Despite a long history of livestock breed development in America, few breeds can claim they originated from the vision of a U.S. president. The American Mammoth Jackstock, however, can.
George Washington believed that the growth of the U.S. would require superior draft animals, such as the fine working mules of Europe. At the time, America didn’t possess the large donkeys needed to breed such desirable animals. But during Washington’s presidency, the king of Spain gifted him with an Andalusian jack (a male donkey) named Royal Gift, along with two jennets (female donkeys) of the same breed. Not long afterward, Washington’s longtime friend, the Marquis de Lafayette, sent him a jack and two jennets from Malta. Washington bred the Maltese jack with one of the Andalusian jennets and produced a fine breeding jack he named Compound. When Washington bred Compound with horses, the pairing led to exceptional animals that were superior in their working abilities and endurance compared with oxen or horses. By the time of Washington’s death, mules sired by Compound sold for about $200 apiece, which today would equal nearly $3,000 each. George Washington’s Mount Vernon estate still keeps a Mammoth Jackstock donkey as a testament to the work Washington did to create the magnificent breed.
Mammoth Jackstocks are tall and sturdy with substantially thick legs and massive, well-made heads. Their ears are one of their outstanding trademarks, often measuring 33 inches from tip to tip.
Breeders must pay close attention to size and bone structure in their animals. According to the American Mammoth Jackstock Association, jacks are expected to stand no fewer than 14.2 hands (58 inches) high at the withers and 61 inches around the heart girth. Jennets and geldings can be no fewer than 14 hands (56 inches), and they have the same heart girth as jacks. Many Mammoth Jackstocks grow to be taller than this, with weights ranging between 900 and 1,200 pounds. Young donkeys may be registered if both parents are registered stock; however, the youngsters must be reevaluated by 5 years of age to ensure they meet the size requirements for the breed.
Breed numbers for American Mammoth Jackstocks came to a peak in the early 20th century, with an estimated 5 million animals in the national herd. As agriculture became more dependent on mechanized tools, the mule slowly lost favor on the American farm. Today, The Livestock Conservancy has the Mammoth Jackstock listed as “critical,” with fewer than 200 annual registrations for the breed.
I had the opportunity to encounter two exceptionally sweet Mammoth Jackstock donkeys, Jaxon and Chloe, a few years back at the Mother Earth News Fair in Topeka, Kansas. The animals belonged to Dwite and Mary Sharp of Paradise Ranch Adventures LLC, and were used for trail riding and packing tours. I asked Dwite about his start with donkeys, which took him back a good number of years to when he first graduated high school and began a career playing donkey basketball for the Reynolds Co. in San Bernardino, California. He was hooked immediately by the personality and intelligence of these animals and has never looked back.
Dwite got his first Mammoth Jackstock donkey on his farm in Council Grove, Kansas. She was originally brought in to be a guardian donkey for their pack goat herd, and was pregnant when she arrived to their farm. Her foal, Chloe, was the first Mammoth Jackstock donkey that Dwite had trained for riding, by noted horseman Frank Buchman. I asked what the difference was between training a horse versus a donkey, and Dwite said, “Donkeys are very intelligent and operate on trust and caution. Without trust, you get nowhere.” Buchman noted that, compared with horses, donkeys have a short attention span, so training in short time periods, such as 30 minutes per day, will get you the best results. By the end of 28 days of training, Buchman returned Chloe to Dwite, saying, “A cowboy dreams of having one truly great horse in a lifetime. Although she’s not a horse, she’s your one amazing mount of a lifetime.”
Dwite said that donkeys are easy keepers, but the biggest mistake people make with them is feeding them a diet too rich in grains or high-quality hay. “Alfalfa is a big no-no for donkeys,” he said. And the only time he feeds oats is if the animals have had a challenging workday. Another mistake is breaking donkeys for riding at too early an age. He doesn’t start his donkeys until they’re at least 4 years old. Starting earlier than that can cause harm to both the donkey and its rider, since the animals won’t yet have learned how to “wear their feet” to the best of their abilities. He went on to say that Mammoth Jackstocks that are too tall and leggy tend to be a bit clumsy as mounts, and he finds the ideal size for a trail donkey to be around 14.5 hands.
Dwite’s final thought on Mammoth Jackstock donkeys was this: “The greatest gift the donkey provides its rider is common sense. If the animal trusts you and decides to refuse to do something for you, take a good look around, because it’s probably seeing a danger you don’t. A good donkey will take care of its rider.” Dwite’s grandchildren still ride Chloe today, and she takes good care of them on the trail.
Jeannette Beranger is a program manager for The Livestock Conservancy,, and has more than 30 years of experience working with animals. For more information on Mammoth Jackstock donkeys, visit The Livestock Conservancy or the American Mammoth Jackstock Association.