Mules Gone: Donkeys Arriving
The mules are gone. The owner moved them to a farm nearby where they have joined twelve other mules. Though very close to us, I’ve never seen those mules, because the pasture is roughly 100 acres on the ridge above the eastside of Mule Springs. Apparently their fence line doesn’t meet our boundary, so it is unlikely “our mules” will return.
Still, it has taken me weeks to believe they are off the land. The first few days after they left every pile of manure seemed fresh, and each hoof print looked sharp. I imagined new prints surrounding the salt lick, and it seemed the mules had just visited our tiny test pond, because I thought I saw fresh holes in the mud leading to the water.
A few more days passed though, and the piles of manure began to be splattered with fluffy oak leaves, and the sharpness of the hoof prints began to soften. And now after a month and a half, I notice the mule trails are being filled in by tiny strands of cheet grass and dead oak leaves will soon blanket the once smooth worn paths. The mules are no longer around to keep the paths clear.
It’s a bit disheartening, because I’ve relied on those trails to get me around the property, and now they are fading.
It’s also a tad sad to see the mules go. When the old farmhouse came down, I felt a slight pull against changing the past. But once the old house was gone, I could imagine a new house in its place. The mules’ departure opens the way for new animals to arrive. Miniature donkeys.
My trip to Schreiner Farms in July was a great success; in that, I found the animal I’d like to have living with us at Mule Springs. Although it appeared one of John Schreiner’s donkeys had taken a shine to me when he brayed loudly as I left him, John assured me “that donkey has loved everybody.”
John was kind enough to suggest I check with a local breeder of miniature donkeys, so that I could get a young animal that I’d be able to train to carry a pack and pull a cart. He played down his donkeys by calling them “old and fat.” He would sell me one of them, but he thought I would enjoy getting a young donkey that I could “grow” with.
So, I searched the Internet, and found several farms in Oregon that have miniature donkeys for sale, but I settled on Crown Meadow Farms near Salem in Scio, Oregon.
Peggy Curtis and Tiana McVay at Crown Meadow raise sturdy, healthy, and well-socialized donkeys. From almost the moment these animals are born, humans interact with them. As the “mini-donks” age, they get constant attention from Peggy, Tiana, the farm manager, his family, and from farm visitors. Crown Meadow donkeys are what l would describe as “hand fed babies.” In a general sense this means the donkeys are very tame and affectionate. In the pet parrot world (where the term comes from), baby birds that are hand fed by humans bond with people and are much easier to have around the house. Handfed babies are the way to go with parrots and donkeys.
When Crown Meadow yearlings go to their new homes, the donkeys have had their feet handled, they’ve had halters on, and they’ve been led through gates, into stalls, arenas, and along hiking trails. In addition, my donkeys have already been trained to easily get in and out of a horse trailer, which will make transport to The Dalles much easier.
Though there’s still a lot of training for me to do once Ziggy and Chippo arrive, Peggy and Tiana have laid the groundwork.
When I visited their farm last summer they had eight eight-week old foals and two yearlings available. The foals were all adorable, sweet fur-balls, so it was hard to get a sense of any distinct personality. Also, I couldn’t imagine what they would look like when they got older. All I saw were different colored woolly-balls sitting on sticks. So, as the foals pressed against me in the field, I couldn’t decide which one to choose. I felt like saying—“I’ll take them all.”
In the end, though, I chose a pair of yearlings in another field.
Did you notice I wrote – “pair of yearlings?”
It is not a good idea to buy only one donkey, if you don’t already have one at home. In fact, Crown Meadow won’t sell you just one donkey, if the donkey doesn’t have a pal waiting. Donkeys are “serious” herd animals, and they can become quite despondent, if they are left alone.
My yearling geldings, Ziggy and Chippo are already bonded and enjoy being together. When they mature, they may reach 36” in height and weigh up to 450 pounds each. They can live 30 years, so owning one is a noteworthy commitment, though perhaps not so long a promise as having a parrot– such as the macaw– that can live 50 years or more.
Ziggy’s color is traditional donkey gray, and he has a black cross draping his withers. Barbara Nefer explains one version of the meaning behind the donkey’s cross:
According to a poem [Mary Singer] wrote . . . the cross is actually a tribute to the love and loyalty of a humble creature.
The Bible says that Jesus rode into Jerusalem on the back of a small donkey. The little animal loved him so much that when he was sentenced to be crucified, it wanted to help him bear the burden of the cross.
The donkey was driven away but returned to pay its respects when everyone else had gone. As it turned away sadly, the shadow of the cross fell over its shoulders. The mark has remained there ever since as a permanent tribute to the donkey’s love and loyalty.
Chippo’s color, Peggy tells me, is an uncommon shade of brown-red. Currently Chippo’s red color is hidden under a thick nondescript winter coat, but next summer when I clip him, it’ll be exciting to see what lies beneath.
I have visited Ziggy and Chippo a few times at Crown Meadow and learned the basics: grooming, haltering, leading, and picking up and cleaning feet. I’ve even taken the donkeys on trail walks around the farm.
Once “the boys” reach three or four, they can be trained to carry mail packs and walk with me one mile to the box to pick up our mail. We’ll be able to trek to the top of Razorback Ridge and camp out amongst the lupine and balsamroot flowers, and they can learn to pull me in a cart around Mule Springs. Okay, I might be painting a rosy picture.
Of course I must learn to teach them these skills, and that will certainly take time (lots of books, discussion groups, and mistakes), so I am in no hurry to have them grow up and start advanced training.
Weather dependent, the mini-donkeys should be arriving at Mule Springs the first week in February.
Do you have any questions about the donkeys? Please let me know. Thank you!