Donkeys have been called Asses, and Burros, and while they have been beasts of burden for mankind for thousands of years, few people, in modern cities, know very much about them and often have preconceived notions about what a donkey is.
Most people assume that the donkey is a short, grey, animal, about three or four feet high, mostly used for packing kids around on the beach in England or carrying heavy loads. People also think of donkeys as being slow, and stubborn. All of these conceptions are pretty much wrong.
Donkeys belong to the Equus Genus, but are not horses. In height a donkey can range from 9 hands to 15.3 hands. A hand measuring 4 inches, or 10 centimeters. This puts the larger donkeys (mammoth donkeys) at the size of a large Quarter Horse.
Donkeys have a lifespan of 30 – 45 years, making them longer lived than a horse. Donkeys are more resistant to the stomach problem known as colic, which can be deadly in equines of all types. They are far more efficient on feed than a horse, as such most donkeys are not fed oats, and can sustain themselves on lower quality pasture than a horse could. In fact if kept on too lush of a pasture they are prone to founder (laminitis). For their body size they also need less water than a horse would.
In appearance the donkey has much larger ears, a sparser tail (with no long hairs except towards the end of the tail), their legs tend to be shorter in proportion to their body than on a horse. Dorsal strips, and zebra stripes on their legs, are not uncommon, but they are not always grey, although this is a common color, they can be most shades of brown to black, as well as white, or even pinto.
Photo showing many donkey colors by Grant Sherman [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
When a donkey gets fat the fat shows as a build up on either side of the crest of the neck. This forms in a similar manner as a camels “hump”.
Donkeys have the most unique personality, they are not like horses at all. You can whip a horse to make it do something, some trainers “Break” horses by running them until they are exhausted then mounting them, you can do neither to a donkey – they would never forgive you.
Donkeys respond best to kindness and reward, they are very food motivated, but also enjoy physical attention. A well treated donkey is more likely to follow its owner without a halter on than most horses would when at pasture. In fact a well treated donkey is far more likely to notice its owners approach and be there at the gate waiting, than would most horses.
With training donkeys can be taught to do tricks, be ridden, or pull carts, sadly many are abused, over used, or treated poorly.
The stubborn nature is due to the fact that they are cautious. A donkey does not want to do anything that may put it in danger. They will look and think, before taking a step, especially in new territory. They will rarely trod on ground they have determined (through careful study) to be unsafe.
Donkeys are social animals, they prefer to be with others of their kind, but will welcome most companions. Their bray can be heard for great distances and they will use it to communicate with donkeys they cannot see. Jack donkeys (intact males – the equivalent of a stallion) can be rough and aggressive with other animals, and especially to owners who mishandle them.
An important fact about donkeys, they can kick, and will deliver a powerful blow. They were once reported to be responsible for more deaths than airplane crashes but this is not entirely true. However an angered donkey is not to be reckoned with. They are often kept as guard animals to protect sheep and goats against coyotes and stray dogs, as they have a strong dislike for unfamiliar canines.
Aggie Saves the Life of another Pet - Story of the Authors pet donkey
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