Monday, August 18, 2014

Meet the Herd: Mr. Donkey #farming #animals

I'm starting this series thanks to a kick in the pants from my wonderful friend Jackie in England, who asked for photos of the creatures inhabiting our farm. Rather than just post photos, I thought I'd share a little about their history and personalities, so we'll start with Mr. Donkey, who is truly one of a kind.



He's a lovely brown, with a darker mane and tail, and a splash of white at his bottom. He also wears white cotton socks on all four legs and has a few white splotches on his neck. As he's aged, Mr. Donkey's muzzle is fading to gray, giving him a grizzled look.


Why do we call him Mr. Donkey? His personality demands a certain respect. He's our only donkey, but he is a key member of the herd. You see, Mr. Donkey's main job is protection. He's the muscle, which might seem odd given that he's about 1/10th the weight of a cow. But when a calf is born, Mr. Donkey assumes baby-sitter role and minds the newborn while the momma (or mommas, depending on how fast the calves are coming) grazes. He's a brave fellow despite his diminished size and has put himself between a coyote and the herd, and a pack of dogs and the herd. Neither challenged him.


He's also a bit of a punching bag. As the calves grow, he's the nearest creature to their size, so when they get tired of head butting each other, they try to butt Mr. Donkey. He tolerates it pretty well, but when the calves see his tail flick, they learn to back off or get a tap from his hoof.


While we think he rivals Methuselah in age, we're not really sure how old he is. His early years are a bit murky, but we know he did a stint as a rodeo donkey and was rescued by the Heard family (fitting, eh?), who live near my grandparent's old place. While at the Heard estate, a mule took a chunk out of his neck. We have no idea how his spinal cord managed to avoid being severed, but it did. Mr. Heard smeared a healing ointment in Mr. Donkey's wound and barring a strange dip mid-neck, he's fully recovered.


He came to live with my parents about fifteen years ago when they expanded their cattle herd, and he moved to our ranch in 2007. He's an eating machine, stopping only to roll around on the ground for a nice dust bath. Given that we've had such a lovely spring and summer, he looks a little like a barrel on legs but he'll trim down to his normal svelte size in the winter.

He's notoriously camera shy (I was lucky he tolerated my taking these photos) and even a bit moody when it comes to being petted, although if you catch him just right he loves having his ears tickled. When he makes his mind up to be immovable, he's immovable. We've tried moving him from one pasture to another by tugging on his halter (when he wears one), but have found that shaking a bucket of feed works better.

He's very patient with creatures that are smaller than he is, like kids. Mr. Donkey has not been ridden since he's lived with us, and when people ask if he's rideable, we answer that if you can catch him, you're welcome to try.

Some fast facts about Mr. Donkey:

Favorite book: The Geronimo Breach by Russell Blake (A burro plays a key role in saving the hero. I think there's a bit of donkey-envy going on.)

Favorite song: "Donkey" by Jerrod Niemann. Even though he objects to the riding part, Mr. Donkey digs the chorus: "Gonna ride that donkey donkey down to the honky tonky, it's gonna get funky funky, aw aw." The song is either stupid or brilliant, depending on the listener, but Mr. Donkey loves it. He's also partial to Johnny Horton's "Electrified Donkey", mostly because Mr. Donkey's too smart to touch an electrified fence.

Favorite food: Anything, really, but he'll come trotting for an apple core.

Little known fact: He was the inspiration for the strip club name 'The Ronkey Donkey' in The Devil of Light.
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Stay tuned for more posts on other members of the herd, including Elvis, Sid Vicious, 107, and Gimpy.