Donkey Society of Western Australia Inc


Frequently asked questions about donkeys

The following lists a few of our most asked questions and brief answers:

I want a donkey as a pet. What gender should I get?

Jack is the term used for the male, Jennet or Jenny for the female and Gelding for the castrated Jack donkey.

Geldings and Jennies make the best pets as they are usually evenly tempered.

A Jack on the other hand has certain instincts and actions that are not suitable as pets or as companion animals. Jacks can be more aggressive and harder to handle, they often bray continually if they don't have company or there is an in-season Jenny nearby. They may even challenge their owner for the 'Alpha' role. Jack donkeys are unpredictable and consequently are unsafe around children.

A Jack donkey always knows he is a stud. He will therefore try very hard to service any in-season Jenny or horse mare on your property or in the neighbourhood. A frustrated Jack can be dangerous and requires strong fences. A frustrated Jack can harass Jennies, kill young foals, or other animals, and generally inflict injuries to other animals or people. Jacks do not make good pets. The only time a Jack should be left 'entire' is if he is intended for breeding and he should then receive special housing, and handling by an experienced person.

Young Jacks who have been gelded can make wonderful, quiet well balanced pets and find life much less stressful without having to deal with hormones.

Males are capable of breeding well before their first birthday so caution must be used with very young Jacks around any Jennies.

What should I feed my donkey?

Like all animals, donkeys need water, energy, protein, minerals and vitamins. Donkeys are very hardy animals and are efficient at digesting roughage feeds (like hay).   They can generally eat enough to meet their usual energy needs from a moderate quality roughage diet of hay, or a mixture of straw and small amounts of green fodder (such as lucerne), or from moderate quality grazing.   However, grazing quality varies throughout the year, and the donkey's requirements may vary depending on whether it is working, pregnant or feeding a foal.

Young foals and their mothers may need to have their diet supplemented with small amounts of concentrates ('hard feed') to meet their special needs.   The donkey's diet should never be supplemented by concentrate feeds (or mineral blocks) that are designed for ruminants (cattle, sheep, goats) and that contain urea as this can be toxic to horses and donkeys.

Donkeys should not be overfed as fat donkeys are prone to painful hoof problems (laminitis) and serious metabolic disorders. As with horses, it is also important not to change a donkey's diet too quickly, since it takes up to two weeks for the gut microbes to adapt to new feeds. Sudden changes in diet can result in colic, diarrhea or laminitis.
Fresh water and a mineral lick should always be available.

How much would it cost to buy a donkey in Australia?

The purchase price of donkeys, as with most animals, will depend on a range of things like size, age, level of training, temperament, condition, colour and breeding. Whilst lovely, friendly donkeys are sometimes offered for sale by their owners for genuine reasons, there are also occasions when 'cheap' donkeys are advertised that have been neglected and unhandled and these are not a good choice for beginners.  Nor is it a good idea to buy an ungelded jack (male donkey) as a pet, since jacks may become unpredictable and difficult to handle as they grow to maturity.

A standard (average-sized) pet-quality donkey might cost roughly $500-$1000, or more for a pregnant jenny.   Buying from a breeder may cost more, particularly if you are seeking breeding-quality donkeys or rarer types like the large donkeys (Poitous or Mammoths) for riding or harness work, or the miniatures.   Breeders will generally provide additional advice and post-purchase support, and their donkeys are well-trained, friendly and quiet to handle.

My stubborn donkey will not move: Are donkeys really stubborn?

What do you do if they won't move?   It's not so much stubbornness as caution, and a strong instinct for self-preservation.   It is these qualities, along with a friendly temperament, that make donkeys safe mounts.   Generally, when donkeys come upon a situation that could be a threat, they stop and take time to assess the danger, rather than taking flight.   Sometimes they will have picked up on some hazard that their rider or handler has overlooked, and at other times the apparent danger will not be a real threat.   So if your donkey baulks, take time to investigate the cause and either remove it or gently persuade the donkey with your calm encouragement that it is safe to proceed.  
For some tips and tricks with donkeys who will not move check our notes on leading your donkey.

How fast can a donkey run?

The Onager (Asiatic Wild Ass) has been clocked galloping at 43 miles per hour (69 km/hr) and trained donkeys can hold their own against horses in some speed events (like pole-bending) -- but the speed of domestic donkeys will vary according to size, age, fitness and load. Donkeys can perform all the gaits horses or mules do (some are even "gaited") but galloping is usually not on the agenda unless it's time for dinner!

Although donkey racing does take place in various parts of the world, donkeys excel at more leisurely activities like packing (as they walk at about the same pace as a human walks) and as perfect mounts for children. They tend to be more gentle, slower, smoother and more cautious than ponies; and more surefooted, and less "flighty" than horses. Donkeys can take us to places where horses could not venture.

Will donkeys walk in water?

Many of us think donkeys could walk on water but seriously, as with other animals, donkeys may be hesitant about walking through water when they first encounter it. With training, they will cross streams without a second thought.

Are there any donkey breeders in Western Australia?

There are several reputable, knowledgeable local breeders who are members of the Donkey Society of WA and who will be happy to advise about all aspects of donkey care.   Different studs breed Irish, English, Poitou, and American Miniature Mediterranean donkeys; purebred and crossbred; large and small.   These breeders carefully select their breeding stock, often using imported bloodlines to ensure that they produce healthy, robust donkeys with excellent temperaments. Our Society will be happy to put you in contact with breeders of donkeys that match your requirements.

How do I find a farrier?

Donkey hooves are generally similar to horse hooves and must be trimmed regularly. Unlike horses, donkeys are generally not shod so the farrier's job is simply to trim the hooves. Many experienced donkey-owners learn to do this job themselves. However, it is important to understand the anatomy of the hoof, as incorrect trimming or failure to care for your donkey's hooves can result in pain and lameness. Compared with horses hooves, donkeys hooves are oval rather than round; more upright and more elastic; thicker soled; and with a frog extending out behind the coffin bone. The hoof needs to be trimmed so that the ground surface of the coffin bone is pretty much parallel to the ground; and the hoof wall is trimmed to be level with the sole plane, with the frog in contact with the ground.

Farriers advertise at stockfeed suppliers and in the equestrian pages of the Saturday papers, but not all farriers are familiar with donkey hooves. Donkey breeders and owners in the Donkey Society of WA may be able to suggest who will be able to help in your area.

How far can a donkey travel?

The answer to this depends on the size, age, load and fitness of the donkey. In the USA, where 'long rides' (endurance rides) are popular, it is not unusual for a fit donkey of average-large size to travel 80 km per day (for several days). However such adventures require adequate preparation and training to ensure that the donkeys are in top condition.

by: Helen McIntyre

Have a specific question on catching your donkey?  contact us  and we will try to provide an answer.