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Thursday, June 2, 2022

Not my Donkey, not my circus


For those people who messaged me, worried that my donkey may have been on the loose over the weekend, thank you but it was not my beast of burden. Our donkey was shipped out years ago when we found a new home for our sheep.

Of course, I’m not sure what farm he calls home at the moment. If he is still in the area, it could very well be the same donkey who used to earn his keep watching over the sheep at our farm. He sure did enjoy a springtime escape and walkabout.

One foggy morning a few years ago, I was headed down the road to work when the pre-dawn mist cleared in front of me to reveal two big butts. The little grey one belonged to Donkey and the big gold one belonged to our Belgian horse, Misty.

I slammed on the brakes and climbed out of the car to give chase. I tried running circles around them like a sheepdog and then I remembered that Donkey would do just about anything for an apple. I went back to the kitchen and grabbed a few. Within about ten minutes I had the two of them back in the barnyard, safely secured. I even made it to work on time.

I think Donkey could get out of just about any gate if he really put his mind to it. He would spend hours nibbling at locks and chains with his dexterous lips, using them like fingers. Sometimes he got out and visited the horses down the road. Many times I would glance up and find him calmly nibbling the flowers in my garden.

Occasionally Donkey used his powers for good. One night at dusk he broke through the yard gate and came to the kitchen window. It was getting dark, but I saw the whites of his eyes. I don’t know what his next plan would have been if I hadn’t seen him.

When we went outside, Donkey headed off down the field at a clip. That’s when we noticed the sheep weren’t in the barnyard. We jumped on the ATV and followed Donkey, who led us to the sheep in the back pasture. They had climbed through a hole in the fence but when dark fell, they couldn’t find their way back out. As we opened the gate and Donkey led them back up to the barn, we could hear the eerie choir of coyotes singing behind us.

That rescue gained Donkey a few points, but the next day he erased them by wandering over to the neighbour’s house and peering in her patio door as she sipped her coffee.

We had a sheepdog and a dogsheep


There once was a sheep who thought she was a dog. When Gracie was born, her mother either died or rejected her – I can’t remember which – sad stories are best forgotten on the farm. Luckily, she took to the bottle right away. She also learned to steal from other ewes when they had their heads in the feeder and weren’t paying full attention to who was under their udder. She wasn’t a dumb sheep, by any means. But she did have a very vacant look on her face. It was like a perma-smile. She never looked alarmed or sad – just happy. All the time.

While most lambs totally forgot about me as soon as they were turned out of the barn onto the fresh new meadow, Gracie had total recall. All I had to do was shake a pail of sweet feed or call her name and she would come running, bleating her excitement. I think she eventually got used to the sound of my rubber boots crunching across the gravel. You didn’t have to call for very long. Gracie was never very far away and she would let complete strangers pet her.

Gracie was also a bit of a show stealer. She loved the spotlight. I gave a presentation at the Literary Follies one year and my daughter held Gracie in the wings off stage. When I pulled a baby bottle out of my bag and clicked my tongue Gracie was released and came bouncing across the stage to be held and fed in my lap.

Years later, Gracie was part of the local Christmas Parade. She seemed to be smiling at everyone from atop the float. If she could wave, she would. Her little stub tail was wagging, like the dog she thought she was.

When we decided to get out of sheep farming, I just couldn’t say goodbye to Gracie. I kept her for a bit longer. The donkey and horse let her join them on their daily walks, and the three of them looked like the Bremen Town Musicians. At night, though, they stood while Gracie lay on the cold ground. She didn’t have her comrades to keep her warm any longer. I decided it was time to let her go to a nearby farm where they also had sheep. Donkey went with her, to guard the flock.

I heard that Gracie eventually found her calling, entertaining residents at a seniors’ home in the area. What a great idea, to have a bit of a hobby farm on site where many former farmers could visit or even help to take care of the animals. I’m sure Gracie basked in the attention.