Donkey History & Care

Miniature Donkeys

Often times people believe miniature donkeys were selectively bred to be smaller but actually they are their own breed. Miniature Mediterranean Donkeys originated in the Mediterranean area of Northern Africa in ancient times and more recently from the Islands of Sicily and Sardinia off the west coast of Italy. Over time the distinctions between the two island populations blurred and they are now considered one breed properly called Miniature Mediterranean Donkeys. They are simply referred to as Miniature Donkeys in North America. They were first imported into the United States in 1929 by Robert Green. He bought six jennets and one jack. Of those, three jennets and the jack survived to produce the first miniature donkeys born in America. The current U.S. population is estimated to be from 10,000 to 20,000.


  • Jennet: Female
  • Jack: Male (not castrated)
  • Foal: Birth to 5 months (weaning)
  • Weanling: 5 months and just weaned from Mama (should not be weaned prior to 5 months of age)
  • Yearling: Between one and two years of age
  • Gelding: Castrated male (not until both testicles have dropped via a Veterinarian examination. Donkeys bleed more than other equine so they must be ligated)
  • Imprint: Positive human interaction at birth (Never forgotten by a donkey foal)
  • Withers: Point at the shoulder where the neck meets the back (this is the point at which height is measured)
  • Dorsal Stripe: most donkeys have a dark stripe that goes down their back and crosses the shoulders. (Look up Legend of the Donkey Cross for a cool story).


Jennets (Brood Jennets) should not breed until they are mature at 3 years of age and jacks two years of age - so they must remain separated if immature. Jennets are pregnant for 12-13 months before having their foal. Twin births are extremely rare.

Donkeys have an average life span of 25-35 years.

Donkey Sizing: Donkeys are measured typically in inches as opposed to hands like horses.

  • 36" and under (average size 32-34”, micro miniatures are under 30”) = Miniature
  • 36.1to 48” = Standard
  • 48.1" to 54" (jennets) or 56"; (jacks) = Large Standard
  • 54.1” and above (jennets); 56.1” and over (jacks/geldings) = Mammoth Donkeys



Donkeys Need Donkey Buddies

by Tara Pilonero of Stay a While Farm

We strongly recommend that donkeys go to homes with another donkey buddy so that everyone (including you) is happy and healthy. Donkeys are a quite different socially than horses and this difference means they really need another donkey. Regardless of how much time the donkey has human companionship during the day it won’t be enough unless you are able to camp outside with them too or let them in the house. They are extremely social and affectionate animals. While donkeys are still herd animals, they will pair off with a best friend donkey buddy for life. This is one of the big social differences between horses and donkeys. Donkeys are buddy animals within a herd and horses are herd animals only. When life permits, donkey pairs will remain bonded for life and they will do absolutely everything together. Even within a bigger herd the paired off buddies will eat, sleep, play, and protect each other every moment of every day. They are inseparable and love each other deeply. They will also strongly bond to their human family much like a dog does. They develop strong attachments. Unlike horses they even prefer to be stalled together with their best friend. They are not assertive with each other the way horses are with each other and you will even find them cuddling with each other...and with you. Consequently, we will only sell donkeys to homes where they can be in a bonded pair because without it they can become very depressed and vocal which can lead to sickness and frustration in keeping them when they start to misbehave because they are so lonely. A horse or other livestock companion is not the same thing and doesn't meet their social or emotional needs in the same way as another donkey. You will find that all good breeders will have this donkey buddy requirement. We don’t like to set up our clients or our fur babies for failure.

Donkey Care

You will find that there are a variety of ways that people care for their donkeys, there is no singular approach! However, there are some important guidelines to consider. Most importantly, you should always consult with a Large Animal Veterinarian and one that is comfortable with equine and specifically donkeys and their unique traits.


Your donkey should have access to good, clean water 24 hours a day at all times. Troughs should be cleaned often especially in the summer when the heat can cause bacteria and algae to grow faster than in winter. Caution should be taken when foals are around troughs. Do not use a trough so low to the ground and deep that a foal could fall in and drown. We use the Nelson Automatic Waterers or a float valve trough. Always check to be sure they are full and the automatic filling feature is working. 


A good quality hay (Meadow Hay and Seed Hay such as Timothy, Bermuda, Orchard, Brome and Bluegrass) should be fed to your donkey in the winter or if your donkey is in a dry lot and does not have access to pasture. If your pasture is rich and of a good quality grass hay supplementation is not always necessary daily during the summer. If your pasture is native grass and sparse, you will need to feed hay more regularly in the summer. If you notice your donkey is getting fat after it has reached maturity, discontinue or reduce its intake of hay and/or grain while on pasture, but only in summer months. Hay should be given at all times during the winter when pasture is unavailable. Hay bales of coastal Bermuda or another quality hay native to your region is preferred over alfalfa because alfalfa hay is too rich in protein for donkeys. Many owners feed hay twice a day if pasture is sparse or if the donkey is in a dry lot. Feeding twice daily will control your donkey's diet, keep them more trim, and permit you to observe your donkey frequently for illness or injury. If you do not have access to a dry lot on your farm you should look into grazing muzzles and hay nets to slow down and reduce their consumption. Barley straw or wheat straw are great additions to feed for your donkey. They are high in fibre and low in protein, sugar and starch. They can be grazed on throughout the day.

Salt and Minerals

We use loose white salt (Champion's Choice Mix-n-Fine Salt), white salt blocks and California Trace Minerals as a free choice option in a tub. California Trace is a pelleted non-iron supplement containing vitamins, minerals and probiotics. Mineral supplements (blocks/tubs) designed for cattle, sheep and other animals are not safe for donkeys as they contain high levels of iron not typically needed for donkeys. 


Most healthy donkeys don’t require special high-fibre feeds as they get the fibre and nutrients they need from their forage and mineral supplements. Donkeys with higher energy requirements or more specialized dietary needs may require a complete change of diet or supplementary feeding. If your donkey does require supplementary feeding, choose low protein, starch and sugar, non-molasses and grain-free version. We use in moderation Nutrena SafeChoice Special Care Horse Feed. 

Hoof Care 

Donkeys should have regular hoof trims by an experienced donkey hoof trimmer at least every 3 months. Owners need to do frequent exams to make sure they are clean and healthy. Being able to routinely pick your donkeys hooves up helps tremendously when the hoof trimmer comes to do their very important work! This way they are comfortable and used to someone lifting their hooves and it is not a stressful and foreign situation. Please visit Holistic Hooves for valuable donkey hoof care information. I encourage you to sign up for a class with Megan Hensley if you want to learn how to care for your own donkey hooves.


Donkey accommodations can be as extravagant as custom made stables with stalls or as simple as a three sided field shelter with a roof. Donkeys need a means of staying dry from the wet and cold elements or away from the blazing sun and biting flies. There needs to be enough room for all the animals to go undercover if the elements are bad.

Great resource for donkey information!