A supply ship to Christopher Columbus on his second voyage brought the first large donkeys to the New World in 1495. Four jacks (males) and two jennies (females) were among the inventory of livestock delivered. They would produce mules for the conquistadors. A supply ship to Christopher Columbus on his second voyage brought the first large donkeys to the New World in 1495. Four jacks (males) and two jennies (females) were among the inventory of livestock delivered. They would produce mules for the conquistadors’ expeditions onto the American mainland.
The main influx of donkeys into the western United States probably came with the gold rushes of the nineteenth century. Many of the prospectors were Mexican and the burro was their preferred pack animal. Donkeys were also important in mining operations in the deserts. They carried water, wood and machinery to the mines, hauled cart loads of ore and rock out of the mine tunnels, and brought sacks of ore to the mills, where other donkeys turned the mills that ground the ore.
Miniature donkeys, originally from Africa, were taken to the Mediterranean Islands of Sardinia and Sicily to be beasts of burden. They pulled carts, carried loaded packs and did other farm work. Rumor had it that they were often underfed, over worked and abused. In 1929 a New York stockbroker, Robert Green, was visiting Europe and heard the rumors of abuse. He ordered six jennies and a jack, sight unseen, to be shipped to America. The donkeys arrived in New York in 1929. Unfortunately, a few months after their arrival, the donkeys were attacked by dogs and three of the jennies were killed. The jack and the remaining three jennets were the original foundation herd of miniature donkeys in the United States. One of the jennies gave birth on Columbus Day, 1929, and this foal was officially named Christopher Columbus and was the first ‘miniature’ donkey born in America.
- Ass: The correct term for the animal commonly known as the donkey, burro, or jackstock. The term comes from the original Latin term for the animal which was Asinus. The scientific term for these animals is equus asinus. 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.
- Jack: The term used for the male of the ass species.
- Jennet: Pronounced JEN-et, the correct term for the female of the species.
- Gelding: A castrated jack.
- Miniature – 36″ and under
- Small Standard – 36.01″ to 48″
- Large Standard – 48.01″ to 54″ for jennets and 56″ for jacks
- Mammoths – Over 54″ for jennets and over 56″ for jacks
Commonly Asked Questions
- How long can a donkey live? Donkeys are long-lived, and a donkey over 30 is not uncommon. Even minis can live well into their late 20’s – donkeys are truly lifelong companions.What is the difference between a donkey and a burro?Donkey is the correct term for any of the domesticated asses. Burro is a colloquial term for the Spanish or feral type of donkey (wild burros). The term is used almost exclusively in the West. The term is correct only when applied to the mid-sized types of donkeys, and more correctly only those who are wild in the desert. The term burro is NOT correct in use with Miniature Mediterranean Donkeys (under 36″) or in Mammoth Asses (over 56″).
- Do all donkeys have a cross? You may have heard the term ‘Jerusalem donkeys’ or ‘Sicilian’ used to indicate a gray-ish donkey with a cross and stripe over the shoulders and back. However, neither of these term are correct. Sicilian is a bloodline of small donkeys that can trace parentage back to the original animals imported from Sicily. MOST donkeys, regardless of color, and especially non-Mammoths, have a cross and stripe. Even some miniature donkeys that appear to be black actually have a faint cross and stripe. There may be some donkeys who do not have a cross, but the genetic marker has not been located to see where it is, or is not, and the breeding trial is highly complicated. So for now, the best answer to ‘Do all donkeys have a cross’ is, NOT VISUALLY. Everyone knows that the donkey carries a cross on his back. Most people don’t know the legend of the donkey’s cross. The Story is told that the little donkey that had been Jesus’ mount on Palm Sunday, came to the hill of Calvary. Seeing the tragic event occurring there he wished with all his heart he had been able to carry the cross for Jesus as he was the proper one to carry heavy burdens. The donkey turned his back on the sight, but he could not leave because he wished to stay until all was over because of his love for Jesus. In reward for the loyal and humble love of the little donkey the Lord caused the shadow of the cross to fall across his back and left it there for the donkey to carry forevermore as a sign that the love of God, no matter how humble carries a reward for all to see. It’s also told that the leg stripes were received from walking through the palm branches that were laid in it’s path in honor of the burden the donkey was carrying.
- Are twins common in donkeys? Yes. Twins are 10 times more common in donkeys than in horses. Fewer than 1 in 1000 sets of twins in horses are estimated to be born healthy and alive. In donkeys, 1 in 100 sets will survive. Twins are far more common in the long eared equines and we hear of at least 10 sets being born and surviving every year. Most of these are Standards and Mammoths, but there have been recorded twins in Miniatures as well. In April and May of 2005, we have received reports of 2 sets of miniature twins being born. The first set were both born alive, but one died at 5 days. The second set are fraternal twins (both jacks but different in color and markings) and are both still alive today. Although some twins appear to be identical, many of the twin cases are fraternal (of different colors, or male/female pairs).
- How long does a jennet carry a foal? Jennets carry a foal from 11 to 13 months with 12 months being the most common. This is one month longer than a horse carries a foal. We have a saying among ‘donkey people’ that this is to develop the donkey’s greater intelligence.
- What is the best gender donkey to have as a pet? NOT A JACK! Jacks are not pets. Get a jennet or a gelding, and if you do not really have a lot of prior equine experience, you probably want to start with an older animal before you go through the joys of learning about donkeys and babies at the same time! Getting a pair of donkeys is fine, but please do not get a mature jack unless you intend to breed donkeys, you have the facilities to keep a jack, and you have the experience to handle one. Some jacks may be fine around kids, but jacks are not pets and children should ALWAYS be supervised around jacks as they are unpredictable.
- What do you do with them? An easier question might be, what do you NOT do with them? Donkeys have many, many uses….pack animals, guard animals, companions to other breeds of animals, companions to people, driving, small people can ride them, parades, exhibitions, or just a stay at home beloved pet.
Those Long Eared Wonders
What’s the first thing you think of when a donkey comes to mind?? Big ears? A comical, rusty, door-hinge bray? Or maybe a short whiskbroom tail? It appears that our creator had a sense of humor when the donkey was designed…..but these adaptations allowed the donkey to succeed and survive in a harsh environment.
Donkeys evolved in the desert. Because food was usually scarce, high concentrations of donkeys in one area was not possible. The donkey’s voice, his mighty BRAY, allowed widely spaced donkeys to keep in contact or define their territories. Those big funnel ears could catch the distant calls, and maybe dissipate some hot desert heat. Their ears also serve as a visual communication system, telegraphing danger or other moods and they punctuate their “ear-ial” code messages with tail swishes and body language along with brays, grunts and moans.
Other special characteristics of the donkey are: tough, compact hooves that can handle sand and rock; woolly hair to insulate from desert heat and cold; a lean body mass that is fuel efficient – easily cooled, yet very strong and enduring; a digestive system that can break down almost inedible roughage while at the same time extracting and saving moisture in an arid environment.
Donkeys come in many various colors and may or may not have a “cross”. The story is told that a donkey got its cross because it carried the Lord. It’s also told that the leg stripes were received from walking through the palm branches that were laid in his path in honor of the burden it was carrying.
Donkeys come in varying sizes – from the miniature that must be 36″ and less to be registered as a mini up to the Mammoth Jack Stock that can be 54″ and taller. But regardless of the “package”, under it is the same gentle, calm, slightly mischievous soul. Donkeys are cautious of changes in their environment and have a strong sense of survival. If they deem something as dangerous, they will not do it! It’s not stubbornness – it’s Mother Nature, and they are smart enough to know when they can’t handle something. Because of the rugged terrain that donkeys evolved from, they couldn’t just run away from danger in absolute panic (like the horse’s reaction). They will generally either “freeze” or run a little ways and stop to look at what startled them. The instinct to freeze rather than flee is what is so desired in the donkey!
WHY A LONG EAR??? WHY NOT!!! They have lots of personality, are hardworking, easy to take care of, easy to work with and VERY easy to give your heart to. Whether as a pet, a guard animal, or a hitch for parades, long ears of all kinds are wonderful investments and lifelong friends.
Once you get one, you may find yourself a victim of “donkey fever“….. you can’t stop with just one!!!