Donkeys have been good partners for mankind over several millennium. Descended from the African wild ass, the donkey has been domesticated for approximately 5,000 years. It's not an exaggeration to state that the lowly donkey helped create civilization. They still serve as beasts of burden, draft animals and basic transportation in less developed parts of the world. In modern countries, donkeys work as riding and driving animals, livestock guardians and companions to larger equines. A major role for the donkey is cherished pet -- a part at which he excels.
Riding and Driving
Donkeys come in a wide range of sizes. The miniature donkey stands 36 inches tall at the withers and under, the standard donkey ranges from 48 to 54 inches, and the mammoth usually stands 56 inches or more. They generally make safe riding mounts for kids and beginners, especially since fast isn't one of their primary speeds. The American Donkey and Mule Association notes that some donkeys are even gaited, making for a smoother ride.
Donkeys make safe, reliable driving animals when properly trained. Your donkey can take you around the neighborhood for an afternoon drive, or you can use your longears to plow your vegetable garden.
Donkeys have a natural aversion to dogs and other canids, including foxes and coyotes. They go after canines with their hooves and teeth. That's not a good situation for your doggy companions, but it makes the donkey a useful guardian for sheep and other livestock. You can train your donkey to accept your dog, as well as train your dog to stay out of the donkey's way. A donkey will also bray like crazy, alerting you to potential intruders. For best results, obtain a recently weaned donkey and let him grow up with your flock or herd. Stick with jennies or geldings -- jacks can behave roughly with smaller livestock. Avoid miniature donkeys, as they are too small for the role of livestock guardian.
Without donkeys, there would be no mules. The mule is the result of a mating between a donkey jack and a horse mare. Mules are sterile and can't reproduce on their own. Less often, a horse stallion and donkey jenny are crossed, producing a hinny. While it's hard to tell the difference between a mule and a hinny, the latter is usually more horse-like in appearance.
Jane Meggitt has been a writer for more than 20 years. In addition to reporting for a major newspaper chain, she has been published in "Horse News," "Suburban Classic," "Hoof Beats," "Equine Journal" and other publications. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English from New York University and an Associate of Arts from the American Academy of Dramatics Arts, New York City.