Donkeys, zebras and mules all differ somewhat from horses in conformation. The most noticeable difference is of course the
ears. Donkeys' ears are MUCH longer in proportion to their size than a horse's. The necks are characteristically straighter
in the longears, and most donkeys and all zebras lack a true wither. The croup and rump are also a different shape in the
donkey and its hybrids, lacking the double-curve muscled haunch. The back is straighter due to the lack of withers. Dipped
loins or severely swayed backs are a conformation fault, unless in old animals or brood jennies who have produced many foals,
and not due to genetic factors.
The mane and tail in the donkey are coarse. The mane is stiff and upright, rarely laying over and the
tail is more like a cow's, covered with short body hair for most of the length, and ending in a tasseled switch. Donkeys do
not have a true forelock, although sometimes the mane grows long enough to comb down between the ears toward the eyes. Because
the mane is stiff and sometimes flyaway, many donkeys, especially show stock, wear their manes clipped short or shaved close
to the neck.
Hoof shape varies as well, donkey hooves are smaller and rounder, with more upright pasterns. The legs
should have good bone, but many donkeys of common breeding may appear to have long thin legs with tiny feet. Larger Asses
such as the Poitou or Andalusian types may appear opposite, with huge, heavy shaggy legs and large round feet. Good legs and
feet are essential for breeding Mules, as a good foot is much preferable to a large body on tiny stick legs and feet.
The vocal qualities are the frequently remembered differences in the long-ears. The donkey's voice is
a raspy, brassy Bray, the characteristic Aw-EE, Aw-EE sound. Jacks especially seem to enjoy braying, and will "sound
off" at any opportunity.
Although many donkeys are the familiar gray-dun color, there are many other coat shades. Most donkeys, regardless
of coat color, will have dorsal stripes and shoulder crosses, dark ear marks, as well as the "light points" - white
muzzle and eye rings, and white belly and inner leg. Leg barring ("garters" or "zebra stripes") may be
present as well. Small dark spots right at the throatlatch, called "collar buttons" are a good identifying marking
and occur occasionally. These typical donkey markings may be passed on in part or whole to Mule or Hinny offspring.
Colors in the donkey range from the gray shades of gray-dun to brown, a rare bay (though not as red-toned
as in horses) , black, light-faced roan (both red and gray), variants of sorrel (Registry term - RED), the blue-eyed Ivory
(also called cream or white-phase), Frosted/spotted White, and a unique Spotted pattern. True horse pinto, horse aging gray,
horse appaloosa, palomino and buckskin do not occur in the donkey.
The more unusual colors are the Dappled Roan, where the face and legs are light and the body is marked with "reverse"
dapples (dark spots on a light background, as opposed to the horse dapple where the dapples themselves are light on dark),
frosted gray (with light faces and legs and some white hairs in the coat) the pink-skinned, blue-eyed Ivory white, and the
frosted spotted white. The frosted spotted is an apparent combination of a graying or roan with the spotted pattern, and
can throw either more FSW, spotted, or frosty roan colts. The animals are best defined as a spotted animal where the skin
is spotted but the color does not necessarily show through on the coat (it has roaned or "grayed"; out) . Frosted
spotted white (FSW) can be identified from Ivory white by checking the skin around the eyes and muzzle. Ivory (creams) will
have blue eyes and true pink skin, while FSW will have dark eyes, dark "eyeliner" and dark spotting on the skin.
Another unusual variant of the spotting line is the "tyger spot" pattern. These donkeys vary from
the typical large spots over the ears, eyes, and topline. The body will be covered with small round spots resembling the appaloosa
Donkeys come in a variety of sizes from the Miniature Mediterranean (under 36 inches) to the elegant Mammoth
Jackstock (14 hands and up ). The rare French Poitou donkey, characterized by it's huge head and ears, and very thick, shaggy,
curled black coat, can stand 14 to 15 hand high. (There are estimated to be about 400 purebred Poitous left in the world today.)
The types of donkeys are labeled by their sizes; 36" and under, Miniature Mediterranean, 36.01-48",
Standard, 48.01" to 54" (jennets) or 56"; (jacks), Large Standard, and 54/56" and over, Mammoth Stock.
There are no real populations of BREEDS of donkeys left, such as the Catalonian, Majorcan, or Andalusian. Modern donkeys
can strongly resemble these ancestral breeds in TYPE, but are not classified as those breeds unless they have traceable pure-bred
pedigrees to those lines.
Donkeys can be used just like horses under saddle and in harness, although donkey are more laid back and
self-preserving in nature. They prefer to do what is good for the donkey, which is not always what the human thinks is best
(especially when it comes to getting their feet wet...). They are very friendly, and their nature makes them excellent for
children. Donkeys can perform all the gaits horses or mules do (yes, some are even "gaited", exhibiting a single-foot
gait), but galloping is usually not on the program unless dinner is being served.
Donkeys can also make wonderful guard animals - the right donkey gelding or jennet will take care of an
entire herd of cattle, sheep or goats - the natural aversion to predators will inspire the donkey to severely discourage
any canine attacks on the herd. Dogs and donkeys usually don't mix, although they can be trained to leave the house or farm
Feeding Your Donkeys
Donkeys characteristically get by on less food than a horse of similar size, and need a lower protein content in their
feed. Good grass hay and pasture is usually all a donkey needs. If grained, the protein should preferably be lower than
12%. Donkeys can founder on rich food such as alfalfa and lush spring grass. A fat donkey will develop a "roll";
on the neck, pones of fat on the barrel and over the hips that are quite unsightly. Once there, these are usually with the
donkey for life. If the neck roll of fat gets too heavy, it will fall or "break over" to one side and never come
upright again! Beware overfeeding these hearty creatures!
Your donkey should receive the same hoof care, worming and vaccinations that horses receive. Although some
basic research has been done in independent studies on the results of vaccinations in donkeys, there is not enough conclusive
proof to show that regular horse medicines, wormers and vaccinations are not effective in donkeys.
The hoof of the donkey is a little more round and upright than that of the horse, although individual hoof shape
may vary greatly. Many farriers are nervous about working on donkeys - thinking the hooves are vastly different, or that
donkeys are too stubborn and will kick - but a well-trained donkey can be just as easy to trim as any horse. Most donkeys
don't need shoes - but if they do lots of work on hard surfaces, they might be needed. Regular trims to keep the hoof in
shape are usually all that is needed.
Frequently Asked Questions
Donkeys bred to donkeys produced DONKEYS. Donkey, Burro, Ass, jackass, jennet, Miniature Donkey, Mammoth, Jackstock,
standard, Mexican Burro - they are all terms for Donkeys.
A male donkey (Jack) bred to a female horse produces a MULE. Mules can be either male or female.
A male horse (stallion) bred to a female donkey (jennet) produces a HINNY. Hinnies can be either male or female.