Miniature donkeys have been valued in the Mediterranean region for over 2,000 years. They were used for draft and transport purposes, and for the power to grind wheat. Donkey milk was also utilized as a curative and skin treatment. It was said that even Poppea, wife of the Roman emperor Nero, kept a herd of jennets to produce milk for her baths!
Miniature Donkeys were first imported to the United States in 1929 by Robert Green, a New York stockbroker. He bought seven Sardinian donkeys, sight unseen, while on a trip to Europe. Later imports by the Busch family (of Clydesdale fame) and others increased numbers somewhat, but it wasn’t until the twentieth century that the breed became widely known and available in North America. The Miniature Donkey Registry was formed in 1958 and is now operated by the American Donkey and Mule Society. The National Miniature Donkey Association was formed in 1990 to promote the breed and educate breeders about its stewardship.
Miniature Donkeys have curious, engaging dispositions, and make great pets. A donkey’s first instinct when alarmed or confused is to stand still. This cautious approach, frequently mistaken for stubbornness, can be a great asset, especially around children. Donkeys average 34″ high at the withers, with 36″ the maximum height allowed in the breed. They weigh 200 to 350 pounds. Gray dun with a dorsal stripe is the most common color, though black, brown, sorrel, white, and spotted animals also exist. Many breeders have cultivated the variety of colors found in the breed, especially since donkeys of rarer colors often bring higher prices.
North American breeders have selected their animals as small-sized companion animals, and the market has rewarded such selection. At the same time, the breed’s thrifty nature, long life span (25 to 35 years), and easy keeping qualities reflect its past as a sturdy work animal. The National Miniature Donkey Association is encouraging broad-based selection that includes soundness, fertility, and other performance qualities to conserve the breed’s complete genetic heritage.
North America boasts 10,000 to 15,000 Miniature Donkeys with numbers increasing. However, numbers in the Mediterranean region are disappearing, as these small working donkeys are being crossed with larger breeds. For this reason, the donkeys in North America hold global genetic value and merit continued stewardship from breeders in the U.S. and Canada.
Did you know:
The Livestock Conservancy is America’s leading organization working to save over 150 heritage breeds from extinction. We rely on the support of our members, grants, and donations from the public to raise the $700,000 a year needed to maintain our conservation work with rare breeds of farm animals. Click here to learn how you can help.