Imagine a miniature donkey, with the characteristics of a loving, playful puppy, coupled with the ability to pull a cart or let children ride around on its back. Better yet, what if this hardy pet could live on just a handful of feed and survive up to 35 years or more, meaning that your children and your grandchildren might enjoy its company? With all of these admirable traits, it’s no wonder that miniature donkeys are steadily gaining popularity.
Miniature donkeys have a long history far removed from their current status as pets and show animals. They originated in the Mediterranean islands of Sicily and Sardinia and are still sometimes referred to as miniature Mediterranean donkeys or Sardinian donkeys. Early on, they were strictly beasts of burden, hauling supplies into the mountains and shuffling in endless circles to power grindstones.
The first “dinky donkeys” were brought to the United States in the 1920s by New York stockbroker Robert Green, who admired their intelligence, durability and affectionate nature. Importation continued until the 1960s, when the population was well established, and now there are around 50,000 miniature donkeys in the United States.
The original imports ranged from 32 to 38 inches in height (at the withers), while today’s version typically measures between 31 and 35 inches and weighs between 250 and 350 pounds. An ideal miniature donkey should have the same conformation as its full-size counterparts.
Today’s little donkeys have a much easier life than their ancestors. Most are purchased as pets, since their love of attention makes them ideal companions. Like dogs, they seek out human contact and soak up affection, and they are fast learners. Children can brush, play with, and ride (depending on their size minis may carry up to 100 pounds) the durable little creatures all day.
In addition to working under saddle, miniature donkeys can also be trained to perform on a lead line and pull a cart. On an active show circuit, well-bred animals compete in conformation, lead line and driving classes.
You can also supplement your income by purchasing a jack and one or more jennies and becoming a breeder. You won’t rake in the riches, since each female will only produce one foal per year, but it can be a fun and rewarding hobby.
If you own sheep or goats, a miniature donkey may discourage coyotes and other predators. While many donkeys have an instinctive aggressiveness towards predators, others don’t have the personality to make good guards. Because of their size, miniature donkeys may not be able to fight off coyotes or large dogs effectively. If the primary reason for bringing a donkey to your place is to guard a herd, it’s better to purchase a full-size animal rather than rely on a mini version.
Miniature donkeys are remarkably easy keepers, requiring only grass or hay and a very small amount of grain, as well as access to clean water. Although their soulful eyes may beg for treats, their diet must be limited because overfeeding can be dangerous. If your donkey is a family pet, you’ll need to impress this upon the children. The best reward is a scratch on the withers, although carrots or apples can be given in moderation. Beware of prepackaged horse treats because they can be too rich for a donkey.
Miniature donkeys should have their hooves trimmed every eight to 12 weeks, and they’ll require regular vaccinations and worming. They are also prone to many of the same health problems as horses, including colic and founder, but if you care for them properly, illness will be rare. Try to find a vet with some hands-on donkey experience if possible.
Miniature donkeys don’t require a great deal of land to stay happy and healthy. According to Dan Greenfield, a Central Florida breeder, you can easily maintain a pair on an acre and a half of fenced property. “Because they are herd animals, I recommend getting at least two,” he says. If you’re not interested in breeding, get jennies or gelded jacks.
Little donkeys should have daily grazing and exercise time outdoors. If you don’t have enough grass on your property, supplement their diet with hay and add a small amount of grain if needed. Because of their natural hardiness, keeping donkeys in a barn is optional. However, Dan says, “You should at least give them a three-sided shelter so they can go inside at night.”
Miniature donkeys may be small in size, but they have a giant capacity for attention. If you don’t provide enough, they will express their displeasure with loud, distinctive braying. They can also raise quite a ruckus when feeding time is late, so make sure any neighbors within earshot are understanding of the “Aw-eeee! Aw-eeee!” serenade.
Rainbow of colors
Miniature donkeys have a wide palette of coat colors. Gray-dun is the most common, but they can also be black, white, ivory with blue eyes, or anywhere in the range of brown and sorrel/chestnut hues. Some have roan, paint or spotted patterns, and almost all have a dark “cross” that runs down their back and across their shoulders.
Dan and his wife, Carol, say that red is currently the color du jour. “The demand changes, almost like a fad,” Carol says. “Not too long ago, everyone wanted black. Now sorrel is suddenly hot.”
Popular colors command a premium price, and jennies tend to cost more than jacks. Prices vary, based on the donkey’s age, personality, conformation, breeding and location, but typically start around $600. A quality jenny for breeding can cost close to $2,000. If you buy donkeys for breeding or showing, they’ll need to be registered with either the International Miniature Donkey Registry Inc. or the Miniature Donkey Registry.
If you’re interested in a new hoofed family member, a miniature donkey might be the perfect choice. They eat light, don’t take up much space, and are rugged yet smart and affectionate. Before you know it, dinky donkeys might just take over your heart.
Barb Nefer is a freelance writer based in Kissimmee, Florida. She spends her spare time exploring the countryside on Figment, her Appaloosa horse.Dan and Carol Greenfield own Dinkie Donkeys, a farm in Webster, Florida. Visit them online at.