The Donkey

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  Name | Origins | Terminology | Classification | Common conformation defects | Colors | Differences between donkeys and horses | Shelter | Pasture | Feed and water | Grooming and health | Goals of the breeder | The choice of Jack and Jennet | Methods of breeding | Signs of Estrus | Gestation and care of Jennet during gestation | Foaling | Care of newborn donkey foals | Rebreeding


Ass is the correct name for members of Equus asinus, just as horse is the correct name for Equus caballus. However, the ass is more commonly called a donkey in North America. The name donkey comes from the old English word dunkey meaning an animal that is greyish-brown in color. Burro, the Spanish word for ass, usually refers to the feral donkeys that roam wild in various parts of North and South America.


According to Anthony Dent "there is no breed of ass that can be regarded as a specific and original American development. . . " For the most part it would appear that donkeys were brought to South America and Mexico by the Spanish Conquistadores in the 16 th century and have since slowly moved northward. The one exception may be American Mammoth jackstock, which was developed in the 18 th century from large imported European asses of Catalonian, Maltese and Poitou types.


A male donkey is called a jack. A female donkey is a jennet (sometimes written as jenny, but both pronounced the same). Castrated male donkeys are donkey geldings. Young donkeys are called jack foals or jennet foals.

The equine species can interbreed and will produce hybrid offspring that are usually infertile. The most common hybrids are the mule and hinny which are produced by the following combinations:

Stallion (Horse)
Jennet (Donkey)
Jack (Donkey)
Mare (Horse)


In Canada donkeys can be registered with The Canadian Donkey and Mule Association, an organization founded in 1976 and incorporated in 1988 under the Animal Pedigree Act (1988).

Because there are no specific North American donkey breeds, the Canadian Donkey and Mule Association recognizes the height classification given to donkeys in the United States. The donkey sizes recognized in Canada for registration purposes are:
    • Miniature: under 36 inches high at the withers when mature
    • Small Standard: from 36.01 to 48 inches
    • Large Standard: over 48 inches and under 54 inches for jennets; over 48 inches and under 56 inches for jacks and geldings
    • Mammoth: 54 inches or over for jennets; 56 inches or over for jacks and geldings.
Conformation of miniature, small and large standard donkeys
Before breeding quality donkeys (jacks and jennets) are accepted into the stud book of the Canadian Donkey and Mule Association, they must be inspected once they reach four years of age.

Regardless of whether a donkey is selected for breeding, show or work purposes, a quality animal should have proper proportions and conformation. For centuries, donkeys were and still are work animals in many parts of the world. The conformation of donkeys therefore must be appropriate to, that of working animals.

Short rather than too long, but in proportion with the rest of the animal. Straight or slightly dished profile. Eyes large, of mild expression, set low, wide apart and clear. Nostrils well shaped and open. Teeth in good condition with no undershot or overshot jaws. Jaws generous, round and open. Head deep through the jaws, tapering to a small muzzle. Ears long, clean cut, set upright, carried firmly and alertly pointed. An appearance of strength and masculinity in jacks and femininity in jennets.

Neck well proportioned to the rest of the animal, joined to head and shoulder correctly and smoothly. Crest of the neck should be fairly straight, not ewe-necked, nor fallen to the side or excessively fat. Neck firm, well fleshed and strong. Mane usually short and upright, but may fall to the side as with the horse mane.

Withers practically nonexistent, but if noticeable so much the better. Shoulder slightly sloping, although more upright than the horse. The ribs should be well sprung and the girth deep. Chest relatively wide, not narrow. Back short and level, or slightly dipped in the case of older animals or in foal jennets. A very long, out of proportion back is undesirable. Loin strong, broad and firmly coupled. Quarters long, wide, and as flat as possible. Should be well fleshed with plenty of length between point of hip and point of buttock. When viewed from the rear the thicker all parts of the quarters and thighs are the better. Top of croup rounded, not extremely sloping. Tail well set, not low, covered with short hair and completed by a tuft of long hair.

Limbs must be straight and true, with adequate bone in proportion to the type of animal. Knees flat and wide, cannon bones short. Hocks set low, strong, clean and correct shape. Characteristics desirable in the limbs of the horse are also desirable in the donkey, except pasterns of the donkey are more upright.

Hooves should be even, of good shape and well trimmed. They should be hard, clean, smooth, elastic and tough. The size must be adequate to the donkey, but true to the typical donkey hoof which is narrow. No tendency to low heels. Front foot oval, hind foot more elongated and frog small but well developed.

To be level and true, willing and active.

General Conformation of Mammoth Jackstock

Kind, gentle and placid.

Mature jacks (four years old or more) must stand 14 hands high or over; jennets must be 13.2 hands high or over. They may be the heavy-boned draft type or the more refined saddle type. In either case they should be large, well balanced animals of good conformation. General conformation is similar to that of the Standard donkey with particular attention given the following:

Well shaped not coarse, carried alert and well balanced. Ears should be long, well set and carried erect. Eyes should be large and open. Profile straight or slightly roman. The jack should have a strong jaw and heavily muscled neck.

Ewe neck is not permissible. Neck should be straight, joined to head and shoulder smoothly, and in good proportion with the rest of the animal.

Shoulders should be well sloped, the chest wide and deep, and the ribs well sprung to give good heart girth. Any animal whose body shrinks in size behind the shoulders (wasp waist) or in front of the hips (herring gutted) should be rejected. The back and loin should be straight and strong. They should be short coupled, smooth over the hips and carry a well muscled croup. This heavy muscling should also be evident through the chest, forearm and gaskin.

Set and quality of the legs is important and should be as nearly correct as possible. Bone and joints should be large, but as clean and flat as possible. A heavy-boned draft type Mammoth may have 10-inch or more front cannon bone measurement, while a lighter boned, more refined saddle type Mammoth may have an 8- to 9-inch measurement.

The feet should be deep, round and large with evidence of good wearing qualities. Long weak pasterns (coon-footed) should be avoided.

While some Mammoth Jackstock are naturally fairly sluggish, action should be straight and level with as much alertness and style as possible. Good action is correlated with quality and proper conformation. Sluggishness and dragging of the feet should be discriminated against.

Proper proportions, conformation, balance, symmetry and refinement are qualities to be looked for in every type and size of donkey.

Common Conformation Defects

Coarseness, roman nose; short rounded ears; lop ears; head ill proportioned to the rest of the animal; parrot mouth (overshot) or monkey mouth (undershot) jaws.

Ewe neck, fallen crest; Too short.

Long weak back, too straight back or roach back; narrow chest and rump; flat ribs, light in the girth, wasp waist; goose rumps or narrow rumps; peaked rump (rafter hips); weak coupling.

Cow hocks, sickle hocks; over or back at the knee; insufficient bone to be in proportion with the animal; toe out or in.

Malformed hooves; cracked or broken hooves; long, weak pasterns (coon footed).

Crooked action, winging or interfering; plaiting or rope walking


Donkeys come in a wide variety of colors; dun-grey is the most common. Grey donkeys often have dorsal and shoulder stripes that are black, brown or dark grey, usually the same color as the mane. These markings are more common in the smaller donkeys and are thought to indicate a common ancestry with Nubian Wild Ass (Africa). True Mammoths rarely have dorsal and shoulder stripes. Zebra stripes or horizontal stripes on the legs may indicate common ancestry with the Somali Wild Ass (Africa).

Black and brown are the next most common colors. The brown color can vary from pale oatmeal to deep chocolate. More rare are the red or blue roan donkeys which have white hairs interspersed with chestnut (red roan) or black hair (blue roan). Equally rare are the broken colored or spotted donkeys that combine white patches with black, brown, roan or grey patches.

Standard donkey markings are generally a white nose, eye rings and a white underbelly. Completely black donkeys, or grey donkeys with unusual black noses are seen occasionally.

Differences Between Donkeys and Horses

Some notable differences between donkeys and horses or ponies are listed below:

Physical Features

Ears: The long ears of the donkey, which are well supplied with blood vessels, are a desert adaptation for cooling the body.

Eyes: The larger eyes of the donkey provide a wider field of vision than those of the horse.

Tail: The unusual tail resembles that of a cow because it is covered with short body hair except for the tuft on the end.

Chestnuts: Ergots or chestnuts are practically nonexistent on the hind legs of donkeys.

Vertebral column: The donkey, like the Arabian horse, lacks the fifth lumbar vertebra in the spinal column normally found in other equine skeletons.

Hoof: Donkeys have hooves that are more upright, smaller, tougher and more elastic than those of horses. Consequently donkey hooves rarely need to be shod.

Coat:: Donkeys have coats that tends to be longer and coarser than that of the horse, although texture can vary among North American donkeys. It is important to note that donkeys do not have the protective undercoat that horses do; therefore, they are more susceptible to climatic conditions such as rain, wet snow and wind. Insulation from heat or cold is largely created by air pockets between the longer hairs.

Voice: The distinctive bray.

Longevity intelligence
Donkeys have a life span of 30 to 50 years, which is greater than that of the horse.

Larger brain capacity is evidenced by the fact that donkeys require bridles with a larger browband than that needed for a comparable size of horse or pony. Donkeys are reported to have developed an intelligence superior to that of the horses, but its instincts give rise of different behavior, in certain circumstances, which many misconstrue as stubbornness. For example, it is not the nature of the donkey to run in panic when frightened as the horse instinctively does. Under the same conditions donkeys are more likely to stop, stand still and study the situation carefully to determine the best course of action.

The donkey is reportedly more prepotent but less fertile than the horse. Whereas the conception rate of the horse is reported at approximately 60 to 65 per cent, the conception rate of the donkey is considered to be lower than that of the horse. Donkeys have an average gestation period of 12 months compared to 11 months in horses. Gestation in the donkey can vary from I 1 to 14 months. Production of twins, though rare, is more frequent among donkeys than horses.

Donkeys browse as well as graze. Donkeys will eat coarse herbage, marsh grass, young thistles and shrubs in his pasture, feeds that most horses will not eat.


As desert animals donkeys do best in a temperate climate, although they will adapt to cold climates if provided with proper shelter and extra feed. They do not mind the cold. Donkeys dislike rain, and are susceptible to pneumonia and bronchitis when chilled. In Canada during late spring, summer and early fall an open front shed will do for shelter if it is well bedded with dry straw. In winter, depending on the region of Canada, donkeys may be shut in a barn, but allowed to run out on good days, or they may be loosed housed in a comfortable shelter facing away from the prevailing wind. Some donkeys like snow, but others suffer from the cold. Guard against chilling by the wind.

Wet snow can melt down into a donkey's coat, soaking the hair and causing the animal to chill. Snow should be scraped off a donkey when it is put inside the barn. During a rain, the horse will have water pouring off its back, but the donkey's coat will become sodden with the rain as it soaks down to the skin. Donkeys therefore needs adequate shelter during the cold rains of spring and fall.


Donkeys can graze coarser pasture than a horse. Lush pasture is not recommended because donkeys have low energy requirements and are prone to obesity and certain metabolic disorders such as laminitis (founder) and hyperlipaemia if allowed free choice high quality pasture.

Allow each donkey from one-half to one acre of pasture per month. This will vary with the quality and amount of growth in the area, and the size of the donkey. Obviously Mammoths will need larger areas than Miniatures or Small Standards. If possible divide pastures and alternate from one pasture to another. When a pasture is at rest the long grass and weeds can be trimmed down well before the animals are to be returned to it. Harrowing the pasture will help to spread the manure and reduce parasite problems.

Donkeys will make a place where they can take dust/sand baths during warm weather.

Pasture fencing can be page wire, plain or barbed wire (beware of cuts from the latter), electric or a combination of both. Donkeys quickly learn to be very respectful of electric fence.

From mid-May to early September, pasture will provide enough to meet the nutrient requirements of donkeys unless drought conditions exist. Make the change from dry food to grass slowly in the spring, to avoid health problems such as grass founder. Allow donkeys on pasture for thirty minutes per day at first then gradually increase the length of time each day, donkeys should be turned out after they have been fed dry feed. After a week, the donkey can stay on pasture all the time.

Feed and Water

Provide fortified trace mineralized salt in block or loose form in the pasture or by the shelter. Check with the district agriculturalist to learn which minerals are deficient in the feeds of the region (e.g. selenium, copper, zinc, etc). These must be added to diets for donkeys, usually in the salt or mineral mix.

Fresh water is essential. Donkeys are very particular about water being fresh and clean. They will drink from I 0 to, 25 litres per day.

High quality hay should be fed in winter or when pastures are depleted in the fall. Legume hay (rich in alfalfa or clover) is not recommended as the only hay for donkeys because of its high protein levels. Timothy, meadow grass, brome grass or mixed legume-grass hays are suitable. Hay composed of 50 per cent timothy and 50 per cent alfalfa is suitable for donkeys that, are growing, pregnant, nursing and during the coldest months of winter.

When available, silage may be fed in small quantities with the balance of the feed to be made up of hay. Beware of mildew (grey dust) or mold on hay - They are poisonous!

Concentrate feeds, such as grain, are seldom needed by donkeys. However, growing youngsters and pregnant or nursing jennets may receive grain rations depending on their body condition. Donkeys need grain if they are use work (driving, packing, predator control in sheep, etc.).

Prepared horse feeds provide supplemental energy, protein, minerals and vitamins required by donkeys. Supplements formulated for cattle, pigs or poultry should not be used, because they may contain additives that are toxic (e.g. Rumensin).

The average Small Standard donkey (approximately 44 inches tall and weighing 400-500 lb) that does little or very light work in winter, requires only two handfuls of whole oats per day and some hay. Watch donkeys closely to determine whether they need more or less feed. Youngsters under the age of two and older donkeys that are more than 20-years-old have been found to do well on rolled oats or a 50 per cent rolled oat and 50 per cent rolled barley mix. Adult donkeys over the age of two years do well on good quality, clean whole oats.

An obese donkey should be fed only hay (2-4 flakes per day). A thick roll of fat along the crest of the neck indicates obesity in donkeys. This roll of fat is extremely hard to reduce once it has formed. Eventually the excess weight of the neck roll will cause it to fall over to one side of the neck, creating an unsightly malformation. Avoid placing the obese donkey on a starvation diet in the hope of rapidly removing excess weight. The loss of more than 2 kg (4.4 lb) per month can precipitate metabolic disorders such as hyperlipaemia according to The Professional Handbook of the Donkey.

Adult donkeys in good condition will eat the same amount of hay, plus the ration of concentrates mentioned above. Naturally the amounts fed will vary with the size and condition of the donkeys. Mammoths or miniatures need correspondingly more or less feed.

A rough guideline is to feed a total weight (hay plus grain ration) of 1 kg of feed per 50 kg of body weight (two pounds of feed per hundred pounds of body weight).

For example:

A 450 lb donkey
  • at rest - approximately 4 kg (9 lb) total feed (hay plus grain) daily.
  • at work-approximately 5kg(11.25 lb) total feed daily
The more hard work required, the greater the amount of grain usually given providing the donkey does not become too energetic and hard to handle. For example:

A 450 lb donkey
  • at rest - 0 to 1 lb grain plus 7-8 lb hay daily.
  • at work - 1 to 2 lb grain plus 9-10 lb hay daily.
A 950 lb Mammoth donkey
  • at rest - 0-2 lb grain plus 15-18 lb hay daily.
  • at work - 4-5 lb grain plus 16-18 lb hay daily.
The donkey is more of a browser in his eating habits. Therefore it is important to supply the donkey with free choice good quality barley or oat straw, along with his ration of hay and grain. Research at The Donkey Sanctuary in England has shown that straw in the ration may help the donkey produce natural biotin to improve skin and hoof condition. However, straw is a low quality feed and must not be used as a substitute for hay in the diets of donkeys.

Any animal that is frequently fed tidbits will spend its life looking for them and will soon learn, just as a horse or pony, to nip the hand with no food in it. Feed any treats in a tub on the ground while petting and talking to the donkey.

Grooming and Health Grooming

Donkeys enjoy being groomed. Brush them with a fairly stiff brush in the direction the hair grows. Be gentle with the ears, do not twist or hold them tightly. In spring, a shedding blade is useful for loosening the thick winter coat. Do not be too hasty to help shed the winter coat. Donkeys take up to two months longer to shed their hair coat than horses and will easily catch a chill if the coat is shed too early in the spring. Use caution when grooming in winter. Grooming destroys the natural air pockets in the coat that provide insulation, so groom only on warm days. Clipping is not recommended unless adequate protection from inclement weather is provided.

In summer, grooming is almost hopeless because donkeys take dust baths. This natural method of bathing is used by animals that do not like water.

Watch for the donkey that rubs its coat, especially at the tail head - it may have lice. If evidence of lice is seen, check with a veterinarian for the best preparation to remove the lice.

Hoof care
Clean out hooves regularly. Remember donkey hooves are very elastic and do not wear down like those of other equines. If left untrimmed they grow to astounding proportions and such neglect can cause an animal to be permanently crippled. Ideally hooves should be trimmed every four to eight weeks depending on age and speed of growth. The hooves of foals generally grow faster than those of adult donkeys. Keep feet short and neat.

Deworm donkeys three to six times per year, using any of the equine paste wormers currently on the market. If the presence of parasites is suspected, a veterinarian should do a fecal test to determine exactly what type of worms are present and how best to treat for them. Rotation of deworming products is recommended. Unless internal parasites are removed by regular deworming, donkeys will suffer internal tissue damage from migrating parasites, which may considerably shorten their life span.

Donkeys should be given an annual injection of a four-way equine vaccine every spring. The injection provides immunity against eastern and western equine encephalitis, equine influenza and tetanus, which are all potentially fatal equine diseases. Check with a veterinarian about starting a vaccination program.

Goals of the Breeder

Breeders must establish what the goals of their breeding program are before purchasing any stock. Breeders can select stock of known ancestry with the assistance of The Canadian Donkey and Mule Association (1988), which operates the only registry for Canadian donkeys and mules, selection from.

Examples of possible goals for the breeder:
  • The production of heavy-boned draft type Mammoth jackstock.
  • The production of red roan Mammoth jackstock to provide red roan jacks for the production of sorrel draft mules from Belgian mares.
  • The production of refined, saddle type Mammoth jackstock for riding, harness work or to yield jacks for saddle mule breeding.
  • The production of spotted Small or Large Standard donkeys for show or fine harness work.
  • The production of sturdy Large Standard donkeys for packing or riding.
  • The production of well conformed Miniature donkeys, or colourful spotted Miniatures.
Keep in mind that every breeder must work towards proper conformation. Do not be tempted to chose breeding stock because it has a unique color or size if defects such as crooked legs, angular rumps, ewe necks or jaw deformities are present!

The Choice of Jack and Jennet

Donkeys can suffer from many conformation defects ( See Conformation Defects). These are largely due to generations of indiscriminate breeding which have promoted and accentuated such conformation defects as crooked legs, narrow chests and jaw defects. The novice breeder should visit as many donkey breeders and donkey shows as possible to study and understand donkeys as work animals before investing in breeding stock.

The purpose of registration is to record individual animals so that their type and ancestry are known. Breeders who keep good records are likely to be helpful in getting the novice breeder established. Such records, as well as the opportunity to view both parents of a sale animal, are a distinct advantage when purchasing stock.

Methods of Breeding

Pasture breeding
The simplest way to bred donkeys is to turn a jack out with a group of jennets and allow them to breed naturally. However, there are some possible disadvantages:
  • a jack that is not in excellent condition may not successfully breed all the jennets.
  • risk of injury to the jack by aggressive jennets, or vice versa.
  • risk of injury to foals in the herd. The jack may try to kill any jack foal born.
  • risk of infection being spread in an uncontrolled situation.
  • difficulty in determining dates of breeding and foaling dates unless the donkeys are closely observed.
Hand breeding
A jennet can be placed in a breeding chute or stall and bred with a jack that is controlled by a handler. Advantages are:
  • minimal risk of injury to jack and jennet. The foal can be placed close by so the jennet is not worried about her offspring.
  • the jack's energy can be conserved and is not wasted chasing jennets.
  • risk of disease is reduced as both jack and jennet can be washed thoroughly before breeding.
  • exact dates for breeding can be recorded and dates for foaling can be predicted.
Disadvantages of this method are the requirement of extra care, handling, and facilities for regular teasing, and breeding of the jennets. Some jacks are slow breeders, so the process can be time consuming.

Artificial insemination
Semen collected from a jack can be used to artificially inseminate one or more jennets. The main advantages of this technique are the lowered risk of infection, and the possibility breeding more jennets. The disadvantages of AI for many small breeders is the costs involved for a trained technician, or the courses and purchase of equipment to establish them in equine AI.

Jacks can be precocious at an early age, and young jennets often show their first heat cycles early in the yearling year. However, it is unwise to breed donkeys that are less than three-years-old because they mature slowly. An immature jennet that becomes pregnant may suffer permanent damage to the skeletal and muscular system and may produce foals with congenital malformations. Physically immature jennets may also lack the maturity to be good mothers.

Signs of Estrus

Jennets do not normally show estrus throughout the winter months, but often start to show signs of estrus in March, and then continue to cycle normally every 21 to 28 days until conception occurs, or towards year end in November or December. When in heat the jennet will lay her ears back, and repeatedly open and close the mouth in a mouthing reflex, sometimes drooling. The jennet will squat to urinate more frequently and bray more often than normal.

Gestation and Care of Jennet During Gestation

Jennet will carry a foal an average of 12 months before giving birth. however, the length of gestation ranges from 11 to almost 14 months. Considering the length of gestation it is wise to consider the time of year that the jennet will foal, and condine the breeding season from May 1 to August 1 in cold climates. Either side of these dates will require a suitable barn and good foaling facilities to ensure the survival of the foal and well being of the jennet.

Jennets should maintain a quiet lifestyle during pregnancy with regular exercise either at liberty, or riding and driving if they are used to such work up until the last quarter of pregnancy. Hard or fast work should be avoided during the last quarter of pregnancy. Hard or fast work should be avoided during the last quarter of pregnancy.

Regular hoof care is important. Regular deworming is necessary to maintain jennets in good condition for foaling. Check with a veterinarian before giving any deworming medication in the last quarter (3 months) of gestation. Some products are safe during this time period and others are not.

Unless jennets are thin, the feeding program can remain unchanged until the last quarter(3 months) of gestation. Some products are safe during this time period and others are not.

Unless jennets are thin, the feeding program can remain unchanged until the last quarter (3 months) of gestation when the fetus grows the most. Excessive feed early in pregnancy will create obesity and potential foaling problems. Increased feed should be maintained from the final quarter of pregnancy throughout the first three months after birth. Maximum milk production occurs in the three months after foaling.

Jennets are rarely consistent in showing the same signs of impending birth from one pregnancy to the next. However, jennets will generally show some or all of the following signs:
  • The udder gradually enlarges about 30 days before birth of the foal. As the birth date approaches the udder becomes enlarged and remains enlarged.
  • The teats enlarge to the very tip several days before birth.
  • A waxy secretion that forms a cap over the end of each teat may form up to 48 hours before birth. Some jennets actually drip milk in the last 24 to 48 hours. Do not milk the jennet at this stage.
  • Softening of the pelvic ligaments creates a groove along either side of the spinal column in the loin area toward the tail head. This sign may go unnoticed in a first foaler or a jennet with a winter coat.
  • The vulva becomes very soft and loose during the last week or two of pregnancy, and gradually enlongates as birth approaches. Birth is usually in matter of hours when the lips of the vulva are swollen out to be flush with hindquarters.
  • A jennet may be unfriendly towards other animals and prefer to stand by itself.
  • The jennet will show restlessness as the foal turns and prepares to move into the birth passage. At this stage she may look thinner, walk the stall and get up and down a number of times. Sometimes birth occurs immediately after the foal has turned, or sometimes the jennet will wait for another day or so.
  • Just before birth, the jennet's tail will be carried out away from the body, lifted and usually kinked to one side. She may frequently pass small amounts of soft manure or urinate.

Jennets not only show variation in the signs before foaling, they can foal at any time of the day or night, so close observation is important.

Jennets will be restless, walk the box stall, lay down and get up repeatedly. When the cervix is fully dilated, the water bag protrudes into the vagina and ruptures releasing amniotic fluid which lubricates the passageway for the foal.

The jennet will then start to strain hard and a pair of tiny forefeet will soon appear. As more of the front legs emerge the nose of the foal will be seen resting on the front legs. This is the normal birth position. Do not hurry the jennet or pull on the foal's feet. Unless there is a problem in the presentation of the foal, the jennet will handle the birth unaided in 15 to 30 minutes.

If the jennet has been straining hard for 20 minutes and no foal appears, or the front feet appear but no nose, or only one foot shows, call a veterinarian. These signs of malpresentation require expert assistance if both the jennet and foal are to come through the process of birth alive and well.

As the neck appears, the head may start to move and break the membrane that encloses the foal. If it does not, tear the membrane open and wipe the foal's nostrils clear of mucus to help it breathe.

Do not cut the navel cord. The jennet will break the cord when she gets up. She will then lick her foal dry. This licking action is important, especially with first foaling jennets, because it stimulates the mothering instinct of the jennet and prevents chilling of the newborn. The jennet will usually expel the afterbirth (placenta) within half an hour. If the afterbirth has not been expelled within 6 to 8 hours call for veterinary assistance. A retained placenta can cause infection or laminitis (founder).

Care of Newborn Donkey Foals

Once the umbilical cord has broken, dip the foal's navel stump in a five per cent iodine solution to prevent umbilical infection. The jennet and foal should be watched to make sure the foal stands and nurses. It is vital to the foal's health that it drink the colostrum, or first milk, which is rich in antibodies. If the foal is the jennet's first offspring, she may not want to nurse and it may be necessary to hold or tie the jennet while helping the foal to nurse for the first time.

Watch for the foal to pass the meconium or first manure. These hard pellets are often passed as the foal struggles to stand before nursing. If a foal does not pass the meconium during the first 12 to 24 hours and shows signs of raising its train and straining without results, then a veterinarian should be called to administer an enema or mineral oil to stimulate the passage of the meconium.

Donkey foals have a thick, fluffy coat which fives the appearance of warmth and hardiness compared to horse foals., but such is not the case. donkey foals are not very hardy and require suitable shelter especially for the first two weeks of life. Foals that are soaked by rail easily become chilled and may contract bronchitis or pneumonia, which can be fatal. If this occurs bring the wet foal into the barn, rub it down will with towels and leave the foal inside until it is thoroughly dry.

Between the ages of two weeks to a months foals start nibbling at the jennet's feed. At the time a foal can be fed a commercial foal ration separately in a small pen constructed with an opening just large enough for foals to enter. Foals will learn to use the creep feeder within tow to four weeks.

Diarrhea may be seen in foals at age of nine to ten days when the jennet starts her "foal hea". The condition usually disappears within a few days, and the foal is unaffected. If the condition persists or the foal is obviously neither feeling well or nursing normally then a veterinarian should be called.

Donkey foals can be weaned at four to six months of age. Weaning at three months or earlier is not recommended. Foals that are weaned early will require extra care and attention.


Jennets return to heat nine to ten days after foaling, however breeding is not recommended during the first heat. The rate of conception at this time is low, and the reproductive tract may not have returned to normal. Jennets are usually far more concerned about their young foals at this time and are more likely to be upset by the presence of the jack. On the second or third heat after foaling, jennets are more relaxed and receptive to the jack, foals can be kept in a pen or box stall close by the breeding area with few problems, and conception is more likely to occur.

The time lapse involved in rebreeding, combined with the length of a jennet's gestation, means that breeders will likely obtain less than of one foal per year. These factors make it more logical to plan for three foals in a four year period.

Source: Agdex467/20-1. November 1990.
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This information published to the web on November 1, 1990.
Last Reviewed/Revised on July 5, 2016.