The Miniature Donkey appears to have originated somewhere in the vicinity of the Red Sea. This area later became part of the Roman Empire, and it was through the empire that the donkey traveled to the Mediterranean island of Sardinia with which it has been so closely associated. Although the Miniature Donkey, or Miniature Mediterranean Donkey, has also been connected with Sicily, it was brought to that island much later as a tourist attraction.
For over 2,000 years, the humble little donkey of Sardinia earned its keep through hard work. Its most important purpose was to power the grindstone to process grain for its owners. However, it also pumped water and provided for a good portion of the transportation needs of the island. Its milk was used in baths to promote skin health.
The story of the Miniature Donkey progressed quietly and unremarkably for centuries before taking a unique twist and becoming an equine rags-to-riches tale. In 1929, Wall Street stockbroker Robert Green took a fancy to the little donkeys on Sardinia and imported seven of them to his farm in New Jersey. Three were killed by dogs, but the jack and the three remaining jennies survived to found a herd of appealing little pets.
Green’s example was quickly followed by Powel Crosley Jr. of Crosley Motors and August A. Busch Jr. of Clydesdale fame. Before long, a fad had developed among the wealthy and celebrities of importing and breeding miniature donkeys. Some of these breeders also kept other types of donkeys, and through crossbreeding the modern Miniature Donkey evolved.
By the late 1930s, Miniature Donkeys were more readily available to the general public. Some were sold to zoos, while others became pets for children. Their numbers increased slowly, however, until the early 1990s. By this time, a significant number of older people were retiring to the country. Many of these new country living enthusiasts wanted to keep farm animals for the benefit of their children and grandchildren, but lacked experience with livestock. The low-maintenance Miniature Donkey was a perfect fit. Meanwhile, the Internet appeared as the ideal means of buying and selling pet livestock, and the breed was set for rapid expansion.
Today, the Miniature Donkey is fairly popular across the United States, with an estimated 10,000 to 15,000 donkeys spread across the continent. The breed is considered to be somewhat at risk globally, however, due to crossbreeding.
Jennies and geldings make excellent pets. They can provide companionship for the whole family and learn simple tricks. Miniature Donkeys are also favorites at parades, retirement homes, and children’s hospitals.
Larger Miniature Donkeys (over 32 inches in height) can carry small children or well-balanced packs, but all Miniature Donkeys can pull carts. This skill makes them more than just pets—they can also help out around a small homestead by transporting everything from firewood to garden produce.
Breeding stock can be crossed with Miniature Horses or Shetland Ponies to produce small-scale mules.
Note that Miniature Donkeys, unlike their larger counterparts, are not suitable guardians for sheep and goats. Their small size makes them vulnerable to predators.
The Miniature Donkey is known for its unique and charming personality. It loves people and bonds closely with its owners. It intensely craves affection. Without regular attention from its humans, it will become depressed.
However, the Miniature Donkey also needs a companion in the pasture to maintain its bright, cheerful attitude. Another donkey is ideal. A good-natured horse can work, but because Miniature Donkeys tend to form close bonds both animals will become unhappy if they are separated, for instance if someone is riding the horse.
While gentle and friendly, the Miniature Donkey is also cautious. When faced with unfamiliar circumstances, it will balk while thinking through an appropriate response. It should be introduced to new situations patiently and carefully. This includes introducing it to the household pets, as it tends to dislike dogs.
Like other Miniature Donkeys, jacks are very affectionate toward people. However, they can be difficult to control around jennies, and they are very aggressive toward other jacks.
Overall, Miniature Donkeys are healthy and easy to care for. However, all donkeys have different needs than horses, and miniature animals have special requirements of their own.
Like other donkeys and unlike horses, Miniature Donkeys have fairly upright hooves, which must be trimmed accordingly. They do not have waterproof coats, so they must be sheltered from cold, wet weather to avoid pneumonia and bronchitis. Fortunately, a simple three-sided shelter is sufficient.
Also, all donkeys are capable of reproducing before their bones and muscles are fully developed. To avoid serious structural problems in the future, it is best to wait to breed donkeys until they are three years old.
The dosages of most types of medication and wormers must be adjusted to accommodate the small size of the Miniature Donkey. However, the dosage of vaccines is not changed. Vaccines must be given full-strength, even to Miniature Donkeys, or they will not work.
Finally, Miniature Donkeys are particularly easy keepers, so care must be taken not to overfeed them. Obesity can cause metabolic problems and liver disorders.
- Ease of handling due to small size and good personality.
- Tolerance of both heat and cold if provided with a simple shelter.
- Low maintenance requirements.
- Willingness to eat pasture weeds, including thistles and shrubs.
- Easy foaling.
- Fad breeding; beware of breeders charging excessive prices for special colors while ignoring temperament and reproduction.
- Talent as an escape artist.
- Vulnerability to predators.
- Relatively low fertility.