Tell Me About Miniature Donkeys
This is Circle C Silverado. He is a mature breeding jack. This photo was taken at the 2009 Northwest Horse Fair and Expo where Silverado took part in the Stallion Review. Over the three days Silverado went for walks like this with over 60 children, some as young as three.While I consider him very special, this wonderful disposition is fairly typical of Miniature Donkeys which is why so many of us love them!!
TELL ME ABOUT MINIATURE DONKEYS
written by Cindy Benson
Benson Ranch Miniature Donkeys LLC
Dr Mitch and Cindy Benson
720 Pelton Lane
Gold Hill, OR 97525
Miniature Donkeys are intelligent, comical, friendly, endearing little creatures that create extraordinary human/equine bonds. A relationship with them is often more like owning a dog rather than what most people consider as an equine relationship. They really make an emotional bond with their owners, and with anyone else who gives them a chance. They will ask for your attention with nudges, brays, and funny little sounds. They learn quickly and are very eager to please. Miniature Donkeys are inexpensive to live with and almost trouble free as they are hardy and long lived. They are safe around small children and those with physical or mental considerations. They have highly adaptable personalities that lend themselves to a myriad of situations. Having Miniature Donkeys in your life is like bringing home new friends. They have enriched and broadened my life for many years and I don't expect to ever be without them.
ORIGIN AND HISTORY
Miniature Donkeys are native to the Mediterranean islands of Sicily and Sardinia. Bred to be small, tough, docile, and trainable, they were used to carry firewood, deliver freshly baked bread, pull carts filled with laundry, and were used to pull ore carts in mines. It is easy to observe today how the donkeys' demeanor fit the lives of rural people. Because these industries have changed native Miniature Donkeys are no longer used for these purposes and are almost extinct in their lands of origin. They have been crossed with standard sized donkeys to create a more versatile work animal. Because of this the Miniature Donkeys in North America have global genetic value. They were first introduced to this country in 1929. Today there are over 52,000 registered in the United States. Many more are registered in Canada, and recently they have become a popular export to Europe and other foreign countries.
Miniature Donkeys must not measure more than 36" at the withers to be registered and come in a variety of colors including grey, brown, sorrel, black, or spotted. They are referred to as jacks, jennets, and geldings. The life expectancy of a well cared for Miniature Donkey is around 30-35 years and they can often do that with a minimum of special needs. Their conformation should be that of a well rounded animal standing on four straight legs with all parts in symmetry and balance. They should also look athletic and capable of performing a multitude of tasks. The average donkey will weigh 250 to 450 pounds and stand 30" to 36" high. Most are in the 32" to 34" range.
CARE AND HOUSING REQUIREMENTS
Miniature Donkeys are easy to live with and economical to keep. They need shelter from the elements but don't need to be fussed over. A three sided shelter is perfect for them as they will go in when they need to. They don't require blanketing or confinement in inclement weather as they have an excellent sense of self-preservation. Most are really disgusted with rain but don't seem to mind the cold. They need room to run and play but require much less space than a horse. Good quality grass or grain hay is perfect for them, with alfalfa and grain being rarely appropriate. They require a high fiber - low protein diet. They founder easily if overfed and this and related issues is the number one killer of Miniature Donkeys, other than advanced age. They need their hooves trimmed every six to eight weeks, should be de-wormed every two to three months, and require the same vaccinations and schedule as a horse does. One of the most important things to understand about these little guys is they need each other, even when kept with horses, sheep, goats, etcetera. They are tremendously social and their play behavior with each other is much like that of a young horse but they never outgrow it. They play with toys, rear and box at each other, and have several happy attacks a day. Watching donkeys play is a delight and I often sit back with a cup of tea or a glass of wine and enjoy the show!
BUT WHAT DO YOU DO WITH THEM??
Miniature donkeys are wonderful friends and companions. Children can be given great freedom with them because they seldom bit or kick and they crave attention. Even small children can be successful handling a friendly donkey and that can really foster self confidence and teach the benefits of nurturing. I have placed donkeys in group homes and therapy situations. They are also a great companion to the elderly or those who for various reasons are not able to interact the way they used to with their horses. Miniature Donkeys are very rewarding to train because of their quick intelligence, inquisitive nature, and eagerness to please.
Despite their small stature, Miniature Donkeys have the ability to pack fifty to eighty pounds. They are wonderful trail companions and can enrich any hiking or backpacking experience. They are people magnets so be prepared to be popular. Miniature Donkeys can readily be taught to pull carts and can be driven successfully by almost anyone. The necessary equipment for driving is readily available and inexpensive. Miniature Donkeys can be shown competitively in many classes including trail, speed events and obstacle driving in the cart. Most donkey owners/breeders are an inclusive group and are happy to lend a hand if asked so there is no need to be shy if you are new to all this. Miniature Donkeys also offer a great way to give back to your community by sharing them with science fairs, classrooms, nursing homes, Christmas and Easter celebrations, and many, many more situations. Let creativity be your guide! I have found that sometimes it is preferable to beg for forgiveness rather than ask for permission. Occasionally the folks in charge worry about the safety of being around an equine but when they find out how donkeys differ from horses they become comfortable with the idea. I have never been asked to leave and have never had anyone hurt or have a bad experience. These little guys will let you dress them up in foolish costumes and go just about anywhere for you! Sometimes in a busy life making the time for these experiences is challenging but at the end of the day I have always felt that these outings were memories I would cherish.
Breeding and raising Miniature Donkeys is lots of fun and is much less stressful than dealing with horses. They are considered of breeding age at three to four years old and can foal into their twenties. There is usually very little, if any, veterinary involvement in breeding donkeys. Because of their size most breeders don't routinely do pre or post foaling exams or ultrasound exams. Breeding fees are typically in the $300 - $500 range with top animals commanding up to $1000. These fees usually include "mare care" so typically this is the only cost to breed. Those of you who have broodmares know that the breeding fee is often only the beginning of the story. Not so with donkeys. Miniature Donkeys conceive and foal easily and are generally comfortable with sharing a newborn foal with their owner; the foals are often friendly at birth or shortly thereafter. I am a tad biased but I think there are few things cuter than a baby donkey. They weight about twenty pounds, range in size from 18" to 24" at birth, and will climb right up in your lap if let them. Only a cold heart could resist! The decision to breed comes with a responsibility. There is a difference between a wonderful pet and an animal worthy of adding to the Miniature Donkey gene pool. A conscientious breeder breeds the best jennet he/she can afford to a high quality jack, even if the intention is to produce "only a pet". Today's breeding animals provide the gene pool of the future. Donkeys live a long time and who can say what decisions will be made down the line and breeding "only pets" is not good for the future of Miniature Donkeys. If you are new to genetic principals and husbandry it would be helpful to you to find a knowledgeable, responsible breeder to ask questions of. Most breeders are happy to assist. I really enjoy mentoring new donkey owners.
Good quality Miniature Donkeys can be a wise investment. A donkey with correct conformation and that is registered with known pedigrees, preferably of those bloodlines proven to consistently produce quality offspring, is a valuable asset in a discerning breeding program. There is no free lunch and raising donkeys take time, money, and lots of work but the profitability is very different than it is for most horse breeders and the emotional reward is great. For instance, I estimate my annual cost per donkey to be something less than $400. Worthy breeding jennets can be purchased for $2000 to $4000 with better quality jennets sporting a price tag of up to $10,000 plus. Starting in the lower price range at an entry level is how most people begin and many breeders never go beyond that. There is a place for all of us and as long as you breed with an eye towards conformation and genetics you will do just fine. Breeding quality jacks should be in the top 5% of the population, quality wise, and will sell for $2000 to $6000 typically. Pet quality geldings bring $800 to $1000 and show quality geldings may bring up to $2500. Even the best breeders will produce pet quality animals from time to time and sometimes these are the most loved of all. Financially, you can see that whether you produce a jack, jennet, or a foal to be gelded the profit margin is very different than that of most horse breeders. Miniature Donkeys are also safer and less complicated to deal with making them a good choice for a beginner. I think there is a strong argument to be made regarding the wisdom of purchasing high quality donkeys; it costs the same to feed them as a lesser quality donkey but their foals bring a higher price which will help pay the bills. This will allow you to chase your donkey dreams and producing good quality foals is beneficial to all of us. It is very realistic to have your donkeys pay for themselves. Marketing skills and dealing with known, popular bloodlines will have much to do with the price your foals will bring. Now, even with these little guys it's work! This is not the next get rich scheme but your responsible efforts will be rewarded.
THE FUTURE IS BRIGHT!
The future of Miniature Donkeys is strong and secure. I have been a breeder since 1992 and have seen them steadily rise in popularity. Here at Benson Ranch we strive to produce high quality breeding stock and have just over 100 Miniature Donkeys, all with their own personalities and charm. We produce several pet quality donkeys a year, as well as top breeding animals, and do rescue work with donkeys. We always have donkeys for sale in a diverse price range. We are proud of our donkeys and share them readily with anyone who is interested in learning about these wonderful, special animals. Please give us a call, or better yet, treat yourself to a visit! The donkeys and I would love to meet you!
There is a wonderful donkey reference book available that I highly recommend. It is called: "The Donkey Companion" and was written by Sue Weaver. It can be purchased from Amazon for $20. This book is very informative - and fun!
Miniature Donkeys need each other as they play, sleep, and eat together. They can be quite entertaining to watch!!
Below is a story about the two donkeys above and why donkeys need each other:
"It is so true about the little donkeys needing at least one other donkey friend. Coco, the dark brown guy in the photo can tell that story! He was bred by Kathy Renfro and sold to a lady in Williams as a weanling. Although she has other horses including a mini horse, he was never really included in their society. When I went to see him he was living in a separate pen because the horses had been picking on him. He was so sad and depressed. My husband and Coco bonded immediately, I didn't quibble about the price, we just loaded him up and got him out of there! As we watched Coco become a member of our barn, it was a real lesson about the intelligence of donkeys and herd dynamics. Coco had no idea how to groom or be groomed by another donkey. Rufus took it upon himself to teach him. Coco would bite and attack when Rufus attempted to groom him. Rufus was patient and kept at it until Coco got it one day. It took Coco a long time to trust his herd-mates and become a participating member. It warms my heart to look out the window and see Coco grooming, playing a game of tag or laying down with all the donks for a group nap. He is still a little different from my other three. He has a quick temper with the other donks, sometimes he spends time alone from the group, and he tends to mope at times, and would rather eat and interact with people with out the other donkeys."
This was sent to me by Linda Naydol, a donkey friend of mine. I thought it really summed up why they need each other.
Miniature Donkeys can also be a very sound business investment. This is where strong conformation and sound genetics are critical. Here at Benson Ranch considerable planning goes into our breeding program. We believe to get top quality animals you must start with the best. Our breeding stock has generations of consistently outstanding individuals behind them, which makes their offspring a very good investment.
This little jack is jumping 2" higher than he is tall just because Airica asked him to. Look at his expression. What heart!
Miniature Donkeys - Business or Hobby?
written by Cindy Benson 11/28/2009
Benson Ranch Miniature Donkeys LLC
Dr Mitch and Cindy Benson
720 Pelton Lane
Gold Hill, OR 97525
First of all let me say that I have Miniature Donkeys in my life because they make me happy. They make my heart soar and are purely a love affair. They have been for seventeen years so far and counting. I consider living with them a privilege and cannot imagine ever being without them. I don't have them for the money I may make with them but I also think it is possible for them to pay for themselves which is where the business side of things comes in. Miniature Donkeys are not the next great get rich scheme but with the right pieces in place and diligence they can do this and even more. I don't consider my love affair and business plans to be mutually exclusive. I have been asked to explain this side of things so many times over the years that I finally decided to write it all down. Please remember that what I will present here is what has been true for me. The donkey industry is varied across the country and adjustments must be made accordingly to create a plan that will work for you.
At this time last year the economy was scary and I worried that I would be selling french fries at Mc Donalds to handle the overhead a herd of 100+ donkeys represents but that has not been the case. I have a wonderful donkey mentor and I hear her words in my head often. One of her maxims is "Quality Sells" and that has been true here as 2009 has been my best year ever with regard to sales. I think the pet donkey market has been the hardest hit because those donkeys are often part of a family with less elective cash but I have had consistent steady interest in my breeding quality donkeys. Granted, I have adjusted my prices to fit the current market but my bills are paid and I have not had to part with my core breeding donkeys to make that happen. At one point my husband said that the donkeys might starve but we wouldn't! Not a pretty picture!
And now to the nuts and bolts of it. The first and most critical issue is the quality of your herd. The next is the money, energy, and time required in effective marketing. Why should I buy from you? What's so special? There are so many aspects of the donkey business that I love and one of my favorites is the marketing because it is such a cerebral and creative effort. All the quality in the world represented in your herd doesn't do you much good in terms of sales if folks don't know who you are and how to find you. If you feel your donkeys are special you must represent them as such, and buyers need to know you have them. In this day and age a web site is critical in my opinion. I get unbelievable traffic on my web site and it tells a lot of the story about the Benson/Cooke herd all by itself. Most of the interested donkey contacts generated by my web site are educated about my herd and are enthusiastic at the outset. I love it. Advertising costs money. Spend it! I have invested thousands in professional photos of my donkeys and the obvious beauty of those donkeys is often why people come back to my site repeatedly. Print advertising is equally important, and is appropriate way before you actually have anything to sell. People like to buy from who they know and name recognition is key. They also like to buy from a breeder who's ethical principles and husbandry skills meet their scrutiny.
Lets talk about quality and why it matters. The money spent on your breeding donkeys is only very first part of your story. Buying donkeys of high quality with recognized and respected, predictable bloodlines is the key to your success. This is one of the things that separates the wheat from the chaff and sets you apart. It makes perfect sense to me. It is very common for interested donkey shoppers that come here to fall in love with donkeys they consider beyond their means. They tell me they will need to "breed for quality" rather than start with it. The flaw in that is simple math. A lesser jennet can be found for $1000-$2500 easily and she is likely to produce foals of that price range as well. It costs me approximately $400 annually per donkey for feed, farrier, and vaccination costs. Say you buy the $1000 jennet and breed her, and she is pregnant for the required year. You have spent $1400 (purchase price plus up keep). Now you have a six month old foal to sell; your cost is up to $1600. That foal is likely to be worth about what you paid for the jennet. This just does not make economic sense to me. I would much rather purchase a $4000-$6000 jennet, or more, because for the same annual financial commitment I have a much larger profit margin from that jennet. If she has a gelding quality foal this is not true in the same time frame but in the long run she is still the better investment. I like to look at how much time I think it will take a jack or jennet to recoup their initial cost and move to profit. What makes sense to you? What if you keep the jennet foal produced by your $1000 original jennet? You could easily have $2000 invested in her before she produces something to sell and unless she has done a remarkable job quality wise you aren't selling her foals for much either. Your high quality jennet will reimburse you much more quickly and head on to profit, all things being equal.
One of the differences between a "hobbyist" and a "breeder" is having a breeding program. I believe that to be successful with donkeys as a business you need to be the latter. It's easy to just add to the donkey population and a hobbyist is a person who does that in haphazard fashion. A "breeder" has a goal in terms of the characteristics he/she thinks are important in a donkey and a commitment to their contribution to the Miniature Donkey gene pool. I want to leave a legacy of quality. When I tour farms to learn about other breeders and bloodlines that I might like to add to my program I look for a herd of consistent quality and type. That tells me this breeder knows a little about conformation and that the donkeys he/she is offering come from a consistent background. After all, if I am buying breeding stock because I like what I see I would hope to produce more of the same when I bring this donkey home. The mark of a good quality breeding animal is in what it can produce; not what this individual donkey looks like.
Why would you want to buy a young donkey knowing you have to wait for it to mature? It is easy to find middle of the road, mature, pregnant jennets for sale that can produce income in the first year but much more difficult to find a really good one. Timing is everything and you might, especially as your name becomes recognized and respected, find a good one but I almost never sell a high quality mature jennet and if I do I am likely to offer her privately. She is unlikely to be available off of my web site. Selling a jennet of this quality doesn't make financial sense most of the time. If I own a $6000 mature jennet she may bring in $2000-$6000+ per year for 20 years+. I would have to ask a huge price for her to make it worthwhile for me. For many years I have had a waiting list for my foals, especially from specific jacks or jennets, and that is a good position to be in! The difference is quality and marketing.
One more issue I consider critical to success in a business is ethics. As I see it, when I sell a donkey, be it pet or breeding stock, it is the beginning of my relationship with that buyer. I keep track of my buyers as they need me to and endlessly answer their questions along the way. It is hugely important to me that my buyers are happy with their purchases; for them, for me, and for my donkeys. If the donkeys aren't right for that buyer I want to know about it and assist in finding them a new home. I guarantee my breeding donkeys to be just that and if at maturity a fertility problem should exist I will make the appropriate financial adjustment. Representing your breeding stock honestly and standing by them is the right thing to do for many reasons, and one of them is that it makes you the person to trust and buy from!
To wrap it all up my business plan needs to consist of unusually high quality breeding stock, a breeding program with specific goals, good husbandry practices, an effective marketing strategy, and LOTS of my time and effort. To do justice to the quality of life I want for my donkeys, especially given that I have so many of them, I start my day early and often am not back in the house until after dark. My husband calls it the "Cooke Livestock weight loss program" because I am very physical and burn a few calories. I love what I do and wouldn't change a thing. I am proud of Benson Ranch! I hope I have answered some questions with this lengthy article. I always have time to answer more questions on "donkeys as I see it" so feel free to e-mail or phone! Above all I hope your donkeys bring you as much joy as I have had with mine.
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Cindy Benson | 720 Pelton Lane | Gold Hill, OR 97525 | (541) 241-2577