30 November 2013

Donkey conundrums

Having two donkeys to care for has been (still is) a steep learning curve.

Not being a horse person, I didn't have any preconceived ideas about donkeys at all, but also no previous experience of animals that big. A donkey running up to you is quite a sight, and quite a force to consider, just by sheer moving mass!

Are they happy to see me or are they trying to push me away? Or trying to stop me from leaving he field? Are they starving? Or just demanding? Do they need needing yet more attention? Or just throwing a stomping tantrum?
Their winter coats were clipped before they came to us to prevent lice, so they came with rugs to put on in cold weather. That throws up a whole load of different questions again: When should I put their rugs/coats on? How cold is too cold? If it turns cold but wet, can I put the coat on a damp donkey? How long should or can I leave it on? Won't they get itchy under the coat? Actually, how on earth do I put on a donkey coat?
It gets worse: Just the act of mucking out the field shelter brings up another barrage of questions: How much straw to put down for them to eat? How often? How much is too much and how much is too little? How much for bedding? How much old bedding straw should be removed and replaced? Dirty straw, obviously should be removed, but how dirty is 'dirty'? And how wet is 'wet straw'? And how do you test whether it's wet? (With bare hands? I have occasionally, actually.)
And all that has not even touched the tricky issue of feeding donkeys correctly - luckily it is getting into winter now, so at least I don't have to worry about lush grass, just yet.

And then there was that afternoon the other week, when, riding on a wave of confidence, I thought I'd take them up the road for a short walk. So up the road we went - they walked like a dream. But it was only meant to be a short stroll to test the waters, so we turned back quite soon. That's when they decided they would gallop off down the lane - I had no chance but to let the ropes go. They didn't stop by the garden  gate, they didn't stop by the field gate, they didn't stop at all in fact and kept up the speed. I was running down the lane behind them, having visions of disasters... 400 yards down the road, by the next property they finally slowed down - the neighbour heard the commotion and stepped out on the road, that made them stop and consider. Phew. Though my neighbourhood reputation as a donkey owner is now ruined.
Ho-hum... Never a dull moment!

This photo: Stefanos Pavlakis

08 November 2013

Sheep training

The access route between the two fields is rather complicated - the small fiel only exits through a narrow steep gateway into the garden, the big filed has a gate into the road some 50m down the lane from our garden gate.
So I have been planning the sheep move for some time with as many daily training sessions as possible (sometimes with a clicker, sometimes just with a feed bucket):
- come to me when called (somehow I ended up with a rather silly call, that sounds a bit like 'shoooosheeeee shipship'... it works though, even across the big field)
- eat from the bucket, then from my hand (it took the first one less than a week, the last one almost 2 months to be happy to eat from my hand)
- allow handling while eating
- follow me with the bucket
- follow me to new scary places (i.e. the garden, which turns out to be lush and yummy!)
- eat from my hand in new scary places (not suprisingly, they seem to return to a 'raw' flighty state when in new surroundings)
After all that, I just opened the garden gate and the flock happily followed me down the road and intothe new field, no problem - who needs a trailer?

07 November 2013

The big field is alive!

And about time it was: donkeys & sheep now happily grazing together.

The field sat more or less unused for the past year, as the fencing had to be fixed/partly redone before I could seriously consider putting any animals in it. Now that this has been done (with the invaluable help of Jo & Brett, the lovely HelpX couple that stayed with me last month) the field can finally come alive.
Lots of lush green grass there too (while the small field looks pretty bare at this point.) Maybe not surprising then, that the donekys threw a proper tantrum yesterday when they couldn't go to the field because of bad weather!