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Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Singing the praises of our resident beast of burden: Donkey

I don’t often write about Donkey. He gets a passing mention from time to time but unless he is living up to his name and being a real a**, he doesn’t get any press. I think it’s time to change that. Let’s sing the praises of Donkey. He is mischievous and stubborn but he does have a few redeeming qualities. 
First of all, he is never sick. He can eat just about anything and never have as much as indigestion (that we know of, anyway). He is hardy in all kinds of weather, chilling in the shade on a blistering hot summer day and outstanding in his field (get it?) with a snowdrift on his back in winter.
Donkey also seems to have a handle on self-maintenance. When it’s time for his winter coat to come off, he just finds a patch of rough sand or gravel and rolls on his back in it. The extra hair comes off in a cloud of fluff and off he goes, his new shiny coat revealed for summer.
I’m glad Donkey’s constant traipsing over our glacial moraine pasture and its many stones trims his hooves fairly well, because I can’t imagine getting them trimmed. I asked Thad, the only person we know who can trim our untrained Belgian Misty’s hooves and he said he did work on a donkey once but the animal had to be placed in some sort of restrictive cage so that he couldn’t kick the farrier. No pedicures for Donkey.
According to the Internet, Donkeys have been used as working animals for over 5,000 years. I’m not sure how you get them to do any work as they are so mischievous but they certainly are strong and they do like to carry things. I never have any trouble putting the halter on Donkey; he stands stock still, lowers his head and acts like he’s being adorned with a mantle of which he is exceedingly proud. Like he’s the Mayor of Fisher Farm or something. Usually when he gets the halter put on him it’s because he has been chasing sheep and I need to dress him with the long gangsta chain that knocks him in his knobby knees if he tries to run. He seems to like it anyway.
A female donkey is called a Jenny; a male is a Jack. I wish I had known this when I was naming Donkey. Instead I was heavily influenced by my most recent reference: the movie Shrek.
Much like a horse, Donkeys are social, people-loving animals. They need plenty of mental stimulation because if they get bored they get themselves into trouble. Donkey has very dexterous lips. He can open gates and door latches with them. Usually this takes place because he can smell something delicious on the other side of the barrier but often it is just to get to the other side because he knows he isn’t allowed.
Misty is well aware of Donkey’s abilities, and shuffles around anxiously behind him until he has flipped the lock, the switch or the latch on whatever he is jimmying. And when they make their way into the shed without our knowledge, Donkey flips open the lid to the storage freezer like it’s his own personal lunchbox. The scent of molasses fills the air and Misty pushes her way into the space beside him to get her share. One day I walked in and Donkey had his head so far inside the deep freezer his front feet were off the ground. I didn’t get my camera out in time.
If the sheep are ever in trouble, Donkey is the first one to report to the house. He does this sometimes by braying but more often he does it simply by getting in our line of sight, i.e. directly in front of the kitchen window, and just staring at us. Then we know there is something wrong and we go out to investigate.
Perhaps the most important purpose that Donkey fulfills on our farm is as companion to Misty. When her sister died suddenly, she was lost. Then she felt that familiar nudge by a soft velvet snout against her flank. Donkey was there, and she let him fill the gap that her sister left behind. And he’s pretty good for entertainment value too.

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