AN INTRODUCTION TO THE DONKEY [AND MULE]

THE DONKEY

To most people the donkey is an animal, which has long ears and brays. But, you can also recognize him by his frequently grey or brown coat, (although he does come in other more “sporty” colors) a light nose & belly, a black cross on his back and shoulders, a short thin upright mane and a tail which is tufted at the end resembling the tail of the cow more than the horse. The hooves of the donkey, which he doesn’t like to get wet or muddy, are small and box shaped, and much more elastic than those of his cousin, the horse.

The donkey probably has more names than any other species in the equine family. His Latin name is Equus Asinus or Ass – with the male of the species being a Jack (hence the term Jack Ass). His lady friend is a Jennet or Jenny. Donkey was originally an English name for the Ass taken from “dun-key”. Meaning a small dun or grey colored animal. Those of us in the Southwest use the Spanish word, Burro, for the ass.

Besides having a lot of names, the donkey comes in about as many different sizes, shapes, breeds, and colors as the horse. Visit one of the many donkey and mule shows across the country and you will see four basic size groups: Miniature – up to 36” tall at the withers; standard – 36 to 48” tall; and large standard – 48” to 56”. The mammoth – or Jack Stock is over 56” or 14 hands tall. Within those sizes you will see many colors, gray, browns, blacks, reds, and even spots. Also you will see many body types from deerlike and graceful to strong and sturdy, something for every job or personal preference.

As Betsy Hutchin’s states in The Donkey’s & Mule as a Backyard Hobby, “The most enjoyable thing about Donkeys as members of the equine world is the fact that they are exceptionally loving, almost in the same manner as a dog. They love to be touched and no amount of playing with, or loving will spoil them for work. They are highly intelligent. For some reasons, rumors to the contrary have always existed, but all one has to do is once have a horse and then a donkey and any belief in the stupidity of the ass is banished. They also have a definite sense of humor, sometimes mischief, and a great love of human company. All in all, whether you ride or drive your donkey, or just love him, he is an unexcelled pet in the large animal category.”

THE MULE

To produce the hybrid equine called a mule, mate a male donkey (jack) and a female horse (mare). The opposite cross, using a male horse (Stallion) and a female donkey (jennet) is called a hinny. Even though the mule and hinny hybrids have the same sexual characteristics and drive as their parents, they are sterile due to an uneven number of chromosomes – 63. The Mule gets some of its characteristics from the sire, which tends to come out in the extremities. Thus, a mule….has a short thick head ( if the jack has a short thick head), long ears, a short mane, thin legs, narrow hooves, a narrower body than a horse, and no hindlimb chestnuts, like an ass; in size, shape of neck and croup, speed, strength and type of tail, it is like a horse. A hinny is smaller and more horse-like than a mule, with shorter ears, a larger head and broader hooves; but has the ass’s calmer disposition. (Note: while these things are generally true, the truest thing is that animals vary so much from individual to individual that sweeping generalizations are not to be taken too seriously)

Contrary to popular belief, a mule is neither vicious nor stubborn, but will respond as he is treated. The mule which is well cared for and not abused makes an excellent riding or working animal.

Mules come in all sizes, from the small miniature to the giant draft mules. The smallest mules come from miniature jacks and miniature horse mares. The draft mules come from Mammoth jacks and large draft mares. Saddle mules are being bred from Quarter horse mares, thoroughbreds, and other pleasure riding type mares and standard & large standard sized jacks. Hinnys come in about the same sizes, but as E.C. Porter states in A Breeder’s Notebook, It is simply the very low conception rate of the jennet (even to a Jack), which makes the breeding of hinnys much less sure and not at all profitable, compared to the breeding of mules.”

Mules today are used for packing, pleasure riding, “coon” hunting and jumping, driving, and even racing. Because of their strength and sure – footedness, mules are being used more and more by cross – country and endurance riders as good, dependable mounts. As a matter of fact mules today are being used in many areas that were thought of as the exclusive province of horses such as fox hunting, dressage, combined driving, cow work and all sorts of recreational uses.

ORIGIN OF MODERN AMERICAN BREEDS OF ASSES

The donkey is one of four members of the equine family, whose most common member is the horse. The following species make up the equine family:
1. Equus caballus – horse
2. Equus assinus – ass (donkey)
3. Equus zebra
4. Equus hemionus – onager, kiang, kulan, khur
The mule, since it is a hybrid, is not considered a species.

Domestic donkeys descend solely from the wild asses of Africa: the Nubian wild ass, now extinct, or the Somali wild ass. Donkeys were domesticated long before the horse.

A number of Asiatic wild asses also evolved, all of which look quite different and have different chromosome counts. Three are endangered in number and none are domesticated. These include the onager, kiang, kulan, and khur. The onager appears more horse-like, and is the wild ass referred to in the Bible.

The breeds of donkeys in North America are now so mixed that they are classified only as to size. Various countries of origin have been identified, however.

Miniature donkeys were bred from animals imported from Sicily, Sardinia, other Mediterranean locations, and Ethiopia.

Standard donkeys arrived with Columbus (six animals) but mostly with the Spanish Conquistadores.

Mammoth donkeys were also imported from Spain, particularly Catalonia and Andalusia, as well as from Malta and Majorca. Another interesting import, although in small numbers, was the rare French Poitou, a large, coarse donkey with extremely long, wavy hair, used mostly for mule breeding but also introduced into Mammoth donkey bloodlines.

Miniature and Mammoth donkeys with proven bloodlines from specific foundation stock can be registered with the Canadian Donkey and Mule Association and the American Donkey and Mule Society.

AMERICAN BREEDS OF MULES

The old breed terms of Cotton, sugar, mine mules etc. are not relevant today. The breed names are now the following. Keep in mind that these breeds are not differentiated so much by size as by the type of mare the mule was bred from.

Miniature Mule: Bred from various types of pony mares or miniature horse mares, Fifty inches is usually considered the cut-off point for miniature mules.

Saddle Mules: Bred from mares of saddle horse breeding. These vary in size from small to very large but have riding type conformation and looks.

Pack/Work Mules: Bred from mares with some draft blood or of heavy work rather than for saddle type conformation.

Draft Mules: These are the largest mules and are bred from various breeds of draft mares. Belgian mules are the most common, valued for their bright sorrel color, but mules from, Percheron, Clydesdale, Shire and other draft breeds are popular also. The larger and heavier the better with these mules, but refinement is desired as well.

WHAT IS A MULE?

The mule is a hybrid equine produced by mating a horse mare to a donkey jack (stallion). Sounds easy, but most donkey jacks will not cross the species line to breed horse mares! Donkeys intended to be used for mule breeding need special raising and training so that they will breed mares.
Male mules are called horse mules and should be gelded around six to nine months of age.
Female mules are called mare mules or molly mules.
Hinny refers to the opposite cross from the mule. This equine hybrid is the product of mating a donkey mare (jennet) to a horse stallion. The hinny resembles the mule very closely but tends to be more horselike in general appearance.

WHY OWN A MULE?

Mules have been bred for some 3,000 years. Mules were used by the Jewish people before the time of King David and by the Ancient Greeks and Romans for harness racing, as draft animals, in farming, and as saddle animals for the nobility and clergy.
The mule combines together many of the good features of both parents such as the intelligence, longevity and sure-footedness of the donkey with the size, and rounded body conformation of the horse. Because mules are a hybrid, they exhibit hybrid vigor and are noted for their stamina and endurance.
Mules are highly intelligent, and like the donkey parent, have an extremely well developed instinct for self-preservation. This instinct makes them less prone to injuries to themselves and their handlers.
Mules are noted as easy keepers and are renowned for their strength and endurance, and ability to withstand heat.
Mules come in a variety of colors and sized ranging from miniature to saddle and draft types. They are a “made to order” animal that is created in just one generation.
Most mules today excel in the recreational field – trail riding, endurance riding, packing, driving, and cutting cattle to packing out big game – a good mule is worth his weight in gold.

ORIGIN OF MODERN AMERICAN BREEDS OF ASSES

The donkey is one of four members of the equine family, whose most common member is the horse. The following species make up the equine family:
1. Equus caballus – horse
2. Equus assinus – ass (donkey)
3. Equus zebra
4. Equus hemionus – onager, kiang, kulan, khur
The mule, since it is a hybrid, is not considered a species.

Domestic donkeys descend solely from the wild asses of Africa: the Nubian wild ass, now extinct, or the Somali wild ass. Donkeys were domesticated long before the horse.

A number of Asiatic wild asses also evolved, all of which look quite different and have different chromosome counts. Three are endangered in number and none are domesticated. These include the onager, kiang, kulan, and khur. The onager appears more horse-like, and is the wild ass referred to in the Bible.

The breeds of donkeys in North America are now so mixed that they are classified only as to size. Various countries of origin have been identified, however.

Miniature donkeys were bred from animals imported from Sicily, Sardinia, other Mediterranean locations, and Ethiopia.

Standard donkeys arrived with Columbus (six animals) but mostly with the Spanish Conquistadores.

Mammoth donkeys were also imported from Spain, particularly Catalonia and Andalusia, as well as from Malta and Majorca. Another interesting import, although in small numbers, was the rare French Poitou, a large, coarse donkey with extremely long, wavy hair, used mostly for mule breeding but also introduced into Mammoth donkey bloodlines.

Miniature and Mammoth donkeys with proven bloodlines from specific foundation stock can be registered with the Canadian Donkey and Mule Association and the American Donkey and Mule Society.


Miniature Donkeys:

Developed in the United States of America from importations of very small donkeys from Sardinia in the late 1920s. Later additions of Sicilian and Ethiopian bloodlines have mixed to produce today's Miniature Mediterranean donkey in North America.

Small & Large Standard Donkeys:

These donkeys probably developed from those brought to South America and Mexico by early explorers Christopher Columbus and the Spanish Conquistadors in the 15th and 16th centuries. Slowly they migrated further north into what is now the United States.

American Mammoth Jack Stock:

This is the largest size class of donkeys recognized in North America. The breed was developed in the mid-18th century by George Washington who was given the gift of several large Spanish donkeys by the King of Spain. These animals, with later additions of Maltese, Majorcan and Poitou bloodlines, became the foundation of Mammoth Jack Stock. The breed is on the Rare Breeds List in North America because of the low numbers in existence.

DONKEY TERMS

Ass: The correct term for the animal commonly known as the donkey, burro or jack stock. The term comes from the original Latin term for the animal which was Asinus. The scientific term for the term is equus asinus. Thus ass is the correct term. The term fell into disrepute through confusion with the indelicate term “arse” meaning the human backside. You are never at fault when you refer to one of these animals as an ass, and the term is not improper unless you misuse it so yourself. The difference between asses and horses is a species difference. You might compare it to the difference between zebras and horses, different species but closely related and able to interbreed.

Jack: The term used for the male of the ass species. Thus, often used term jackass – which is correct if redundant.

Jennet: The term for the female of the ass species. The more usually used term is Jenny, which is considered correct in non-technical use.

Burro: A word taken directly from Spain. It means the common, everyday working donkey found in Spain and Mexico. It came into usage in the Western United States. As a general rule, the term burro is heard West of the Mississippi and the term Donkey east of the Mississippi where English language is more common.

Wild Burro: These are the feral (originally domestic) asses, which run wild in the Western part of the United States. The American Donkey and Mule Society prefer to keep the term burro for these animals. When registered they are registered as “Standard Donkeys” and the origin and breeding is given as wild burro.

Donkey: A word taken from England. The derivation is uncertain but most authorities think that the name comes from dun (the usual color) and the suffix “ky” meaning small. Thus “a little dun animal”. In earlier England the word ass as taken from the Romans, was the word used for this animal. The donkey variation is a relatively recent variant.

Jack Stock: The term for plural of the American Mammoth Jack and Jennet. These animals are never called donkeys or burros, but the term is perfectly correct for them, as they are simply a breed of the species.


WHAT IS A DONKEY?


The donkey is one of four members of the equine family whose most common member is the horse. Zebras and Asiatic wild asses are the other two species.
His proper name “Ass” comes from Latin. The name Donkey comes from an old English word meaning animal in the dun-key or colour.
Sometimes he is also called Burro, which is the Spanish word for ass. Today the word burro usually refers to the feral donkeys that roam wild in various parts the North and South America,
A male donkey (Stallion) is called a jack. Castrated male donkeys are donkey geldings.
The female donkey (mare) is called a jennet (sometimes written as jenny, but both are pronounced the same).
Young donkeys are called jack foals or jennet foals.
Jennet or gelding donkeys are by far the best animals for these activities or for a family pet. Jacks are not suitable for pets.
Donkeys have many uses – riding, driving, companions, pack animals, guard animals, acreage pets, first animals for children and as Jacks to produce mules.

Size Classes of Donkeys Recognized byThe Canadian Donkey & Mule Association and The American Donkey and Mule Association

When measured at the withers:

Miniature: 36" or less
Small Standard: over 36" to 48"
Large Standard: over 48" to under 54" for jennets, under 56" for jacks & geldings
Mammoth: 54" and over for jennets; 56" and over for jacks and geldings.
[when comparing with horse sizes note that 1 hand = 4"]

Some Advantages & Disadvantages:

#1 - Miniature:
- small size = small feed bills
- vet & farrier bills remain the same
- ideal for small acreage
- ideal first riding animal for very small child
- can be driven & packed (maximum about 50 lbs. or so with proper conditioning & training) within limitations of their small size
- can be used for mini-mule production if jacks properly trained to breed ponies or mini-horses
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- vet bills can be considerably higher if specializing in tiny Miniatures 30" and under where jennets may require a Caesarian section
- quickly outgrown by children
- require custom carts & custom harness although these are more readily available than a decade ago
- these tiny donkeys may require extra protection (special fencing) from marauding dogs and coyotes
- generally too expensive and too small for adequate guard donkey work


#2 - Small Standard:

- similar to Minis, but somewhat more versatile due to larger size
- well suited to a small acreage
- good first animal for small children to ride, not as readily outgrown as Minis
- Shetland or small Welsh pony size carts and harness can be adapted for these donkeys. This equipment will be less expensive than custom equipment
- Can be driven & packed (46" - 48" tall donkeys could pack 100 lbs. or so with proper training and conditioning)
- Useful as ‘’nannies’’ to weanling horse foals
- Can be used to produce small mules from pony mares if jacks are properly trained for breeding
- Small end of class [over 36’’ – 44’’] can fall prey to marauding dogs and coyotes
- Small end of size class easily outgrown as a riding animal for children
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- #3 - Large Standard

- Very versatile for riding, driving and packing. Can pack 100 – 150 or so with proper training and conditioning
- Can be used by small adults. Not as easily outgrown by children
- Can use Welsh pony or Cob size carts and harness, with adaptations.
- Top end of this class [52’’ – 54’’] is a good size for farm work and possible guard donkey or halter breaking donkey for calves and colts.
- Large Standard Jacks in the 13 - 13.2 hh [52’’ – 55’’ ] range with at least 50% Mammoth blood can be suitable for saddle mule production if jacks are properly trained.

#4 - Mammoth
- very versatile for riding, driving & packing by adults and children. Not easily outgrown. Can pack 150-200 lbs. or more when properly trained and conditioned
- found in both draft type (heavy boned) & saddle type (more refined)
- can be used for draft mule or saddle mule production if jacks are properly trained
~~~~~~~~~~
- on American Rare Breeds List due to low population and low numbers being registered
smaller gene pool than the other three size classes
- require even more space than Standard size donkeys
- not usually suggested for guard donkeys due to size and purchase costs
- more costly to feed than all other sizes, but still more economical than a horse or pony of similar size

courtesy of:
Sybil E. Sewell, Windy Ridge Farm Donkeys,
Leslieville, AB
www.windyridgedonkeys.co.nr

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DIFFERENCES BETWEEN DONKEYS AND HORSES

EARS –The long ears of the donkey, which are well supplied with blood vessels, are a desert adaptation for cooling the body.
EYES – The larger eyes of the donkey gives him a wider field of vision than the horse.
TAIL - The unusual tail with the tuft on the end is like that of a cow.
SPINAL COLUMN – The donkey, like the Arab horse, lacks the fifth lumbar vertebra in the spinal column.
HOOF – The donkey hoof is an upright, smaller, tougher and more elastic structure than the horse foot. Donkeys rarely need shoes.
COAT – The donkey is a desert animal. Even though his coat is longer and coarser than that of the horse, he does not have the protective undercoat of the horse. The donkey can catch cold more quickly and needs protection in our cold climate.
VOICE – The distinctive bray.
LONGEVITY – The donkey life span is 30 to 50 years, generally greater than that of the horse. Miniature and Mammoth donkeys do no live as long as standard donkeys.


WHAT CAN A DONKEY DO?

Donkeys fall into several size groups, which we refer to as breeds or types. Miniatures up to 36" in height at the withers: Standard up to 48" in height: Large Standard 48" up to 54" for jennets or 56" for jacks: and Mammoth 54" and up for jennets and 56" and up for jacks. If these animals are spotted, they may be registered by The American Council of Spotted Asses. Any donkey may be registered by the American Donkey and Mule Society if it passes inspection. The term's donkey, burrow, ass, and jack stock are properly used for these animals. The males are jacks; the females are jennets (or jennies).

Many people like to own these fine animals for their wonderful personalities and their fine pet qualities. There is probably no more adorable baby in the animal world than the little donkey with its long ears and long legs and sweet face and fuzzy coat. However, there are many uses for donkeys. Here are some of them for your information.

1. SHEEP PROTECTION - A single donkey, usually a jennet, sometimes a gelding (jacks rarely work because they can be too aggressive with lambs) is introduced to the herd and undergoes a bonding stage. BUT PLEASE NOTE, DO NOT EVER PUT AN UNKNOWN DONKEY IN WITH ANOTHER ANIMAL SPECIES AND EXPECT THAT IT WILL PROTECT THEM WITHOUT FIRST HAVING A LOT OF TIME TO BOND WITH THAT SPECIES IN A SAFE AREA FOR ALL, INCLUDING NEW BORNS OF THAT SPECIES. After it has bonded with the sheep, it will[ BUT NOT ALWAYS!] protect them against canine predators (fox, coyote, and dogs) as it would one of its own. This is extremely beneficial in areas where the sheep have many acres to graze. The advantage of the donkey over the guard dog is that they can eat the same food as the sheep so they don't have to be fed separately. The donkey will also bed down with the sheep at night. Given a strange sound it will voice a warning to the flock, which alerts them to danger. Then the donkey will chase and often trample the predator. Miniature donkeys are not large enough to handle the coyotes and mammoth donkeys are usually too slow.

2. HALTER BREAKING - The standard size donkey is also very adept at halter breaking young calves (polled or dehorned) and yearling horses. The donkey wears a collar that is connected to the halter of the animal that is being taught to lead. The animals are then turned loose in an enclosure, always under supervision. Where the donkey wants to go, it will go. The colt or calf has no option but to follow. By allowing the donkey to perform the unpleasant task of lead training, the "trainee" doesn't associate people with this particular stressful situation. In fact, when you release the colt or calf from the donkey, they are usually very willing to follow you. Articles are available on this particular form of halter training from the American Donkey and Mule Society. While the standard size donkey is ideally suited to sheep protection and halter breaking, all donkeys share in the following:

3. FOAL COMPANIONSHIP - The donkey is a wonderful companion to foals at weaning time. The donkey is allowed to run with the mare and foal prior to weaning, then kept with the foal when weaning takes place. The foal has a calm, steadying influence from the donkey and looks to it for support. This calmness is transferred to the foal and the trauma of separation from the dam is reduced. As most donkeys readily come up to people, this behavior is duplicated by the foal. Not only have you reduced foal stress, but you have instilled in the foal a friendly attitude toward people.

4. STABLE COMPANION - This is very similar to the foal companion, only in this case the donkey takes on the responsibility of another animal's well-being. Nervous horses have been known to calm down with a donkey companion as a stall or pasture mate. With horses recovering from surgery or injury or with nervous horses such as race or show horses, the donkey seems to have a calming effect. Almost as if the donkey is saying "It's o.k., we'll get through this together". The miniature is often used for this purpose since it does not take up much room in the stall of a racehorse or injured horse.

5. HANDICAPPED RIDING PROGRAMS - The donkey has shown time and time again how wonderful it is with children and handicapped people. In many areas, especially England, the donkey is used extensively in riding and animal companion programs for the physically and mentally handicapped. Their small stature, slow and thoughtful nature and affectionate disposition make them ideal for this purpose when properly selected and trained. Both the person and the donkey know they are special together and the bond that develops between the two is quite explainable.

6. BABY SITTER - The donkey naturally loves children. While there are a few exceptions the donkey is not usually a biter or kicker. They have the patience of Job and therefore are ideally suited to being around children. For use around children, the handicapped and for most uses (except jacks kept for breeding) a jennet or gelding is the preferred animal.

7. WORKING DONKEY - The donkey is used all over the world for an infinite variety of jobs. Here in this country some common uses are recreational riding; recreational driving both single and in teams; packing, many backpackers use a donkey (which they often call a burrow) to carry the heavy load since the animals walk at about a human's foot pace and are such enjoyable companions on the trail; skidding or pulling things on the homestead such as firewood, trash etc.; pulling a sledge, travois or wheeled cart to carry things for the small farm such as barb wire for fencing, trash, or anything that needs to be moved; the donkey can also carry such items on his back in panniers if that is more convenient than pulling it; showing, many adults and children enjoy showing their animals in the donkey and mule shows around the country; the different kinds of work your animal can do to help you are limited only by your imagination.

8. MULE BREEDING - All sizes of donkeys are used to breed mules. Large mammoth jacks up to 16 hands in height are used to breed draft mules. Medium sized mammoth and large standard jacks are used to breed saddle and pack mules. Standard jacks are often used to breed miniature mules in the larger size ranges which are used in teams for pulling wagons and for children to ride and use. Miniature jacks are mated with miniature horse mares or Shetland ponies to produce very tiny mules for pets, single driving and just for fun.




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