay net: To keep your donkeys hay, barley or oat straw clean and off the stable floor it should be placed in a hay net, hung in your donkeys stable.
      - Coats: Most donkeys need two coats or 'rugs', one thick warm one to be worn in very cold weather or snow, and a lightweight waterproof one that can be used during the summer months if needed.
      - Head collar & rope: These provide great control over your donkey and allow you to walk them once place to another, they should fit snugly but you should be able to slip two fingers comfortably between your donkeys face and the material of the head collar.
      - Water trough & bucket: The water trough is for the paddock, and should be made of either concrete or metal and filled with fresh water daily, and the bucket is for drinking water whilst your donkeys are in their stable.
      - Transporting box: I don't have one, personally because I never need one! The vet comes to my donkeys and they don't go away to different paddocks. But if your donkey has to travel for whatever reason, a horse box is needed.
      - Fly guards: Many donkeys can get irritated by flies in the summer, especially around the eye area, you can get special fly guards or 'fringes' that hang down over the eyes protecting them from flies without impairing vision.
      - Feed bucket: A flexible plastic, wide opening bucket will be needed to feed pellets ect, to your donkey.

      Donkey products and feed can be brought online, or from the few pets shops that stock equine products. You will spend a fortune purchasing enough hay, wood shavings and straw for your donkey from pet shops, so try to find a bulk supplier or farm shop where the prices will be around 75% less.

      *Conclusion*
      Donkeys are attractive, sensitive, affectionate and extremely loving animals who make fantastic pets given the correct care and attention, they aren't easy to look after though and no matter how much your child pleads for a pony or donkey, don't give in unless you are prepared to personally put the work in yourself as the novelty will soon wear off! They are expensive to keep too, and very time consuming, so please think carefully before purchasing a donkey!

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