We have partnered up with Rachel from Foghorn Farm Donkey Training again to bring you another informative article about Donkeys! Donkeys are not small horses with long ears and small tails. Oftentimes owners get surprised at certain donkey traits and behaviors because they are either unused to all things equine or very used to horses. Again, donkeys are not small horses! They are an entirely different species and have entirely different behaviors and needs.
I asked my Facebook group Only Donkeys to come up with some donkey behaviors or characteristics they found surprising at first. I got a fantastic response. I won’t put ALL of them in this article, but I will certainly mention quite a few. As a new or experienced donkey owner, you might see or experience some of these and also be surprised.
- Sheath nipples. Many male donkeys have vestigial nipples on either side of their sheath. It is normal. Why? No idea. Same reason human males have nipples I suppose.
- Dip reflex. Many young donkeys, and some adults, have a reflex to dip their backs as if in pain when they are touched there. It is a response to being attacked from above, to wriggle out from under a threat. No, your donkey isn’t in pain (unless you have a saddle donkey that has an ill fitting saddle).
- Cussing. OK, so *I* call it cussing, because I imagine the donkey saying cuss words as they behave this way. This is when your donkey, out of mild irritation or impatience, picks up their head, pins their ears, and seems to tense throughout the body suddenly. Sometimes it has a tail swish as well as a half hearted (or full hearted ) backwards kick. I have found my impatient donkeys will “cuss” when asked to stand for lengthy periods of time. No, they aren’t trying to kick you. If they were trying to kick you, they wouldn’t have missed!
- Continued male sexual behavior after timely castration. No idea why (would love a study done on the subject, but alas donkeys are not widely studied) but male donkeys tend to retain their urge to get erect, mount, insert, and ejaculate even after castration, even if the castration was done very young. Some can actually have no interest and be taught by a jennet. Some just are interested. Some males are more sexual than others. Count yourself lucky if your gelding does not do this. Our females and males are separated by ten feet, because even after we separated them, they would try to mount through the fence and get stuck!!
- Personal space issues. I have found that well mannered and trusting donkeys want snuggles, far more than horses. They are much more cat or dog like, and want to be CLOSE to you. That is ok!!! So long as you can always move them off if you need to, and don’t put yourself in a space where you cannot escape, feel free to let your donkey snuggle you! They absolutely love deep ear rubs. They roll their eyes back and get all floppy lipped.
- Piggybacking on the personal space issue, donkeys will oftentimes give new owners a heart attack by slowly following them around backwards. Donkeys LOVE butt scratches and rubs, especially around and under the tail. Donkeys also will “head rest” on you if they truly trust you. They are saying “you are my friend. MINE!”
- Have better fences. Then, redo them so that they are better. Then, find a latch that no man alive can figure out. You will need it. They can escape almost anything. Hot wire is your friend. Let me repeat: hot wire is your friend.
- Donkeys chew wood. They can actually get nutrition from it. Most stop chew products do not work well. Spicy? Yum!! My advice? Make everything out of metal.
- Flies. They love donkeys way more than horses. You will need ten different plans for flies. Prepare to clean constantly, prepare to use every product known to man. Does anything work really really well? Not really. It will be a management issue every summer. Be prepared with knee high stretchy socks (easy to get on with a plastic bag over the hoof btw), different fly sprays, swat, and an entire arsenal of anti fly products.
- Jennets in heat. They do this awful looking behavior called “jawing”. They will urinate often, back up to other jennets or geldings or jacks, and urinate, lay back their ears, open their mouths very wide, and snap their jaws. It sounds and looks terrible. It is normal. That’s their “sexy face”. Be glad you aren’t a donkey….unless you like the open jawed look on your partner.
- Annoyance about mucking. Some donkeys (in my experience geldings/jacks) protect their poop piles. They get genuinely annoyed when you remove their “markers”. They were telling others that they have a territory and now you stole their markers from them! They will get used to it. Believe me, they will create more “markers”.
- They can and will eat….almost anything. Have some plastic bags floating around their pasture? You may find them going down the hatch….usually they poop out these sorts of things but no matter what, any foreign object can cause major digestive issues and could cause death. So get rid of any junk in your paddocks!
- Water drinking. Donkeys often drink water as if there is a crocodile in their tank. That’s because, well, there could be. That is normal.
- Moving into pressure. No matter how much you train your donkey to move away from pressure, in a stressful situation, they may turn off that part of their brain and move into it…very fast. So for instance, a donkey can take you skiing easier than a horse. They are very strong and have very grippy hooves. Donkeys do this thing where they “S curve” their neck, once they do that, you will have to get through to their brain to get them to unlock their neck and jaw. You absolutely cannot out-muscle a donkey. You must gain trust and teach them to use their thinking brain in scary situations.
- Geldings play ROUGH. They will play by biting necks, drawing blood, taking their playmate to the ground. They do this to horses and smaller livestock too. That’s why they should only be housed with other geldings for the most part. There are always exceptions, but don’t be surprised!! It is one of the main reason why the myth of Livestock Guardian Donkeys must die.
- It takes FOREVER to shed. Donkeys basically finally shed out in time to get a winter coat. That is normal.
- Balking. Donkeys will oftentimes balk. They do it for two reasons: first, they may be thinking about something. They are deciding what to do. Give them time. The second reason is they have a great sense of self preservation. They think they may be in danger. If you put more pressure on a donkey when they are balking, they will balk longer, and may give up on trying what you are asking. A donkey can balk for a long time. Don’t have time? Don’t work with your donkey. They work on their own time!
- They need different hoof trimming than a horse. They should have shorter, more upright, more concave feet. Donkeys need good hoof care, because they can get so many hoof problems, and many are caused by incorrect trimming (aka they were trimmed like a horse). Finding a good donkey trimmer is difficult. If you find one, make sure they know they are appreciated!!
- Donkeys do not have a waterproof coat. They do need shelter when it is cold and wet out. Not using it? Yeahhhh…some don’t like to. Does that mean they should get wet? Nope. They may need a rain sheet.
- Donkeys are far more affectionate than most animals when they trust and love you. I can’t tell you how many horse owners just fall in love with donkeys and can’t get enough of them, once they understand them and gain their trust!
My hope is that this article can help you understand your donkey better. When you see these unusual donkey characteristics and behaviors, you will not be worried, but instead understand what your donkey may need. Have another donkey behavior/characteristic you think is unusual and specific to donkeys? Feel free to share with us at Foghorn Farm Donkey Training! These animals are amazing and unique, let’s celebrate them!