Tips on breeding from your donkey
As people become more knowledgeable about the donkey, so his popularity increases. The donkey has long been seen as stupid and stubborn but this erroneous attitude is now changing and the donkey is being recognised for the long-suffering, sweet-natured animal that he is.
A donkey foal is enchanting but this is not a good reason for breeding from your jenny. Unless you can ensure a good life for the donkey while it's in your care, and/or have reasonable expectations that you can find it a good home, don't add another potential rescue case to the world.
Do not breed from a donkey that has bad conformation. Crooked legs, narrow chests, jaw deformities and ewe necks are still faults even in donkeys of unique and/or desirable colours. Indiscriminate breeding perpetrates these undesirable characteristics. Ensure the dam and sire are as perfect as you can find before embarking on a breeding venture.
A male and female donkey is generally referred to as a jack (male) or jenny (jennet) (female). The terms mare and stallion are sometimes used along with colt and filly for young animals. Male donkeys are often castrated just like their equine counterparts and are then geldings.
Donkeys may interbreed with horses but the offspring are generally infertile. A hinny is the progeny of a stallion (horse) and jenny while the offspring of a stallion (donkey) and mare is known as a mule.
The conception rate of donkeys is only 60 to 65% which is lower than that of the horse. The gestation period can vary from 11 to 14 months. Donkeys are more likely to have twins but such events are still rare.
There are several ways of breeding donkeys. One is to turn a jack out with a group of jennets and allow nature to take its course. There are disadvantages to this however.
- Donkeys, both jacks and jennets, can be aggressive and there is a risk of injury.
- There is also a risk of injury to foals. Any jack foal born while the adult jack is running with the jennets runs the risk of being killed by the jack.
- If there are a number of jennets to serve, the jack will need to be in excellent condition.
- In an uncontrolled situation, there is a risk of infections being spread.
- Unless the donkeys are watched closely it will be difficult to determine breeding dates and therefore foaling dates.
Hand breeding involves the jennet being placed in a breeding chute or stall. The jack is then brought up to the jennet under the control of a handler. With this method, there is less risk of injury to either donkey. If a foal is present, it can be placed where the jennet can see that it is safe. The jack is not worn out pursuing jennets. Both donkeys can be washed before breeding and infections thus kept to a minimum. Exact breeding dates can be recorded and foaling dates estimated.
Hand breeding does involve extra care and handling. Jennets will need to be teased to ascertain their cycle and facilities for breeding will be needed. As some jacks are slow breeders, this method can be time-consuming.
Artificial insemination involves the introduction of semen into the jennet by artificial methods. A trained technician is required and semen must be available. There is a lower risk of infection but costs are higher. Breeding from a particular sire some distance away is possible by this method.
Donkeys are able to breed at very young ages but because they mature slowly, it is best not to breed from them until around three years old. Jennets may show their first heat as yearlings but becoming pregnant at this age can result in permanent skeletal and muscular damage. Foals from such young jennets may be born with congenital malformations. Jennets need a certain amount of maturity if they are to be good mothers.
A jennet in oestrus will open and close her mouth repeatedly, sometimes drooling as she does so. She will lay her ears back, urinate more frequently and bray more than is normal for that particular donkey. A normal cycle for a jennet can be anything from 21 to 28 days.
Jennets used to working can continue to be worked quietly until the last quarter of their pregnancy. They need regular exercise but should not do hard or fast work. Be sure to keep the hooves trimmed, worm regularly but be careful of worming products during the last three months. Check that the product you are considering is suitable for heavily pregnant jennets.
If the jennet is in good condition, there is no need for extra food until the last three months. Obesity can create problems at foaling. Watch your jenny's condition carefully through the last three months to ensure she remains in good condition. She will continue to need extra nourishment for at least three months after the birth as she will be producing maximum amounts of milk for the foal. In cold climates, jennets will need suitable shelter and good foaling facilities.
Birth of a donkey gives more information on the actual process of birthing.
Despite their thick fluffy coats, baby donkeys are not terribly hardy and need good shelter for several weeks after birth. Bronchitis or pneumonia can be fatal to a young foal and is easily contracted if he gets soaked with rain.
When the jennet comes into oestrus or 'foal heat' nine to ten days after foaling, the foal may have diarrhoea for a few days. Unless this persists or the foal looks unwell, there is no need to worry.
Jennets should not be rebred during the foal heat. The reproductive tract may not be back to normal and conception is usually low. The jennet will also be worried about her foal. At the second or third heat the foal can be penned or held nearby and the jennet will be less concerned about him. If the jennet is relaxed and more receptive to the jack, conception is more likely.
By a month old, foals will start sampling the jennet's feed. At this point, he can be given his own ration of commercial foal feed. Construct a pen with an opening just large enough for the foal to enter.
Foals should not be weaned before 4 to 6 months of age. Early weaning will mean more time spent on tending to the baby.