Raising Our Bottle Baby Donkey
When we found a tiny little donkey foal, wet and shivering from a heavy morning dew, we had no idea how much our lives were about to change ………… we were soon to be full-time donkey parents because his first-time donkey mom hadn’t a clue that he belonged to her!
About 3:30 a.m. the morning of Sunday, April 21, I went out to check on a maiden jenny that we suspected was nearing foaling time; not that she ‘looked’ particularly like a heavy bred jenny, but we were on alert because that’s what our breeding records indicated. I found both the soon-to-be mom and her best friend leisurely standing around nibbling hay, and when I looked her over, I saw no indications that she had any plans of giving birth anytime soon.
Shortly before 6:00 a.m. (yes, only 2 ˝ hours later), my husband stepped out on the screen porch and immediately called to me to hurry because we had a problem! We had a wet, shivering foal and not another animal in sight!
In five seconds flat, we were both standing in the area with the baby, already wrapped in my flannel shirt, looking for mom and her BFF ……… and there on the totally opposite side of the small pasture stood mom and friend looking at us as if to say ‘neither of us had anything to do with that little wiggly thing, and we only noticed him when you put the plaid shirt on him!’
I picked up the foal and got him in a stall under a heat lamp, and Harv grabbed a halter and lead and led mom to the stall with him! She nosed him, smelled him, but still had no idea who he was or how he got in the pasture with her and the best friend.
Mom wasn’t the least bit angry and/or aggressive towards the little guy, and he had stopped shivering, so we left the two of them alone for almost an hour to get to know each other and bond! Peeking around the corner, we saw no bonding from either of them; mom didn’t have a clue that he belonged to her, and he didn’t have a clue that she was suppose to serve breakfast. Soon the little guy laid down to nap and mom stood dutifully over him making sure that he was alright. She was a good nanny, but had no maternal attachment at all!
Working in and around the barn area for almost another hour, we noticed that the baby was napping a bit longer than we were comfortable with since we hadn’t noticed any nursing, so we decided to intervene and milk mom for the colostrums, and in the following 24 hours, we managed to harvest as much colostrums as possible, but we had to dilute the last three milkings with warm water to make it last until daylight. Most unfortunately, it was apparent we were going to need to start this baby on replacer; mom’s hormones didn’t do the maternal ‘shift’ at delivery, and she wasn’t producing milk; so after twelve years of successful breeding/foaling, we realized that this little guy might, in fact, be our first bottle baby.
At 7:30 a.m. day two, we were on the phone
calling our vet for help! When we told him that we had milked the jenny
the first 24 hours, and the foal was successfully nursing from a baby bottle, he told us to get mare milk replacer and start him on that. We were extremely pleased that he thought we had milked/fed enough of his own mom’s colostrums for sufficient protection. By mid-afternoon of the second day, mom’s bag was almost entirely gone, but since she was a good nanny and seemed to enjoy being around the new little guy, we left her with him for company.
We started feeding every two hours around the clock, and let me tell you it didn’t take long for two old retirees to become sleep deprived, but watching the little guy’s will to live warmed our hearts and kept us going!
By the time Rooster (he got his nickname because during the night every time we went out to feed and flipped on the light in the barn, the neighbor’s rooster would crow) was a few days old, I had made contact with eight or ten other breeder’s that I knew had raised bottle babies for suggestions and advice. Some used the Igloo Mama, some used a surrogate jenny mom, some just left the new ‘orphaned’ foal in the pasture with the other moms and babies, and one gave the baby away because she ‘didn’t want to be bothered taking care of it!’
We were fortunate that Rooster instantly took to the bottle (a regular baby bottle and nipple) – luckily, we only had to buy one additional nipple; he seemed to know if he nursed gently, the nipple wouldn’t collapse). Almost immediately, he began gaining weight, having regular bowel movements, and very quickly he began talking to us as soon as soon as he saw us coming with a bottle in hand. He loved getting outside and walking around the pasture; we couldn’t find a halter to fit him but he was content to walk by our side and not get too far ahead. We knew we had made the right decision for us and for our foal!
At one point very early on, we had an older/mature jenny who seemed interested in our new baby and her foal was almost ready to wean, and I think she would have taken Rooster as her own, but after trying several times to get him to nurse, he got so stressed he was sweaty; then he just stiffened out and fell down. It was then that we decided that we were in it for the long haul; he had been through enough negatives in his life already!
Sometime during the second/third week, I talked to a friend of ours who manages a quarantine facility here in Texas, and she told us to mix diluted goat milk with our mare’s milk replacer and feed him that instead of just straight milk replacer. He loved it, and this combination seemed to stay with him a bit more between feedings; he always was anxious to see his bottle, but he didn’t act like he was starving when we added the goat milk, and luckily we were able to find the goat milk in our local grocery.
April/May can sometimes be cool at night here in Texas, so we left the heat lamp on in his stall so that he could either choose or not to lay under it to stay warm. Most of the time, we would find him under the lamp in a nest we made him of hay!
Our on-line research varied between the amount to feed and the length between feedings, so we aimed to average an ounce each hour! We started with two ounce feedings every two hours, and at one month, we were able to move him out to every four hours offering four ounces at a time. By July (three months), we were giving him six ounces every six hours and finally in late August (four months), we were offering him eight ounces every eight hours. He was thriving, and we were able to get a good night’s sleep; this was one of our milestone moments!
From the time he was about three/four weeks old, we started offering him a little bit of grain. He immediately took an interest in pushing it around and around in the feed bowl, but very soon, we noticed that he was ‘chewing’ both the grain and a little bit of hay. He still wasn’t sure about the hay, and most of the time, he just held it in his mouth!
Gradually he began to ‘use up’ his daily grain and learned how to chew and swallow the hay, so at about five months, we started giving him two eight-ounce bottles every 24-hour period. We continued with the two bottles until late October; he was over five months old, and our primary goal from day one was to have Rooster ready to wean when we weaned the other seven babies born in the spring which would have been mid-November, so we started feeding him only one eight-ounce bottle every 24-hour period.
Everyone wants to help feed Rooster!
In addition to feeding a bottle baby, it is extremely important that they interact with other donkeys. Rooster has always been a bold little guy, and each evening we would take him over to the nursery/yearling pasture to visit. At first he would walk right by my side, but very soon, he gained confidence, and he would run ahead, then stop and look back to be sure that we were still coming! Soon, he stopped looking back and just ran and bucked and ran some more; he love being outside. Unfortunately, our seven jenny moms wouldn’t let their babies play with Rooster; in fact, they didn’t want him anywhere near them, so he learned to stay on the perimeter and play. It wasn’t long before the yearling jennys began to approach him to see just who this little guy was that came out every evening and played on the sidelines by himself. Unfortunately, it was then that we realized that he didn’t have a clue how to play with another donkey! This was something that we really needed to work on because I wanted him to be a ‘real’ donkey when we weaned him.
Because Rooster was a bottle baby and was dependent on us to feed him, we were never away from home overnight without him from April 21 to mid- November. At five weeks of age, our vet drew blood for a Coggins, added him to our health certificate, and we headed to Shawnee Oklahoma for a Memorial Day donkey show. He was a real trooper, accepted his new ‘bunkie’ in the trailer and was the hit of the show! So many ‘fans’ gave him a hug and took his picture, and for the first time in his life, he interacted with another animal …………… a cute little wiener dog! What time he wasn’t out entertaining, he was napping in a stall that we rented for him right there in the horse barn, and at night, he bunked in the last stall of our trailer so we could conveniently walk through the LQ part of the trailer and reach over the divider and feed him! In the mornings, he and I would walk back over to the barn; this is where he mastered walking on concrete and stepping up and over curbs ………….. trail training 101!
The picture to the left shows a dear friend of ours babysitting Rooster at the Shawnee show while we get our other animals out of the trailer!
In July, we were off again to the Great Celebration in Shelbyville, TN; Rooster in his bunkie and bottles packed …………… we divided the trip into two 500-mile days, and the little guy made it with flying colors. The only ‘trouble’ we had was it usually took us longer to get fuel because other customers would see us when we open the trailer to feed Rooster, and they would come over to see and meet the donkeys!
We made another trip back to Tennessee in September for their State Fair, but by this time Rooster is an experienced traveler, knows exactly where his spot is in the trailer, and his feeding schedule isn’t as intense! His last donkey show was the Texas State Fair in October, and because there wasn’t a way to get him in and out of the barn area, we had to improvise ……… we gave him a bit bigger area in the trailer, and he stayed at the campgrounds with our dogs! We walked him before we left and as soon as we got back, and although he wasn’t as happy as when he had a daytime stall at the show grounds, he didn’t fuss too much because he knew when he went for walks, he was going to meet lots of new friends. Everyone loves Rooster, and being around people, he is outgoing and very well socialized with humans, but we continue to work on his donkey social skills.
Between five and six months of age, Rooster started biting to get attention, and I think this was the hardest part for us ……… we naturally felt sorry for the little guy growing up without a donkey mom, and now we were having to scold/reprimand him for something that I saw the babies in the nursery doing daily. It’s natural for baby donkeys, especially little jacks, to bite their moms, but we couldn’t let Rooster go there. We tried saying ‘no’ loudly when he bit, but that hurt his feelings and he would cow-down; we didn’t want to hit him with our hands, so we tried pinching his nose, but that didn’t faze him. We ended up cutting off a section of a foam swimming noodle and used it to poke or pop him when he would bite …………. it took several weeks, before we noticed progress, but he did learn that biting wasn’t allowed.
On weaning day, we took Rooster in the weaning pasture first, and then let the other babies and their moms in together. One by one, we took the moms out and walked them back to the brood jenny pasture, and at the end of the day, we had our eight weanlings all together in their smaller pasture, and all the moms were out of sight and for the most part, out of mind! Rooster was with his peers, and although he didn’t know how to play, he did seem to enjoy watching!
The next morning, when we went out to feed,
there stood seven little weanlings in one corner and Rooster in another corner
of the pasture all by himself! When he saw us coming, he ran to us for morning hugs; it soon became apparent that I was going to have to stay away from his area until he bonded with some of the other babies! OMG! This was hard on both Rooster and me ……… it made my heart hurt badly, and the little guy stood by the fence two entire days looking at back door for any sign of the mom that had spent so many hours with him and had now disappeared! It took two weeks for Rooster to interact with his peers, but he still would leave them and run to meet us when he saw us!
We have been breeding miniature donkeys for 12 years, and this is our first bottle baby; the responsibility was lots of hard work, and these two old retirees lost a lot of sleep, but I think we accomplished what we set out to accomplish that Sunday in April ……..…….. Hickory Hills Sunday Sir Prize (a.k.a.Rooster) is healthy, he has a wonderful laid-back disposition, and he interacts with his peers in the weanling pasture ………… and he knows he is a donkey!
And to answer the #1 question that we are always asked ………… yes, we will breed his mother again! She was a maiden jenny, had no problems with her pregnancy, apparently no problems giving birth, and was never the least bit aggressive to the foal, but for whatever reason, her maternal hormones didn’t click, and she didn’t produce milk. We had her spend nights in the barn with Rooster until he was three/four weeks old, and then we turned her out in the nursery with the other moms and babies in hopes she might learn from them. The amazing thing that I will remember about her is the way she would greet Rooster when I took him out to play; she would walk to him and smell; she recognized him. She was a terrific nanny, and hopefully the next time, she will be a terrific mom.
Nothing like the wonderful world of miniature donkeys, and we definitely feel blessed that Rooster’s story has a happy ever after ending!
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