Tiny Tim, the Christmas Rescue Donkey’s Story

Donkeys are nothing like horses. Here are a few important things I learned about them.

Donkey Rescue!

Back in December, I received an urgent message from a friend of mine: “Do you know anyone who could take in a donkey at short notice?”

“A donkey?!? How short notice?”

“If he’s not rehomed by Tuesday, he’ll be on the truck to Italy.”

It was Sunday. “Italy” means he’d end up as sausage, or dog food. I have a stallion. If it’s a jack…no dice.

“Jack? Gelding?”

“Gelding,” she says.

“Me,” I responded.

Learn Something New Every Day

Donkey issues are different. On Tuesday afternoon, a very wet, cold, shivering, scared tiny donkey was delivered to me. I paid the meat price for him. He didn’t want to walk. You can’t make a donkey walk if it doesn’t want to. We almost carried him into the field.

Tiny Tim on arrival, 17 December 2019

Tiny Tim (aka Timmy) had been standing in a field with two other donkeys for about 3 months.

It had rained, and stormed, practically every day. Every. Day. With minimal shelter. Months.

While I knew about donkey nutrition — that was about all I knew about donkeys.

The first thing I learned?

Donkey fur isn’t like horse fur. Their coats are not waterproof. 

If a donkey gets wet, it is soaked to the skin.

Houston, We Have a Problem

Timmy arrived with issues. Several issues. Some needed urgent attention, some would take months and months to fix. He had rain rot all over his back, down his nose, and on his ears. Scabby, sore, wet. So very, very wet. And cold. The poor donkey was shaking so much, he was practically vibrating.

I ran for a blanket. Getting the blanket — Stormy’s yearling blanket — on him was a bit of a challenge. He’d clearly never seen, let alone worn, one.

Alas, it was too big for him. He’s almost exactly 10hh. 100cm. Stormy was bigger than that at 1 year, so I ended up wrapping an elastic blanket strap around a tiny donkey to keep the rug in place. The strap was — of course — too long, so I shortened it as short as it would go. And wrapped it around him. Twice.

Timmy *after* a quick initial trim to shorten the hooves. Not great, but better than before. Waiting for the farrier

His feet were in a shocking state. One back hoof, even after a quick trim to get rid of the “slippers”, was turned inward, causing him to walk with his coronet and pastern turned outward at an angle. I booked the farrier, who came a few days later to take care of the worst of it. This was just before Christmas.

Introducing a Donkey to Horses

I had left the horses on the track and the donkey was in the woods. I don’t have stables, so keeping Timmy dry was paramount. The blanket was a must for him. (He didn’t want to give it up, once he realized he’s warm and dry under it.) The horses… well.

Stormy was intrigued. No surprise there, he’s a 4-year-old stallion. Everything intrigues him.

Oz? Oz needed to keep 4 fences between him and the “thing in the woods”. He wasn’t getting closer, in case it tried to eat him. (It could happen!)

Leaving the donkey in the woods where there were plenty of trees for shelter, was the best solution for now — or so I thought. I walked back to the house to get out of the rain and found out quickly that I had apparently acquired a dog

At least Timmy thought he was a dog.

He just ducked under the fence and followed me. So I left him in the big field to settle in.

Two days later I switched them over, with the rugged horses in their regular field, with access to the woods, and the donkey on the track, where he could get in the field shelter. The horses never used it anyway.

I kept them in separate fields for 2 weeks after Timmy arrived. While I was pretty sure he was a healthy donkey, I wasn’t about to let him in with the horses. The separate fields also functioned as a bit of quarantine. This way they could get used to each other, see each other, sniff each other, eat next to each other — but not harm each other. It works well, and there is minimal running and chasing once they get together.

Battling Rain Rot and Bad Hooves

The woes were not over. There was still a lot of doctoring to do and Timmy wasn’t always a willing participant. Particularly when it came to the ears. I guess they were very sore and touching them, cleaning them, hurt. It had to be done regularly though so the skin under the scabs could heal.

Timmy’s hairless ears in March. Looking a lot better than they were

Rain rot takes ages to heal. Especially during a winter where it doesn’t stop raining. We had rain from October to March, with barely a dry day in between. Timmy has quite long fur all over in winter, but it was falling out in clumps where the rot was healing.

The rims of his ears were raw and open in places. Neem oil to the rescue. It was helping a lot. His back healed much quicker, thanks to the rug, but his ears had been one big crust all over when he arrived, as was the top of his nose. Now the hair came out all over when the skin healed and the scabs came off, leaving him with bald patches.

The farrier had been again in January and February, and Timmy was due for another trim in March…alas France went into full Lockdown. No movement permitted, period. There I was, trying to straighten those feet, and I couldn’t get a professional. I did what I could with a rasp, but balancing that much bad growth and a nasty twist… nope. Not a chance. I simply lack the expertise to do it properly. A pro was needed.

Back feet in April

By the end of April, I was starting to worry. Timmy was two months overdue for a trim and those feet were starting to be bad again. My regular farrier was stuck in the UK, with no end of travel bans in sight. There was no telling when movement would be permitted, and visitors/travel from the UK to France was limited to residents only. In early May I managed to find a lovely French farrier who came immediately when restrictions were eased. Disaster averted.

Darn Donkey!

Not only did he go walkabout — he slipped under the electric fence and went for a hike! — but nothing was safe. He chased the chickens. He chased the cat. He broke into the chicken pen and ate the chicken feed. (I feed corn and wheat, so no damage done.)

Lock up all feed bins. Especially if you have chickens, and thus commercial chicken feed. Donkeys will find a way, and chicken feed can poison them. Grain is a no-no for donkeys at the best of times, so keep it out of reach.

No more breaking into the chicken pen!
Every now and then, I could see the utter happiness in his face
Taken in April, in my woods, among the bluebells

Fast Forward to Now

Timmy in July 2020

A Few Things I Learned

  • Donkeys don’t have a flight instinct. If you have other animals, introduce them only under supervision to avoid trouble. Donkeys have a fight instinct, and they will protect their herd against predators. Even if the “predator” is your cat or chicken
  • Donkeys do not have a waterproof coat! They are desert dwellers and get soaking wet in persistent rain. If you don’t have a shelter, provide them with a waterproof rug
  • Donkeys are smart. Much, much smarter than horses. They will only do what they want to do, but with some training and a lot (a LOT) of patience, you can get cooperation
  • Donkeys like to cuddle
  • Donkeys get fat on air. Seriously. It is very easy to overfeed a donkey. They are best kept on a track, or a dry lot, with a little hay or barley straw
  • Donkeys need toys! They get bored easily, and either need the company of another donkey, or toys to play with, and/or (in my case) a rambunctious 4-year-old stallion who can play rough with them. (Donkeys play very rough!)
Tim and Stormy trying to eat my car

I could have passed him by. I could have left it up to someone else to save him. I didn’t want a donkey.

But he was only six years old and he needed a chance. Fast.

I knew fixing his problems would take time, effort — and cold hard cash. There is always something when you rescue an animal. Yes, he should be with another donkey. Horses and donkeys don’t speak the same language, they have completely different nutritional requirements, donkeys are fight, and horses are flight animals. Different worming regimes too.

I don’t have the financial means to add another donkey. But I think it’s a small price to pay to be with horses instead of donkeys if the other option is being dog food. Besides, Timmy and my stallion Stormy play together all the time, so it’s not like he has no interaction.

I don’t regret a thing. Just look at him now. The sad, unsure, scared, wet creature is a thing of the past. The hooves will still need quite a bit of attention, but they are a million miles from where they used to be. There is new fur on his ears, nose, and back.

Now, if I can fix that big belly, we’re onto a winner. (How he manages to get fat on a grassless track, with a little hay and straw to nibble is beyond me.)

And I’m still learning.

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