written by Cindy Benson
Tis the season for donkey shows and sales and endless adventures with your donkey friends. For many people the thought of trailering adds an element of stress. When I sat down and thought about writing this article I figured out that I have transported over 300 donkeys, and have covered at least 40,000 miles, in the last few years all over the United States and up into Canada – this year I am going to stay home! Anyway, in all these miles I have never had a problem with any of the donkeys while traveling so I thought I would share with you my thoughts on safe and happy donkey transport.
Before I head out for even a short trip I check all my lug nuts and my tire pressure on both my truck and trailer. I make sure I have a spare tire; two for the trailer if I am going on a trip for more than a day or two. I make sure I have all the tools I need to change my own tires easily, including my block to drive the trailer on for ease of changing the tandem tires. I make sure I have my current registration for both the truck and trailer, and proof of insurance.
I always, always have a current Coggins and Health Certificate for every one of the donkeys in my trailer. I know this is a hassle and many border crossings never even look at the paperwork but they can, and they have a legal right to hold you up right where you are until the correct paperwork can be produced. I will not endanger the rest of my load because one of them is without paperwork. This can come up when I include hauling for others on my trips. Incidentally, when I haul for others I require proof of current vaccination history before the donkeys get on my trailer and I take their temperature. I do all that I can to keep the whole load safe. I travel with a copy of the front side of the registration paper of all the donkeys I have with me. If they don’t belong to me I also have a copy of the Bill of Sale with me, and/or a signed contract giving me permission to have that animal under my care.
I use 4′ high metal gate panels (with hinges and latches removed) with security mesh to segregate my trailer. Gates like this are commonly found where fencing is sold. They are inexpensive and versatile. Incidentally, if I am going to a show I tie these gates in front of the stall in place of the regular stall doors. That way the donkeys can watch what is going on and they are MUCH happier. If I am transporting a scary jack I sometimes use a 5″ security mesh panel instead of the shorter gate panel. Since it is too tall for him to reach over, however hard he tries, it will keep him out of trouble. I don’t use hog panels in general because they have sharp edges wherever the wire has been cut. I don’t use plywood dividers, etc because it is very important to the donkeys to be able to see each other. Both our trailers are aluminum and have ribs inside about every 18″. I use the space created by the ribs and wall to tie the panels in place, top and bottom, with baling twine specifically. I do not use wire for a couple of very good reasons: I worry about sharp edges, and I can’t get the gates out as quickly in case of an emergency. The twine is plenty strong enough to do the job for Miniature Donkeys and if I had a problem I could go through the trailer with a pair of scissors and get everybody out in 2 seconds. The twine that might fall into the straw does not pose the same risk to my animals that loose wire does. I keep a pair of scissors in the side pocket of my pickup when I travel and I keep lots of extra twine with me. Most of the gate panels have about a 10″ space at the top. When I transport jacks I turn the panels upside down so that the panel is too tall for the jacks to reach over and down, and they don’t have a space to put their heads through. I have never had them cause trouble with the space at the bottom although I suppose they could. Jacks spend their time busy with looking all over and supervising the load. I use the panels right side up when I transport jennets, geldings, and weanlings. When I transport foals I line the security mesh with hardware cloth ( 1″x1/2″ openings) to be sure that the foals cannot get a hoof though the 2″x4″ openings in the security mesh. I attach it tightly so that it isn’t possible for my donkeys to get a hoof caught between the security mesh and the hardware cloth.
I bed the trailer with 6″-12″ of shavings, depending on how long the donkeys will be in the trailer. I do not use straw because it is slippery, is less absorbent, and they may eat it. For overnight trips I put down 1″-2″ of absorbent pellets under the shavings to help keep the bedding dry next to my donkeys. Donkeys are smart – they will eat, drink, and lie down to sleep all while I am driving down the road. Because of this I keep food and water in front of them at all time with a 12 hour or longer trip. I use a square or rectangle water container about 1/3 full of water. These will keep the water in while I travel. Regular buckets allow the water to swirl around and they empty quickly right into the bedding! Bad. I feed loose hay along the walls of the pens. Hay feeders of any kind pose a risk of entanglement. There is inherent waste in feeding on the bedding but it is safe and that is most important to me. The donkeys will sift through the hay and throw it around over the bedding. They will graze off and on, which most closely resembles how their gut was designed to digest. The wasted hay adds to the bedding and creates a drier layer over the shavings as the days go by. If I can easily get into the pens I clean several times a day but often I have pens in the center that I can’t reach. I do not feed grain while I travel, even if the donkeys are used to getting it at home. Grain ferments and that worries me since colic can be more likely in transport than it is if the donkeys just stay home. A lack of grain for a few days will not cause any significant weight loss or lack of condition.
I prefer to let my donkeys ride untied and loose in the pens I have created. If I am on a short trip (8 hours or less) and I am traveling with a jack I don’t trust I will tie him. I make sure that I tie him short enough that he can’t get his head below his knees so that he can’t get a leg over the rope and get in trouble, and so that he can’t get at the other donkeys. Because donkeys are logistically smaller with regard to interior space than horses they have room to move around and be comfortable. I make sure that my donkeys have room in their pens to turn around and to lie down. I do crowd my donkeys in the trailer and I think that is one of the reasons they travel well. When I hauled a group of donkeys in one pen in my trailer for the first time I worried so much about how much space to give them. When I stopped for the first time I ran back and jumped on the fender of my trailer to see how they were doing and saw that they were grouped tightly in the center of the trailer, and mostly facing backwards, rather than spread out with lots of room between them. This has remained true with all my travel and is one of the very good reasons to avoid tying the donkeys if possible.
I do not make frequent stops for the donkeys and I NEVER unload them until I get to my destination. Think about it. Every time I stop and look in at my donkeys they mill around and are at attention thinking something new is happening. If I just drive and leave them alone they eat, sleep, and are calm. Traveling with horses can be different because they will not look after themselves like donkeys do while they are going down the road. Unloading donkeys poses a safety risk, along with exciting them which is counterproductive to your calm travel experience. When you unload your animals they can get away from you because of the unfamiliar surroundings, they may not want to load again, and they are exposed to potential health risks. Many people tell me they stop every four hours and take the donkeys out to stretch their legs. This must drive the donkeys crazy. It is so much preferable to get to your destination as succinctly as possible and be done.
This article certainly does not cover all the considerations possible when contemplating traveling with donkeys but I hope I have touched on the high points. As is always true, I am happy to answer any questions you may have. The bottom line with donkeys is that if you use common sense, and follow some of the guidelines I have set forth here, travel can be easy and fun for both you and your donkeys! Happy Summer!