The next day I felt like total crap, which is on par for the course. I needed to cheer myself up. So I sat down to write a totally feel-good animal story for Grass Roots
magazine. And who better to write about than these critters?
Donkey Perspectives - Red Moon Sanctuary, Redmond Western Australia
by Brett and Sue Coulstock
, on Flickr
I'm a regular contributor to GR, but it surprised me that this one jumped the queue to the extent that they snuck it in the very next issue. Perhaps other people needed cheering up as well. Maybe it will cheer up someone on HF too, so I will share the manuscript. Australian readers, of course, can still pop into their local newsagency - and GR do international subscriptions as well.
GR folk often refer to their subscriptions as "prescriptions", since it affords a breath of sanity in a mad world, and a real sense of community. It's full of lovely stories on tree changing, small farming, organic growing, heritage breeds, livestock management, DIY, crafts, recycling, alternative energy and technology, owner building etc; and contains excellent recipes and readers' letters. There are very few advertisements compared to standard magazines, and you definitely won't see advertisements for sports cars, liposuction, dishwashers, six-burner stoves, cosmetics, condos, yachts, Rolex watches, unnecessary gadgets, and other mainstream consumer material. However, you will be able to contemplate whether you need solar panels, a compost toilet, a grain mill, a chicken tractor, essential oils, cheese starter cultures, parasite diagnostic services, heirloom seeds, or a few dozen books from the review section.
So here it is.
Cute Donkey Antics IV – Red Moon Sanctuary, Redmond, Western Australia
by Brett and Sue Coulstock
, on Flickr A TALE OF THREE DONKEYS
by Sue Coulstock, Redmond, WA
In 2012 we looked around our pastures and saw beef cattle, two retired horses, a working horse, plus the odd bit of welcome wildlife like kangaroos and emus. We thought, “Whom else could we give a home here?” Then we read about the plight of many neglected donkeys, so we wrote to the Donkey Society and offered to adopt a handful of old or ill donkeys when need next arose.
I have acquired lots of equine expertise, training my own horses from scratch for riding and driving since age 11. A huge bow here to the late great Australian horseman Tom Roberts whose four little books on horses and riding taught me so much more than anyone else. An even bigger bow to the horses, who have taught me far more than I ever taught them! I love classical dressage for its emphasis on communicating with your horse and working as a partnership, rather than “making the horse do things.” I also love getting out on bush trails with my horse Sunsmart. I’ve studied anatomy, physiology, nutrition etc etc. I trim our horses’ feet myself except in high dry summer, when the hooves are rock hard and I get an annual masterclass from a top local farrier. So we felt we would make a good home for a couple of donkeys with health and/or age issues, since there is a great deal of overlap in the management of horses and donkeys.
A few months later an email came: There were some donkeys in need of a good home. They weren’t old and neglected, but they were a group of three with special needs. Their lovely owner Dorothy was experiencing health issues that made it difficult for her to keep her donkeys. She wanted a good forever home for them, where they could stay together. These donkeys were only in their teens, and donkeys can live well past 40. One of the jennies was blind, and relied on her two herd mates to be her “guide donkeys”. They sent a photo and we said yes – how could you resist these guys?
The Three Stooges? – Red Moon Sanctuary, Redmond, Western Australia
by Brett and Sue Coulstock
, on Flickr THE DONKEYS ARRIVE
On July 12, 2012 the “Donkey Bus” from the Donkey Society made a delivery. We filmed this happy occasion and you can see the video on redmoonsanctuary.com.au. It also shows the amusing reactions of our horses, who had never seen donkeys before.
On the bus were a donkey gelding Brett duly christened “Don Quixote” and two jennies. Don Quixote is a classical donkey you’d expect to see in a Christmas parade: Dark with a white underside and muzzle, and big enough to carry a small person. Mary Lou is a chocolate-coloured Irish Longhair, who at times resembles an enormous walking shagpile carpet. She can literally develop dreadlocks. If she doesn’t shed out at the start of summer, we have been known to clip her short for the hot weather – the climate isn’t very Irish around here. Sparkle is the smallest donkey, and the most touchy-feely one. She just loves cuddles, scratches and having her piebald coat brushed. If I’m brushing a horse and she hears it, she comes over and queues up to be next in line. This little donkey lost most of her eyesight early in life (cause unknown), but seems to be able to tell light from dark and see general outlines. One of the Donkey Society ladies joked that Sparkle just needs glasses! You can see that her retina is partially detached. We tell people she is legally blind, and therefore cannot drive a car.
Sparkle copes surprisingly well with the loss of vision. Her hearing is exquisite. She appears to have an extraordinary ability to make landscape maps in her head. She quickly memorised where all the fences are, and just needs help finding the gateways. She looks a bit unfocused when approaching other animals, as she cannot read their gestures. We have noticed that all our donkeys and horses cut her a lot of slack, and tolerate incursions from her that they wouldn’t accept from the others. They understand that she is a little different, and make allowances for her inability to read cues. We were very careful with how we socialised her into the larger equine herd when she first arrived, so the others would have a chance to figure her out and she wouldn’t get hurt in the interim. DELIGHTFUL DONKEYS AND THEIR NOISES
Ah donkeys. They look like a cross between the horse, the teddy bear and the Easter bunny; utterly endearing. My husband, who says I’m the softie around this property, oohs and aahs over them every time he sees them, and they ooh and aah right back. They make the most ridiculous noises. When Don Quixote is warming up to bray, he sort of starts his engine with a few splutters before settling into ululating foghorn mode, ending in a crescendo of falsetto and following up, as per classical donkey tradition, with a few deep nose-blowing snorts. It’s an incredible production! Mary Lou’s bray sounds like a rusty water pump. She also has an impressive repertoire of long drawn-out honks which always peak in an insistent vibrato, employed especially when there are carrots around. And Sparkle – well, when she first brayed on our place after a long silent settling-in period, the whole herd of cows came running from the other end of the property because they couldn’t believe what they were hearing! She appears to employ large echo chambers for her particular vocalisations.
Donkey braying carries for kilometres on a still night, and is used in the wild to keep in touch with other donkeys. Occasionally Sparkle gets lost at night when in the large bushy paddock and we hear her bray to her herd mates, who then quietly go and collect her.
If you’ve not heard donkey noises before, we recommend you look up “Trumpet and Donkey (Original)” on YouTube. It shows what happens if you play a brass instrument near a donkey paddock. DONKEY HEALTH ISSUES
The biggest health issue for donkeys in the lusher parts of Australia is obesity. Donkeys originated in poor country with sparse, coarse grazing, and can get into awful trouble on lush green beef pastures. It’s like taking a wholefoods devotee off their healthy food and stuffing them full of Mars bars. Ideally you would graze donkeys in a relatively poor paddock with rough grasses and supplement them with minerals and if needed, extra roughage in the form of good-quality cereal straw, coarse meadow hay, Acacia saligna
branches, and similar non-tender tree fodders.
If you’re on beef grazing country like us, you have to carefully manage all equines to ensure they don’t become overweight on the pasture in spring. With horses we usually do this by restricting the pasture area they have access to, restricting the amount of time spent on pasture each day if necessary, and supplementing with coarse meadow hay. My working horse needs a lot of trail riding as well during the spring flush as he puts on weight very easily.
With donkeys you need to do the same, but more of it. We frequently have to employ grazing muzzles to restrict the two overweight donkeys’ food intake. These are “nosebags” with a hole in the hard plastic bottom through which a small amount of pasture can be accessed at a time. You can find them in most horse equipment stores. Equines are trickle grazers. Grazing muzzles allow them to have continuous access to small amounts of food and roam far and wide, which is much better than giving them full access to excessive food for some of the time and then locking them up in a boring yard until they can come out to eat again. The drawbacks of grazing muzzles include that equines can’t scratch their itchy spots with their teeth when wearing these, and that they can get too hot in them in summer. Also, the ability to select coarser forage may be adversely affected, so it’s good to have a multi-prong approach to obesity prevention.
Obesity in equines frequently leads to very dangerous metabolic problems and laminitis – a painful, crippling inflammation of the feet. It can lead to permanent hoof deformities, inability to move freely or work, and even to the bones in the hooves coming through the sole, which is horrific and usually fatal.
Overgrown hooves are another common health problem in domesticated donkeys. Donkeys evolved in rocky areas where their hoof growth was matched by the wear and tear of the terrain. In soft paddocks, with little exercise, hooves overgrow and then quickly deform, often causing permanent damage. We trim our donkeys every six weeks. This also helps prevent hoof rot, together with Stockholm tar applied to the underside of the hooves after trimming – extra important in winter and prolonged wet weather. I will write about equine hoof care in detail next time.
Up Close and Personal - Redmond Western Australia
by Brett and Sue Coulstock
, on Flickr PS: They did change the title to "A Donkey Tale" - which is fine by me. The original title had a bit of a joking reference to Dickens' "Tale of Two Cities"...