|Samson the Donkey and I, chillin' in the back 2.|
I just couldn't manage to get either one under control.
Our vegetables were having nitrogen fixation issues. Our lawn was growing faster than I could mow.
So I did what I do - I got on Google.
How do I enlist help mowing the lawn, without buying a big riding mower? How do we get nitrogen back into our soil? What steps can be taken to balance the land?
I stumbled across a gardening thread where somebody casually mentioned having access to donkey manure. The other members were insanely jealous, calling it "garden gold" and wishing they had some instead of their cow manure.
At the time, we had no animals, and no access to manures of any kind. Also, we had no fence.
But with some looking into it, I discovered some fascinating information about donkeys. Pretty soon, I realized we just couldn't go on much longer without a donkey.
The next hurdle: convincing the Wife.
The major issues with any animal are:
- Health Care
Donkeys, as it turns out, are one the easiest to care for in regards to all three of these. For food, they eat vegetation - grass and hay, weeds, tree leaves, grains, even the wild bamboo that grows in my yard. A day's worth of water is easily supplied in a five-gallon bucket. Shelter can be as simple as keeping the cold wind and driving rain off - lean-to's and tree clusters all the way up to stalls and barns. And for health care, keeping the hooves in order and having a vet to come 'round the house when needed are basically it.
I realized that I could do all of that.
So then, why a donkey? Why not a horse, or a cow, or an alpaca?
|Ca-ching! Garden gold.|
Also, donkeys can develop a bond with other animals and become very good protectors - especially against coyotes and other larger predators. Given our plans (at the time) to eventually get sheep and chickens, it seemed like a good idea to be prepared.
They can be trained to carry heavy loads, and eventually be used as work animals to pull plows, carts, and other things like that. They have strong torsos and gentle, curious dispositions, making them easy to work with.
So we were dealing with a low-maintenance, grass-eating, livestock protecting, compost-producing machine of an animal. I was sold.
But how to convince Wife?
Well, first, I promised that I would do 100% of the care and maintenance. Second, I got on Craig's List and found one for free.
Yes, donkeys in Tennessee are not very expensive. Since they aren't bred for meat, aren't ridden very much, and don't produce (human-drinkable) milk, donkeys are relegated to a level below that of cows, horses, and even goats.
|From left, Thing #2, Samson, and Thing #1.|
Getting acquainted in his movable pen.
i spent the next few days preparing a 10' x 20' movable pen to contain him. I also had read that donkeys can be tethered. I figured a combination of the two would be best, and also bought a 50' rope.
Surprisingly, he vastly preferred the tether. I think it gave him a bit more freedom that the pen, and allowed him to browse food easier. Plus, being tied to a new tree every day gave him a good scratching post and impromptu shelter (he refused the roofed, dry pen I provided for behind the shed - go figure). The only downside was the rope sometimes knocked his water bucket over. A daily check and refill prevented any dehydration issues.
Our routine became a periodic bucket refill and tree retie, with the occasional chill time in his pen. All in all, about 3-10 minutes, depending on how far away he was, and either every day or every other day, depending on his consumption. Every 7-10 days, I'd get a few wheelbarrows full of compost. It's been a great rhythm.
His health has actually improved substantially since being on our land. He came from a horse farm, so I wonder if food was scarce and the horses pushed him around. He was bloated around the belly and skinny up and down his legs on first arrival. Now, he's lean, slender, and muscular. His hooves were a mess on arrival, but with the rockiness of our land, they've been slowly grinding down to normal - just as would happen in nature.
A year later, I can definitively say that getting Samson the Donkey has been a wild success. He's been an excellent easy-care lawnmower, a friendly personality around the yard, and even a good conversation topic (bonus!).
Would I recommend a donkey for a homesteader?
Only if you need excellent compost, have grass and plants to be trimmed, want some peace of mind against large predators, are looking for an easy-going and low-maintenance buddy, have some large objects to be pulled around, and would like a livestock companion.
In other words - ABSOLUTELY.