My partner and I are hoping to find a pair of equine between now and next spring. We own a small farm on top of a dry hill in Maine...I say hill but I suppose it is really a mountain of granite ledge. We have just over 3 acres, the edges are wooded while probably 90% of the lot is old farm field. I had hoped we would have enough dry, grassy space for a couple of mammoth donkeys or perhaps horses to be our riding partners. My motivation to find these two in part comes from our need for transportation into town when necessary, which is a few miles away. However, I feel that regardless of riding, our permaculture project and our family could both benefit from providing a home for a couple of these gentle creatures.
I say couple because I would much rather be able to go into town or on trails with my partner riding with me. I was hoping to get some insight from you guys; do you think 3 acres is enough space for us to provide for 2 equine, or only 1? Should I not even consider getting a single animal as they are not very well suited to live without another equine? Would a horse or donkey fair better in this environment/better suit our desire for riding?
It's good of you to ask questions before getting animals! We didn't ask enough questions before we got our two donkeys (standard, not mammoth), so I hope I can help you avoid some of the surprises we went through. Here's my input on getting donkeys:
- Acreage size doesn't matter as much as what's on the acreage. You say that 90% of it is old farm field. If it's grassy and lush, you'll probably need to restrict grazing in spring and summer. They will eat as much green grass as they can get to, and that's really not what they're suited for - they're desert animals and evolved to survive on pretty low caloric intake while traveling quite a bit to find those calories. A big green field is like an endless buffet of candy, and even if they do fine while young, it's likely to compound into health problems later on (just like a human who eats nothing but candy). That said, they can be managed, either by restricting grazing area (with temporary fencing), or grazing time (you need to be confident you can get them in when time is up), or grazing muzzles. Our donkeys hate the muzzles, so we limit both time and area. But imposing any of those limits takes more work, and it's not the idyllic view of just turning an animal out to pasture.
- So there's probably enough for them to eat on your three acres. But it's not quite enough space to let them poop freely without it building up to unsanitary levels. You'll need a plan to remove manure to a compost pile. Every day is best for maintaining a routine and minimizing the weight (yes, there will be a lot), but you can go every other day if you want.
- Before you get a donkey, look around for whether you can get laminitic hay, and also wheat or barley straw. You'll want to be able to feed hay during terrible weather (guessing you get covered in snow in Maine). The straw is recommended because it's very fibrous and low calorie, so you can offer it to donkeys all the time. That way they can feel full, but not gain a ton of weight. But you should make sure you'll be able to find it, and be able to buy at least a year's supply at a time.
- Consider your climate. Is it really wet there for parts of the year? Donkey hooves aren't suited for wet, muddy ground. I assume you'll have some form of dry shelter for them, but if you get months at a time that are rainy or muddy outside, that's going to be tough on them.
- Speaking of hooves, do you know if there's a farrier near you who will work on donkey hooves? Not all farriers do, and even those who do might not really know the difference between donkey and horse hooves, or more importantly, donkey and horse behavior. It would be good to get a referral from a vet, and some vets will offer to assist with a light sedation for the first trim. This isn't ideal for all trims, but can be good for both donkey and farrier to get used to one another.
- You CAN learn to do some basic hoof maintenance yourself. It's more work and time commitment though, and there is some baseline level of added danger when you're working with hooves. However, it has helped me bond quite a bit with my donkeys, and there's definitely a part of me that feels I shouldn't own animals that I can't take care of at a basic level. I'd hate to be completely incapable with hoof care and then find out my donkey farrier is moving or going out of business.
- You'll need to de-worm them at least a couple times a year. Check with a vet about what to buy, since there are always drug resistance issues popping up. But unless they donkeys have any special issues, you should be able to buy de-worming drugs over the counter.
- You're smart to consider whether you could only have one. Donkeys are very social and don't do well solo, so two is the minimum. Go with all males or all females. Ideally they would know each other already, but if you have to bring separate individuals together, do some research about how to introduce them gradually.
- I'd caution you about assuming you'll be able to ride donkeys. Some donkeys seem fine with it, but some will never allow it. So I think if your end goal is to ride them, you'll want to know you can do it before you buy them, instead of assuming they'll get to that point. At least see the current owner get on (and not get bucked off), and then if you really want to make sure, get on yourself. If riding is your goal, you better do a test drive.
- Think about noise. One of ours really honks a few times a day, and sometimes at night. It doesn't seem correlated with anything. Sometimes it's when we drive up (or away), and sometimes it just comes out of nowhere, and then 10 seconds later he's back to grazing. It's part of the background noise on our farm. But if you have neighbors who could hear it, talk to them before they get surprised by a donkey honk in the middle of the night.
- In general, do some deep reading about donkey ownership. Asking questions here is a great start, but look for people or organizations that specialize in donkeys, like The Donkey Sanctuary. Like I said, there's more to it than we were told. Don't assume that the old-timer down the road who owns a donkey is doing things the right way (might be so, but better to confirm from a specialized source).
- Now that I've scared you away, don't be scared! Donkeys are truly smart and funny and interesting creatures. They provide great pasture protection, so if you plan to have smaller animals but need to worry about predators, they will help with that too. If you take good care of them, they'll know it and appreciate it and come to trust you and bond with you. They'll come to visit with you when you come into the pasture, and that's really rewarding. Their social side really shows, and when our two get cranked up and start running full speed around the pasture (for no apparent reason), or just start play-fighting over who's the boss today, it's one of the funniest things to happen on our farm.
Good luck! Please follow up if anything I said isn't clear, or if I've opened the door to more questions.
as someone keeping horses, much of their need is similar to donkeys needs, but I wouldn't assume that you'll be able to feed them entirely of your property ( even if you plant nothing but grass). Your regional AG Office might have data in how many acres are needed for 1 animal, you should still get 2, in my opinion a decent rescue shouldn't give you one to be kept alone. There is always a reason why they land in a rescue, often age and the associated health problems... Read read read before you commit!
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