About Donkeys

About Donkeys

About Donkeys

facts about donkeys

Fifteen Fun Facts about Donkeys

  1. A donkey is stronger than a horse of the same size
  2. Donkeys can see all four of their feet at the same time
  3. Donkeys vary hugely in size, from 26 inches to 68 inches tall
  4. Donkeys can hear each other bray up to 60 miles away in the desert
  5. Donkeys have incredibly efficient digestive systems, utilising 95% of what they eat
  6. Donkeys don’t like being in the rain for long periods as their coat is not waterproof
  7. Donkeys have been working animals for more than 5000 years and they are still a lifeline to families in parts of Europe, Asia, Africa and South America
  8. Healthy donkeys can live well into their 50s
  9. A blind donkey will often bond with a seeing donkey who acts as their guide
  10. Donkeys can be a calming influence on other animals
  11. Donkeys are very clever and have a keen sense of curiosity
  12. Donkeys are not as stubborn as people think but they can be reluctant to do things that might be unsafe – they consider situations carefully before deciding what to do (and tend to freeze when frightened)
  13. Donkeys are extremely nimble and can cross tricky terrain better than any other animal without becoming lame
  14. Donkeys are very sociable and form strong bonds – you will often see pairs of best friends within a herd
  15. Donkeys are different to horses in their physiology, communication, thinking and behaviour – they do best with other donkeys as companions

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African Wild Ass
African Wild Ass Photo: http://www.library.sandiegozoo.org

A Brief History of the Domestic Donkey

Ancient Egypt: African Wild Asses were first domesticated in Egypt around 4000 BC and played a vital role in the expansion of trade. They provided transport and draught power and drew water from wells. They excelled at working for long periods in hot, dry conditions and were highly valued. From Africa, donkeys spread across the ancient world, to Syria, the Middle East and Siberia.

The Roman Empire: As the Romans conquered large parts of Europe, Africa and Asia, they relied heavily on donkeys to carry goods along vast trade routes between China and Egypt, known as the Silk Road. When they reached Europe, donkeys were also used to cultivate vineyards and turn grain and water mills. 

Middle Ages: Donkeys had been domesticated in the Indian sub-continent.

15th Century: Explorers brought donkeys to Spanish-held areas of the Americas.

16th Century: Horses were needed for war, so farmers in England turned to donkeys, who had previously been neglected.

17th Century: Donkeys began to be used on the land in Ireland following the removal of horses by Oliver Cromwell.

Donkeys in Australia
Donkey Team at Wyndham circa 1928 Photo: State Library of Western Australia

1866: Tomas Elder imported large numbers of donkeys into Australia where they were used as pack and haulage animals until the 1930s. Once replaced by motorisation, many became feral and are now seen as pests. This has made them vulnerable to the Ejiao industry.

Ejiao is a substance made from donkey hides and used in Traditional Chinese Medicine. Demand for it been soaring since 2005. Having depleted its own donkey population, China has turned to feral and working donkeys in Australia, South America, Africa and the Middle East. Donkey welfare campaigners are extremely concerned about welfare standards and the effect on donkey numbers worldwide. 

19th Century: Donkeys were essential during the American Gold Rush, carrying gold and miners across mountainous areas. In the UK donkeys were widely used on farms and in towns, transporting goods to market, pulling lawnmowers and rubbish carts, carrying miners to the collieries and ladies to the spa and giving beach rides to children. In Ireland they carried peat from the bogs, potatoes and flax for linen. 

history of the donkey
Smoke the therapy donkey, Iraq Photo: smokethedonkey.com

Second World War: The Australian army trained wild donkeys to carry heavy loads over boggy land and through creeks and rivers that motor vehicles and pack horses could not manage. Donkeys carried provisions in both world wars and have been used in conflicts throughout history. They can still be found transporting weapons across rough terrain in Afghanistan to this day.

1960s – 1980s: Donkeys became popular as pets in the UK. The Donkey Breed Society and The Donkey Sanctuary were founded, Elisabeth Svendsen published the first Professional Handbook of the Donkey and The Slade Centre was set up, providing donkey-assisted therapy for children with special needs.

1990s: Donkeys gained huge popularity as pets in the U.S. where ‘baby boomers’ had disposable income. Owners learned about breeding and care and donkeys began participating in shows, visiting schools and nursing homes, taking part in parades and working as therapy animals. This continues today.


The Complete Book of the Donkey Dr Elisabeth D Svendsen MBE

The Donkey Companion Sue Weaver 

The Origin of the Miniature Donkey Quarter Moon Ranch

Donkeys of Australia Facebook Page

Feral Donkey Government of Western Australia Website

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Donkeys in Numbers

  • There are at least 41 million donkeys worldwide (an estimated 1 million in Europe, 25,000 in the UK and 13 million in Africa
  • Ethiopia has the largest population of any single country, with 7 million
  • China used to have 11 million donkeys and now has only 5 million*
  • Worldwide, numbers fell from 43.7 million in 1995 to 41 million in 2006
  • In Europe, numbers fell from 3 million in 1944 to 1 million in 1994
  • The donkey has been used as a working animal for at least 5000 years
  • 96% of donkeys are maintained for work
  • In Ethiopia, a donkey costs at least half the annual family income
  • In 2011, there were 189 recognised breeds of donkey worldwide
  • The maximum height for a Miniature Mediterranean donkey is 36″
  • Donkeys have 62 chromosomes (horses have 64 and mules have 63)
  • Donkeys can remember places and other donkeys for 25 years or more
  • Donkeys can run up to 50km per hour
  • Donkeys can live for up to 50 years with some reaching 54 and even 70 (the oldest donkey at The Donkey Sanctuary lived to 57).

*Due to increased industrialisation and the growing Ejiao market.

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Donkey Life Stages

Donkey Life Stages


A male donkey, or stallion, is called a Jack. A female donkey is called a Jennet (or Jenny for short). A colt is a male foal. A filly is a female foal. A gelding or John is a castrated Jack.

A mule is the offspring of a male donkey and a female horse. A hinny is the offspring of a male horse and a female donkey.

A baby donkey or mule is called a foal.

Age of sexual maturity

Jacks reach sexual maturity at between 8 months and one year of age, although it can be as young as 6 months. Unless they are being used for breeding, they are usually castrated just before weaning at about 5 or 6 months. This makes the process less stressful for them as they are still bonded with their mother. The Donkey Sanctuary recommends castrating at between 6 to 18 months and preferably as young as possible within that range.

It’s best not to start breeding a jack until he is 2 years old, to give him a chance to enjoy his teenage years. Entire jacks are not suitable pets. They can be aggressive and require special handling and special housing.

Jennets can come into heat for the first time at between 8 months and 2 years of age but in order to have a good pregnancy she should be at least 3 years old. The estrous cycle of jennets ranges from 23-30 days and they are usually in heat for 6 to 9 days.


Pregnant Donkey

The gestation period of a donkey is usually around 12 months but it can vary between 10½ months to 14½ months. Donkeys only have one foal per birth. Twins may occur in rare cases.

New born foals

Equines are relatively developed at birth in that the foal will be on its feet within the first hour and walking and running on its first day. Foals have teeth and will start eating plants once they are only a few days old (they still need their mother’s milk though).



Foals are usually weaned at between 4 and 6 months old. The longer the better. Weaning is ideally allowed to be done naturally by the mother. However, it is recommended that foals are weaned by 9 months as after that it can be difficult to break the bond between mother and foal.


Donkeys look more like adults by about 2 years old but they do not reach full size or maturity until they are between 3 and 5 years old, when their bones have finished growing and strengthening and they have filled out fully. Larger breeds take longer to mature.

Once donkeys reach maturity, they generally engage in less youthful, playful behaviour. By age 6, most of their physical and behavioural attributes are fully developed. 


You can tell if a donkey is fully mature by looking at its teeth. If its second set of teeth are fully present and all showing signs of use, the donkey is mature. 

Donkeys start to shed their milk teeth between the age of 2 and 5 years. Adult teeth grow continually and are worn down by chewing.


Donkeys live, on average, for 30-40 years and some live into their 50s. The lifespan of miniature donkeys tends to be a bit shorter.

When a donkey dies

The dead donkey’s herd members and special friend (or in the case of a foal, its mother) should be left with the corpse for a period of time, to help them understand what’s happened and adjust to the loss.


The Life Cycle of Donkeys Fast Online.com

Breeding Your Donkeys Love Long Ears.com

Even Donkeys Have Annual Dental Check Ups! The Donkey Sanctuary

Signs of Foaling Quarter Moon Ranch.com

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Donkey's Cross
The Donkey’s Cross Photo: children4horses.blogspot.co.uk

The Legend of the Donkey’s Cross

“Bring me the colt of a donkey,” was the Master’s request.
A young donkey was brought to Jesus to carry him to Jerusalem.
A week later Jesus was ordered crucified.
The little donkey so loved the Lord,
that he wanted to help carry the cross.
But alas, he was pushed away.
The sad little donkey waited to say good-bye until nearly all had left.
As he turned to leave, the shadow of the cross fell upon his shoulders.
And there it has remained,
a tribute to the loyalty and love
of the humblest of God’s Creatures.

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Donkey Breeds

Notes on Donkey Breeds

Donkeys originated in the African Desert and are a descendant of the African Wild Ass. The African Wild Ass is one of the most endangered animals in the world.

Wild donkeys are called burros and they live in desert plains.

Spanish explorers during the 1600s brought many standard donkeys to the Americas.

There are three categories of donkeys: Miniature, Standard and Mammoth. Their sizes are as follows, measured to the shoulder:

  • Miniature: 30 – 36 inches
  • Standard: 36 – 48 inches
  • Large Standard: 48 – 54 inches
  • Mammoth: 54 inches and over

Miniature donkeys are native to the Mediterranean Islands of Sicily and Sardinia. They are now very popular in the United States but almost extinct in the land of their origin.

According to LoveLongEars.com, in the US there are no real populations of breeds of donkeys left, such as the Catalonian, Majorcan, or Andalusian. Modern donkeys can strongly resemble these ancestral breeds in type but are not classified as those breeds unless they have traceable pure-bred pedigrees to those lines.

Abyssinian / Ethiopian Donkey Photo: Equinest

Abyssinian (or Ethiopian) Donkey

The Abyssinian donkey is found in the dry, mountainous areas of Ethiopia. They are usually Slate Gray but are occasionally found in Chestnut brown. Their typical size is between 8.4 and 10 hands. Livestock of the World

American Mammoth Jackstock
American Mammoth Jackstock Photo: southernskymommothdonkeys.com

American Mammoth Jackstock

The American Mammoth Jackstock is descended from multiple breeds of donkey imported to the United States and bred as a donkey that could produce strong working mules. Males must be at least 14 hands (56 inches or 142 cm) and females must be at least 13.2 hands (54 inches, 137 cm). Wikipedia

Amiatina Donkey Photo: http://www.wikiwand.com

Amiatina Donkey

The Amiatina donkey is from Tuscany in central Italy. In the early part of the twentieth century, the breed was numerous but came close to extinction in the years following the war. The Amiatina was listed as endangered in 2007. 

The Amiatina is intermediate in size between large breeds such as the Martina Franca and the Ragusano and small ones such as the Sarda. It rarely exceeds 140 cm at the withers.

The coat is mouse-grey, with well-defined primitive markings – dorsal and shoulder stripes forming a cross, and zebra stripes on the legs. It is a strong and rustic breed, capable of foraging on harsh marginal terrain. Wikipedia

Andalusian Donkey Photo: http://www.eebray.com

Andalusian Donkey

The Andalusian donkey is native to the province of Córdoba in Andalusia, Spain. It is around 3000 years old and considered to be one of the oldest Europena breeds. Today there are not many of the breed left. A large donkey, it typically measures between 59 and 63 inches at the withers.

Asinara Donkey Photo: Green Holiday Italy

Asinara Donkey

The Asinara donkey is a breed of feral donkey indigenous to the island of Asinara, which lies off the north-west coast of Sardinia, Italy. Most of the population is wholly or partly albinistic; the small number of grey donkeys on the island are also considered part of the population, and are probably heterozygous carriers of the albino gene. 

There are approximately 120 individuals on the island. Others are in the natural reserve of Porto Conte in Alghero and at the Istituto di Incremento Ippico at Foresta Burgos, and a few are raised in Tuscany and in Emilia Romagna. Wikipedia 

Asno de las Encartaciones
Asno de las Encartaciones

Asno de las Encartaciones

The Asno de las Encartaciones (Enkarterriko asto) is a breed of small domestic donkey from the western part of the autonomous community of the Basque Country, in north-east Spain. It is the only small donkey breed of Spain and resembles the Gascon donkey, now a sub-type of the Pyrenean donkey. The Asno de las Encartaciones is critically endangered and is protected by conservation measures. Wikipedia

Bourbonnais Donkey Photo: http://www.ane-bourbonnais.fr

Bourbonnais Donkey

The Bourbonnais donkey is a breed of domestic donkey from the historic region of the Bourbonnais, in the Auvergne region of central France.

The first records of donkeys in the Bourbonnais date from 1862, when there were about 6000. In the 1970s the number had fallen to about 500, and when the Association de l’Ane Bourbonnais was formed in 1994, it identified barely 50.

Jacks measure 1.25–1.35 metres, jennies 1.18–1.28 m or up to 2 cm more. The coat is chocolate brown, bay or dark bay, with a darker dorsal stripe and shoulder stripe. The legs may show zebra-striping. The lower part of the muzzle and the belly are grey-white.

The Bourbonnais donkey was used as a pack animal to carry vegetables, coal and milk and also as a draught animal for agricultural work and to haul barges on the canals. In the early twentieth century it was also used to pull gigs to transport visitors to the fashionable spa at Vichy. Today it is used as a pack animal for hiking, or for light driving. Wikipedia

Catalan Donkey Photo: blogs.terrassa.cat

Catalan Donkey

The Catalan donkey is a breed of large domestic donkey from Catalonia, in north-eastern Spain and south-western France. It originates in the basins of the Cardener, Segre and Ter rivers.

Around 80% of the population is in Catalonia, with the other 20% is in the historic Roussillon region of France. Some believe the Catalan donkey to be related to the donkey of Mallorca and the Zamorano-Leonés donkey. The breed is considered to be very old.

In the past it was very important on farms and there were once as many as 50,000. In the 1960s and 1970s rural depopulation and the mechanisation of agriculture led to a decline in numbers and the breed is now listed as endangered.

The Catalan donkey is a large breed. Jacks average 142 centimetres (56 in) in height, and jennies 136 centimetres (54 inches). It has been used to improve donkey breeds elsewhere in the world, including France and North America. Wikipedia

Corsican Donkey Photo: Jiel Beaumadier

Corsican Donkey

The Corsican donkey, is a breed of domestic donkey from the Mediterranean island of Corsica. Its numbers have fallen alarmingly and two associations are seeking its official recognition as a breed.

The indigenous Corsican donkey is small and usually grey, and it is thought to have been present on the island since Roman times. In modern times attempts have been made to increase its size by cross-breeding with imported stock including the Catalan donkey from Spain, donkeys from the French mainland, and the Martina Franca donkey from Puglia in Italy. A larger black type of donkey, standing 1.20–1.30 m, has developed.

Before the mechanisation of transport and agriculture in the 1930s there were more than 20,000 donkeys in Corsica. Until the 1960s large numbers were sold to the meat markets of Italy and mainland France. 

The current population of the Corsican Donkey is estimated at about 1000. Its conservation status was listed as “critical” by the SAVE Foundation in 2008. Wikipedia

Cotentin Donkey Photo: Kimballstock

Cotentin Donkey

The Cotentin donkey is a breed of domestic donkey from the Cotentin peninsula, in the département of la Manche, in the Lower Normandy region in north-west France.

Donkeys are documented in the Cotentin from the 16th century. In the 1930s there were 9000 donkeys in the Manche département. Numbers dwindled with the mechanisation of agriculture in the period after the Second World War, but less rapidly than in some other breeds.

The Cotentin Donkey measures 1.20–1.35 metres (47–53 in) for males, and 1.15–1.30 m (45–51 in) for females. The coat is dove grey, with a well-defined darker dorsal stripe and shoulder-stripe; the legs may show zebra-striping. The lower part of the muzzle and the belly are grey-white.

The Cotentin Donkey was used in agricultural work, both as a pack animal to transport churns of milk and in harness. Today it’s used as a pack animal for hiking or trekking, for recreational driving, in therapy for the handicapped, as companion animals and pets. Wikipedia

Grand Noir du Berry Donkey
Grand Noir du Berry Photo: Wikipedia

Grand Noir Du Berry

This breed of donkey comes from the Berry region of France and the height of a male ranges from 135cm to 145cm (13.1hh to 14.1hh) with the height of the female from 130cm (12.3hh).

The cross is absent on this donkey and there are no visible stripes on the leg. They have white/grey hair on their muzzles, underbelly, thights, inside their forearms and around their eyes. They can have a bay brown, dark bay brown or black coat.

The Grand Noir du Berry made an excellent draught animal for small farmers and often worked in fields and vineyards. Towards the middle of the 19th Century they replaced humans to pull the barges on the Berry canal and the Briare canal towards Paris.

Today, they continue to work on small farms and their docile nature and strong physique also makes them well suited to carrying hikers’ luggage. They are a highlight at fairs and shows throughout France. The Donkey Sanctuary

Grigia Siciliana / Sicilian Grey Donkey
Grigia Siciliana / Sicilian Grey Donkey Photo: Agraria.org

Grigia Siciliano Donkey

The Grigio Siciliano, or Asino Ferrante, is a breed of donkey from Sicily in southern Italy. It is bred only on the island, in the provinces of Agrigento, Enna, Palermo, Ragusa and Syracuse. The conservation status of the Grigio Siciliano was listed as critical by the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations) in 2007. Wikipedia

Marjorera Donkey Photo: http://www.fuerteventuraoasispark.com

Majorera Donkey

The Majorera is an endangered breed of small domestic donkey of African origin and the only equine breed indigenous to the Canary Islands, the Spanish archipelago in the Atlantic off the coast of southern Morocco. Wikipedia

Miniature Mediterranean Donkey Photo: MMDA

Miniature Mediterranean Donkey

The Miniature Mediterranean Donkey is a separate breed of donkey, originating from the islands of Sardinia and Sicily. Due to their small size, strength and dependable nature, they have been used in agriculture, to pump water, pull carts and carry water and supplies. In the 18th century they were crucial to the survival of families in Sardinia, turning domestic grain mills, which involved wearing a blindfold to protect their eyes and walking in circles all day. 

In their native Sardinia they are on the verge of extinction but these sweet, friendly donkeys are hugely popular as pets in North America and increasingly in Europe, Australia and all over the world. In 2014 there were 65,000 donkeys registered with the Miniature Donkey Registry. American stock broker Robert Green imported the first miniature donkeys to New Jersey in 1929.

The maximum height of a pedigree Miniature Mediterranean Donkey is 36 inches at the withers. The typical lifespan of a miniature donkeys is 20 to 35+ years. Miniatures come in a variety of colours, including grey, brown, black, cream, spotted, piebald, skewbald and chestnut.

Miniature Mediterranean Donkeys may be small but they have big personalities. In fact, they can be quite bossy and will often take on the role of herd leader and keep the larger donkeys in line!


The Origin of the Miniature Donkey Quarter Moon Ranch

Miniature Mediterranean Donkey Association UK

National Miniature Donkey Association (NMDA) USA

Miranda Donkey Photo: Wikipedia

Miranda Donkey

The Miranda donkey is born with coat that appears black, but will shed out to become brown. It is tall, 1.2–1.35 metres (3 ft 11 in–4 ft 5 in) at the withers. It has large, strong legs, a short, muscular back and a powerful chest. Miranda donkeys have longer hair than most donkeys and they are considered more social and docile. 

The development of the breed’s characteristics reflects the region where they developed: isolated environmental conditions, agricultural characteristics of the soil, weather that tends to extremes and socioeconomic standards in the region. 

In 2001 the Miranda donkey was recognized as a distinct breed by the Portuguese Department of Agriculture and it was the first donkey breed in Portugal to join the group of asinine indigenious breeds protected by the European Union. It is the only officially recognized donkey breed on Portugal. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miranda_donkey

Norman Donkey Photo: Wikipedia

Norman Donkey

The Norman donkey, French: Âne Normand, is a breed of domestic donkey from Normandy, in north-west France. It is found mainly in the present-day Lower Normandy and Upper Normandy regions, and is also present in Brittany and the Pays de Loire. It is the smallest of the seven recognised French donkey breeds. 

It was formerly used as a pack animal in agricultural work, mainly for carrying milk churns, it is now used in leisure sports and tourism. The breed was recognised by the Ministère de l’Agriculture, the French ministry of agriculture, in 1997. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Norman_donkey

Parlag Donkey Photo: http://www.theequinest.com

Parlag Donkey

The Parlag is a Hungarian donkey that came to Hungary via the Celts and Romans who had a hand in shaping their lines. Like many donkey breeds, lack of need has contributed to their declining numbers. Today their lines are kept alive by hobby breeders in central Hungary. Livestock of the world

Poitou Donkey
Poitou Donkey and Foal Photo: Dorrie Swift

Poitou Donkey

The Poitou is a large donkey originally from the Poitou region of France. They were originally used to breed large mules for farm work. The breed is famous for its unusual coat, called a cadanette, which hangs in long, ungroomed cords.

Breeders originally prized the coats highly but today many Poitou donkeys are shorn for hygiene reasons. Poitous do not make good riding donkeys due to their poor conformation. They are big and strong with large heads, ears and shoulders. On the verge of extinction in the 1970s they are now a protected breed. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poitou_donkey

Provence Donkey Photo: anedeprovence.org

Provence Donkey

The Provence donkey originated in the Basse-Provence, Haute-Provence and Dauphine regions of France, dating back to the 15th century. The breed was developed by the shepherds of that region.

These donkeys were used to carry food, supplies, salt for the sheep, and even young lambs born along the seasonal grazing route traveled by these shepherds. They were selected for their solid bone structure, strong back for carrying heavy loads, docile temperament and good legs. LongearsMall.com

Pyrenean Donkey
Pyrenean Donkey Photo: Wikipedia

Pyrenean Donkey

The Pyrenean donkey (Âne des Pyrénées) is from the Aquitaine, Midi Pyrénées and Languedoc Roussillon regions of south-western France. The breed unites two quite different types: the short and powerful Gascon and the taller and more elegant Catalan. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pyrenean_donkey

Ragusano Donkey Photo: Agraria.org

Ragusano Donkey

The Ragusano is a breed of donkey from the island of Sicily. It is associated particularly with the comuni of Modica, Ragusa, Santa Croce Camerina and Scicli, all in the Province of Ragusa in southern Sicily. The Ragusano was listed as endangered by the FAO in 2007. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ragusano_donkey

Standard Donkey Photo: EquineNow.com

Standard Donkey

Most donkeys in the UK are Standard Donkeys. They can also be referred to as the Common Ass, English Donkey, Irish Donkey or Anglo Irish Donkey. They are a recognisable breed but have never been given a special name. They are usually around 10-12 hh and can be brown, black, grey, a combination of brown and white or black and white. They can also be pure white but this is rare.

Zamorano-Leones Donkey
Zamorano-Leones Donkey Photo: Allpaedia.com

Zamorano-Leonés Donkey

The Zamorano-Leones is a Spanish donkey that was bred to be robust for travelling and trade & later used to create large work mules. Their range has dwindled due to lack of necessity and they can now be found only in the Zamora and Leon provinces. Livestock of the World


Animal Facts: Donkeys Vegan Peace.com

All About Donkeys! LoveLongEars.com

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Copyright 2016 Amy Swift