This is my post for all of you who are thinking about getting a donkey to milk. Or two. If you’re like me, you’re looking at the price of donkey milk and thinking, “I could BUY a donkey for this!!” Mmmmhmmm. Which is exactly why we did, and here’s what we’ve learned on the way.
The Birds and the Bees of Donkey Keeping:
You’re going to need a Jennet (girl donkey), and a Jack (boy stallion donkey). OR, you’ll need a trailer to take your Jenny somewhere to a Jack and get her bred when the time is right. (More on that later.)
You’ll need a minimum of 1-2 acres per donkey. Fenced into a minimum of three sections. Feed / Grass Hay. Fresh Water. Halters in assorted sizes from Foal to Grown Up Horse size. Lead Ropes. Feed Buckets. Salt Buckets. Natural Fly Spray. Natural Wormer. An arsenal of herbal knowledge and herbs to dose when needed. Feed. Oil (they need fat in their diet.) And a shelter / run in shed of some kind, or at least some trees and shade. A shovel and a wheel barrow (to pick up poop.) A strong back.
The Jack will need a separate fenced area from the Jenny, or he could end up killing the babies when they’re born, or, impregnating his pre-teen daughters. NOT GOOD. And he needs a GOOD fence to keep him from jumping it to get to his girlfriend. A hot wire is best if he’s trained to one.
A Ferrier to pay to come out and trim their hooves every 6 weeks, typically around $40 per donkey. This seems easy, but finding a ferrier that will work on donkeys isn’t as easy as it sounds…donkeys have a bad reputation, and they can cow kick (forward kick as well as sideways kick, backwards kick.) More on the kicking thing later…and milking a donkey that can kick forward.
A Year. A donkey has an 11-12 month gestation. In layman’s terms, that means she’s pregnant for about a year. Sometimes 13 months. Which means you have a three month window in there where you’re making nightly trips out to the barn, studying her nether regions, studying her belly, sitting in a lawn chair on foal watch…and if you’re super diligent, sleeping in the barn / shed / field, just in case.
Precious Baby Long Ears
The actual birth of the baby donkey I’ll cover in another post. Let’s just say, it’s messy…but you really want to be there.
Imprinting on the baby at birth makes a HUGE difference in their personality. We have two babies right now, one is imprinted at birth, the other we didn’t meet until she was a few hours old. They are both super sweet, but the one that imprinted on us follows us around like a puppy dog, puts her head in your armpit for ear scratching, and is sometimes confused whether she’d rather be with me or her momma…actually, she may think she’s a human. Precious! The other one is equally precious, equally sweet, but she’s definitely all donkey and knows it.
You should also be there just in case something goes wrong and momma needs help from you or the vet. If the baby dies, the momma will dry up and not give milk (not to mention, you’d be heart broken.) If the momma dies, you’ll be either bottle feeding the baby, or trying to get another momma donkey to adopt her along with her baby, leaving you with no extra milk. And heartbroken over losing the momma.
From day one, you want to rub all over on the baby, pick up each of her feet (train her for the ferrier), and put a halter on her. And do this EVERY day.
We also rub on their teats to get them used to it so they’ll be awesome milkers in 3 years or so. (You should NOT breed a donkey that is under 2 years old, minimum.) If it’s a Jack, you’ll want to geld him if you don’t want him as a breeder. (make sure you have a vet who knows how to geld donkeys, they can bleed out and are different than horses.) This should be done soon…so he doesn’t realize he’s a Jack. He’ll make a great companion / riding donkey if he’s gelded. If not, an uncut Jack can be dangerous and unpredictable.
Donkeys live to be 30-40 years old. Which means you’ve got a lifelong companion. OR, you will need to sell her / him someday. Buy good stock and make sure there is a demand for any babies you may want / need to sell someday. The last thing you want to do is bring an unwanted donkey into the world. We chose American Mammoth Jackstock for this reason (and others.) There are standard donkeys for $100 at livestock auctions going for the price of dog meat. Not something I want to happen to our beloved babies.
Buying / Selling a Donkey
So far we’ve only bought donkeys, not sold any. This is my buying advice, if you plan on milking, you should probably be looking at mammoth donkeys (Mammoth Jackstock.) The bigger they are, the more milk they make, (and the harder they kick). I do know a lady in Maine that milks miniature donkeys and uses the milk for soaps. Haven’t tried it myself, so I can’t speak for them, except that they’re stinking cute!
Either way, you should get the best quality stock that you can afford. You will be tempted to buy the first $100 Standard Donkey sized Jenny you see on craigslist, a wild burro that’s been turned out with cattle since she was born, untouched by a human. And her babies will be worth…$100. If that. Google donkey rescues. Or research auction sale barns, where they go for slaughter to make cat food. Not pretty. And we’re NOT ok with OUR babies ending up as Kibble. EVER. So, do your research, buy the best you can afford, and make sure you know what you’re getting into. You need to have a plan for all these babies and what’s going to happen to them after you’re done milking their momma.
At this time, good, quality mammoth Jackstock typically runs from around $1,500-$5,000. More or less, depending on if they are trained to ride / drive / pull and their quality and looks and age, etc. Or if they’re bred. Or if they’re a really good Jack that also breeds mares (horses), for mules. It depends on the part of the country as well…and if they come from a lineage of prize winning Jacks. Buy a book. I can’t even touch this in a blog post and I’m not qualified to speak to conformation, ears, hocks, etc. Yet.
So, you’ve waited a year, the baby is here, so it’s time to milk, right? WRONG. The baby donkey needs every bit of that milk for the first 6-8 weeks. The foal will need to nurse every 10-15 minutes, which means you can’t separate her from her momma for the 4 hours that it takes for momma to bag up enough to milk. That’s right, when the baby is old enough, you will need to separate her from her momma for 4 hours, until the momma has enough milk to actually milk her. Then you’ll put her back with her baby so the baby can nurse to her hearts content. You’ll only do this once a day. The rest of the day and the rest of the milk is for baby.
So, this is what a typical day looks like, once you’re ready to milk.
4:00 pm. My donkey alarm goes off. Change into donkey clothes (it’s a messy job.) Head out to the donkeys. Call them in to the main fenced area. Halter each of them (2 mommas, 2 babies.) Tie them each by their feed buckets. Separate out their feed portions, add their natural garlic probiotic supplement to keep the bugs off, add their oil for fat and health, feed each donkey. Pet, love on, groom them while they eat. When the babies are finished, I lead them to their separate pasture. This sounds easy. In reality, a 6 week old mammoth donkey outweighs me by a good 100 plus pounds. And when she figures out that she doesn’t WANT to be led away from her momma…well, lets just say a tug of war on a 100 plus degree summer afternoon with a determined mammoth donkey isn’t my idea of fun.
5:00 pm. I come inside and call my husband to whine about how hot and tired and dirty I am, and why did we ever get these animals when we could just order milk and write a check? Before I can even get started, he tells me from his air conditioned office that we need to buy more donkeys, and this is awesome! Hmph.
5:00-7:45 pm Get dinner ready, feed children and husband, get children bathed and ready for bed. Brush teeth. Potty time. Bible Story. Prayers. Hurry hurry hurry!!!
8:00 pm Donkey alarm goes off. It’s time to milk the donkeys! Now we go out and repeat the afternoon drill, only this time we add milking the donkeys to the mix. I’ll post more about milking mammoth donkeys later. It’s worth a post of it’s own! This takes between an hour and an hour and a half. We also feed the Jack and love on him in this mix.
9:30 pm Scrub my fingernails clean. Bemoan my chapped hands from such scrubbing and washing. Get showered and ready for bed. Think about how I should really post something on the blog…but who has time for that? Or a movie? Or facebook? But really, who needs a movie, or facebook, when you get to sing to donkeys and bring in fresh milk for your little girl every night? And thank the good Lord for these gifts he has given. Fresh air, and donkey dates with my husband in the pasture every night. Talking and catching up on our day on the walk to the house with 5 cups of fresh milk to show for it.
How much milk would a donkey milk if a donkey could give milk?
Yep. If you had the patience to read this far, so far we’re averaging about 2 1/2 cups of milk per momma donkey, per day. CUPS. Not gallons. Not pints. Not liters. Cups. Since our daughter drinks 1 cup a day, that gives us a little extra to freeze and share.
Why would we need to freeze any? Here’s the other thing about donkeys, they wean their babies at around 6-9 months. So, take out the first month and a half for the new baby, and that leaves you with around 4-8 months of milking time. Then you need to get momma bred and prego again, and wait another year for another baby…and there you go again.
I’d like to say that whole “breeding back” thing is easy, but so far, we haven’t seen hide nor hair of this “obvious” in heat thing. No “winking and blinking” in the nether regions. No chewing and slobbering and standing and staring at the Jack with longing in her eyes. No girl on girl mounting behaviors. Nada. Our Jack is still frustrated. Our Jennies are still un-pregnated. (Yep, I just made up that word. It’s a good one.) We’re considering having the vet out to do fertility treatments. It’s a sad state of affairs.
Is it worth it?
So, would I do it again? YES. YES. YES. Beyond the money, and the effort, and the hours, and the worry, we have our own donkey milk for our little girl, and that is a blessing beyond measure. I know what they eat. I know what goes on their skin and what doesn’t go into / on them. I know how they’re treated.
Oh, and we absolutely love our donkeys. They make me laugh. They make our little girls laugh. They get us outside in God’s beautiful world even on the hottest of days.
And they like having their ears scratched.
What more could I ask for?