Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Donkey (mis)Adventures

Yesterday was supposed to be a big day for Sparky the donkey. He was finally going to make the move from my parents' farm to our farm. Sparky is the last of the equids to make the move, and he had waited his turn for quite awhile. My dearly departed Dad purchased Sparky at a gas station one fateful morning. My dad had stopped at his usual place a few miles from his farm for a cup of coffee. As he left he noticed a stock trailer in the parking area so he wandered over to have a look inside. When he peered inside the trailer he saw Sparky looking back at him. 

As he was talking to Sparky the driver of the rig came out and walked back to his truck. My Dad asked if that was his donkey in the trailer. The man answered yes, but that he was hopeful he would only own Sparky for a few more hours. He was taking Sparky to a cattle auction barn and hoping they would let him drop him off. Anyone who knew my Dad would not be surprised by what came next. He offered to purchase Sparky and told the guy he had a farm just a few miles away. The guy agreed to sell Sparky to him, and my dad purchased Sparky for an "undisclosed amount." 

My parents were leaving that morning on a trip out of the country. Apparently my dad instructed the man with his newly purchased donkey to drive around for awhile before delivering Sparky. My parents left on their trip, and a few hours later I came to the farm. Imagine my surprise as I drove up the driveway and saw a donkey standing in my parents' front yard. I called the neighboring farms asking if anyone was  missing a donkey. No one was missing a donkey. Not knowing what to do with the donkey in their front yard I called my parents in England at 2am and made the announcement to my mom that their was a donkey in their front yard, and what should I do?  My dad got on the phone and informed both me and my mom that he had purchased the donkey that morning on his way out of town to keep it from going to an auction.  I was told to make sure the donkey made it to a pasture and had everything he needed. 

That fateful day was almost 17 years ago. Thus it should have come as no surprise to us that Sparky was quite settled in his surroundings after almost two decades. He had all of the furniture arranged just the way he wanted it, he knew where everything was, and all was ok. So why would he want to move?

Well he didn't want to move so he declined to get on the trailer even though his best buddy was already in there.  We had tried ahead of time desensitizing him to the trailer. Obviously that didn't work. Sparky is very agreeable about most things in life. Two of his big exceptions are needles (every spring I post pictures of Sparky dragging the vet, Jason and a few extra handlers around as we try to vaccinate him) and small doorways. Sparky does not like small gates or doors. 

First we tried being patient, letting him check things out, just standing around like it was no big deal. We tried his favorite cookies, we tried carrots and grain, and he would get up to the edge of the trailer and that was it. We tried pulling him forward with the leadrope, we tried pushing him from behind, Jason finally got behind him with the tractor and tried to push him in that way. Sparky's tactic to prevent that from working was to simply lay down on the ground. Talk about giving us the finger - or the hoof.  In case you are wondering it is damn near impossible to do anything with a donkey that is laying down on the ground.  I felt like we were living out a used car commercial - you know for the "push it, pull it or drag it in" promotions they always have about trading in used cars. Except instead of trying to push, pull or drag our car to a car lot we were trying to push, pull or drag the donkey onto the trailer.

Trying to push Sparky ahead with the tractor; as you can see his feet are firmly planted

This is right before Sparky said "eff all of you" and laid down

Trying to use a rope to get him on the trailer. Sparky didn't even have to break a sweat as he stood there with his feet planted.

We finally gave up. Sparky has no need to send out announcements with his new address since he opted to stay at his current location. Jason and I talked over our options last night and today we visited Sparky again. He is now in a large dry lot and a stock trailer is parked in there with him. The door is tied open and his food and water are in the trailer. Neither Jason or I love this option but we can't come up with a better one. For anyone who is going to suggest sedation Sparky reacts very poorly to sedation, and on top of that usually just blows right through it anyway.

I spent another couple of hours sitting on the edge of the trailer today with Sparky. I petted him, fed him cookies, and splashed the water and gave him a few bits of hay.  It is amazing how far he can streeeeetch his neck to get a cookie in the trailer without ever having to place a foot in it. We won't be able to work with him any tomorrow as we have too many other things going on, but we're going to try again in a couple of days. Hopefully he will have already decided to get on and off the trailer on his own when he gets thirsty and hungry. I told Jason that when we finally get him on the trailer we'll have the same issues in reverse trying to get him off the trailer. Hopefully Sparky will consent to getting on the trailer sooner rather than later. It would be a real shame to not send out all of those cute cards announcing his new address.

Having some more quality time with Sparky today. He can streeeetch his head and neck in all the way to those Mrs. Pastures cookies without setting one hoof on the trailer.


MyLight and Calimba grooming

Cinnamon and Silky

Kennedy is napping, Rocky just got up from a roll, Donovan is rolling, and Stormy is watching everyone

Levendi and Moe grooming

Trigger and Homer

B-Rad and Darby

Oskar and Kennedy grooming

Largo and Clayton having a sunset grooming session (lots of grooming around the farm lately!)

Elfin and Grand


Anonymous said...

If he's food motivated, clicker training would work - maybe, this is a donkey after all . . .

RuckusButt said...

Oh boy! I guess it's time to be grateful that the other herds were relatively easy in the move? Leave it to a donkey!

I do hope he comes around because we all know equine heaven 2.0 awaits. Besides, if I'm not mistaken, he is a skilled intro companion for new arrivals - a very important role!

lytha said...

donkey people say donkeys aren't stubborn, they're just smart. well, when a donkey refuses to budge when you need it to, and refuses for great lengths of time, there is no other word that i can think of besides stubborn. it just fits.

i love my donkey but i know there are things i simply cannot do with her. what i want to know is, how is it that 3rd world nations are so successful at abusing donkeys, overworking them to death, for example, if we can have such trouble getting a donkey to take one step? please someone enlighten me.

EvenSong said...

Maybe next time, if he does the laying down tactic again, you could just roll him into the tractor bucket and plop him into the trailer?

Jenny said...

If only he'd lie down on a tarp. You could get some guys and pull him on. I assuming blindfolding him won't work either. He's probably too smart for that.
OR try a hot looking Jenny! LOL
If you can't borrow a female donkey, I'll come over!
My husband says i'm an ass. :-)

Anonymous said...


Heather said...

We had the same problem moving a mid-sized donkey named Fluffy. After the THIRD try, when Fluffy just gave up and laid down (sound familiar), we had an idea. We got our hands on a two horse trailer with a ramp (which we covered with a piece of smooth plywood). When (on the fourth try) when Fluffy laid down in protest, we had the three large guys who were standing by just slide her up the ramp into the trailer.

It clearly wasn't the warm and fuzzy loading experience we had hoped for, but it did work. You might try fudging some sort of ramp onto the back of your stock trailer and doing the slide thing.

RiderWriter said...

Good grief, Sparky! I was reading this hoping that no horses were present when the lying-down part occurred, because WOW, talk about a bad example! I've never heard of a horse doing that.

I agree with the other poster - how about making a ramp and dragging him on a tarp onto the trailer? Although, he's so clever he might not lie down on the tarp!

Your dad was a clever fellow to sneak Sparky into the herd that way, under your momma's nose... hee hee.

SmartAlex said...

LOL! Bad Donkey. Given the Grey Horse's aversion to hauling (not loading, hauling) my mother suggested we feed him in the trailer every day. I told her "yeah, well if your kitchen, where you eat breakfast every day, suddenly started rolling down the road, would you feel any better about it?"

Calm, Forward, Straight said...

That is a great story about your Dad.

Good luck with the trailer loading. Better you than me, ;D Loving the shot of Jason trying to persuade Sparky with the tractor!

Melissa-ParadigmFarms said...

Another comment where I accidentally hit delete instead of publish.

From Heather:

Lytha - As someone who has trained donks to drive, jump, and do all kinds of wacky things, I will tell you that they are incredibly smart. But they are also very much self-preservationists. If they think, for one second, that they thing they are about to do might harm them, they're not interested.

And that is what lies behind Sparky's refusal to board a trailer. Why in the world would he put himself in what is clearly a dangerous situation, when he has everything he wants in front of him? Unfortunately, it will probably take some ugly brute force to get him moved.

As for getting donkeys to work, I've found that love and treats go a long way to donk performance. Unlike horses, donks understand the association between the action and the treat. My donks work because I have a good relationship with them and they know they'll get rewarded for their good behavior.

The ugly way to get a donk to work is fear. If a donk knows they'll be beaten for not working, they'll work. Keep in mind, also, that 3rd world donks are "bred" for work. Meaning that those who have no inclination to work are either killed or abandoned. So the ones that are inclined to do their jobs are the ones that get reproduced.

A good example of "breeding for work" are performance/show donks. These are donks that are bred specifically with a strong work ethic. You can tell the difference between a "pet" donk and a performance donk. Performance donks want to go - they love it and they love working. They're great fun to work with too!

foffmom said...

Glad you guys have the time and patience to ease him into the trailer! Geez, can you imagine having to evacuate with him? Good thing no hurricanes in Tenn.