Friday, November 7, 2008

Three cheers for two long ears

After our reasonable success at chicken farming, we decided to add to our barnyard menagerie: meet our new donkeys, Cinderella and Leeroy.

And yes, we know -- we have a cute pair of asses.

Before you ask, "What are homesteaders doing with a pair of donkeys?" rest assured -- we haven't completely lost our senses and fallen prey to their equine charm. Donkeys are good companion animals (important to our future flock of sheep and goats) and offer excellent predator protection against marauding coyotes, dogs or wolves, all of which roam the area (the farmer down the road recently lost four sheep to wolves).

We've heard all about the bad rep donkeys have -- that they're stubborn, stupid and even vicious -- but we're convinced they're largely misunderstood. Donkeys are less flighty than horses and are more likely to stand and assess a situation before acting (hence the reputation for stubbornness.) The ones that are vicious have most likely been victims of abuse or neglect (there's a long sad history of donkey abuse -- check out the PrimRose Donkey Sanctuary in Roseneath, Ontario and The Donkey Sanctuary of Canada in Guelph, Ontario.)

We always knew we'd have donkeys here at Rowangarth Farm, but we weren't sure where we'd find them or when. Then in the classified section of our local weekly paper, I found our answer: For sale: two Donkeys -- one Jack and one Jenny.

What's the harm in calling, I reasoned: We could get more information and find out what they were selling for. I'd seen them listed for between $200 and $400 each, and it's not fair to get only one (they're very social creatures and they do better in pairs.) Regardless of their value to our farm, I knew that $800 was way out of our budget.

Nevertheless, I drafted a long list of questions for the seller:

  • What size are the donkeys (they're standard sized, meaning they're between 36" and 48" tall at the withers, larger than miniature donkeys but smaller than mammoths)

  • How old are they (six and 10 years old, which is relatively young as donkeys can live between 25 and 40 years... though the world's oldest lived over 60 years!);

  • Are they halter-trained (yes);

  • Are they currently under veterinarian and/or farrier care (yes - donkeys have to be dewormed and have their hooves trimmed regularly);

  • How are they with other animals, domestic and otherwise (fine, they were in a field with a horse and they're used to a dog - not sure what they'd be like with sheep/goats);

  • Why were they being sold (the seller wanted another horse though his wife really wanted to keep them (we've since spoken and arranged for a visit));

  • How much were they asking (not much), and

  • When could we come for a visit (any time).

Turns out the seller lives about 20 minutes away from us so less than thirty minutes after our preliminary phone call, we found ourselves mucking about a pen with two donkeys and a horse. While the male wanted little to do with us (we later learned he's just shy at first), the female nuzzled up to us, checking out our pockets and looking for behind-the-ear rubs.

They were obviously well loved beasties (Leeroy is even a little on the fat side) and we were pleased to find out the male wasn't a Jack (an uncastrated male). He's a gelding (a castrated male), which is a good thing for us, as Jacks can be more aggressive and noisier.

We thanked the owner and told him we'd think about it. By the time we'd pulled out of his driveway, we'd made our decision: We wanted the donkeys to come live with us.

We spent the next few days fixing fences, buying hay and straw (surprisingly, not as easy to find as we thought, especially since we were looking for small square bales and not the big 1,000 pound round bales that big farmers favour), reading The Donkey Companion (an excellent book by Sue Weaver) and getting a place in the barn ready. Donkeys are pretty hardy creatures and these two had lived outside 24/7 for their entire lives (Cindi had lived with these folks since she was two years old and Leeroy since he was eight months) but I wanted to have a place they could go when the weather got really, really bad.

All we had to do now was get them to us. Simple, right? Wrong. It took us a week to find someone who'd transport the donkeys 20 minutes down the road. Turns out horse people are leary of donkeys, concerned that they'd "freak out" and cause damage to themselves or the trailer. (The seller and I both agreed that if anyone was to have a problem moving the donkeys, it'd be convincing them to get on the trailer in the first place.)

Finally, the owner of the donkeys called in a favour with a horse farmer down the road. After a false start in which Leeroy took off to the back-forty when his owner came at him with a lead (around this time I was starting to wonder what exactly we'd gotten ourselves in to) we got a phone call to say the donkeys were loaded and they were on their way. The owner then added, "Would anyone be there to help us unload?" Again, I wondered what I'd gotten us into.

After all the drama and nonsense trying to get them here, their arrival was pretty low key. While both of them were obviously distressed by the trailering (poor Leeroy had emptied his bowels and bladder ALL over the trailer and Cindi was so drenched in sweat the driver thought there was water leaking from the roof of his trailer) they both took to their new home almost instantly.

Here's a photo of Cinderella, or Cindi or Cinder, less than two hours after her arrival.

This handsome dude with the 'fro is Leeroy, or Lee.

Their homecoming wasn't without problems: The dog wasn't too pleased with the new arrivals. The first day, he barked and barked every time he saw the donkeys and I worried that they'd kick him in the head and kill him. Thankfully, they had more sense than he did (he is only one year old, after all) and they were quite tolerant of his sniffing and exploring.

Now, after spending only five days getting acquainted, Henry loves careening around the barnyard with them (so lovely) and rolling in donkey poop (not so lovely.)

Henry's not the only one enjoying their company. Both Cindi and Leeroy follow us around the barnyard and watch us from the fence line as we load the wood furnace or walk the kids to the bus.

They love carrots and apples, dust baths and a firm scratch on the rump. Wherever Cindi goes, you'll find Leeroy keeping an eye on her. And we know that when we are ready to add some sheep and dairy goats to our farm, we'll have Cinderella and Leeroy keeping an eye on them.

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