What is a Miniature Donkey?
People often ask us “are the Irish Donkeys miniatures”? The answer to this question is no. Donkeys that are of Irish phenotype are not bred down; they are a naturally small breed. The upper height limit for the Irish breed standard is 44”.
The miniature donkey is any breed of donkey that matures below 36” (class A) and 38" (class B) in height. If the donkey is above 38” in height regardless of breed it is NOT a miniature and most societies will not register the animal as such. The same applies to ponies and horses throughout the world.
Miniature Donkeys originated from the Mediterranean area of Northern Africa in ancient times and more recently from the islands of Sicily and Sardinia off the west coast of Italy. Over time the distinctions between the two island populations blurred and they are now considered one breed properly called Miniature Mediterranean Donkeys.
Miniature Donkeys have not been bred down in size per se. The 25-30 Miniature Donkeys originally imported into the U.S. were between the sizes of 32" and 38" with the majority of them being in the 35"-37" size range. Over the years, breeders have concentrated more on the 32"-33" size and today you’re most desirable and well-conformed donkeys are from 31" to 35".
The original Miniature Mediterranean Donkey was not miniaturised, but a proper miniature working animal, stocky, draft type, strong boned and well muscled. The word "miniature" usually means animals that have been bred-down in size, so keep in mind that 'miniature donkeys' are simply diminutive and not bred down such is the case of many other 'miniature' animals.
At maturity (3years), it is able to pull a cart or carry a pack as it did in its native Sicily and Sardinia. Their average height is 34" with a maximum of 36"(class A) and 38” (class B) allowed for the breed registration. In the United States Donkey Breeds are determined by size, not lineage.
Robert Green, a New York stockbroker with a farm in New Jersey, first imported miniature Donkeys from the Mediterranean to the United States in 1929. While he was travelling through Europe, dogs killed three of the imported Jennies only a few months after their arrival, but the three surviving Jennies, ‘Miranda, Palermo and Suzanne’, and jack ‘Impheus’, became the foundation stock for the Green herd. One of the Jennies was pregnant and on Columbus Day 1929, she gave birth to a little jack who was named ‘Christopher Columbus’, the first miniature donkey born in the USA.
Robert Green particularly enjoyed driving the donkeys to his extensive collection of vehicles, including sleds, chariots, woven baskets and imported Italian antique carts.
He is quoted as saying, “Miniature Donkeys possess the affectionate nature of a Newfoundland, the resignation of a cow, the durability of a mule, the courage of a tiger, and the intellectual capability only slightly inferior to man’s.”
In 1935 Green had a herd of 52 donkeys. He only sold a few of his cherished little donkeys when his herd became too large. Among his buyers were Mr. Richard Sagendorph, Henry T. Morgan and August Busch, Jr. (Whose donkeys one can find in pedigrees with the ‘Belleau’ prefix, and whose stud still survives today). These families also imported more of the little donkeys as well and were the original developers of today’s donkey stock. In the early 1950’s, Daniel & Bea Langfeld bought their first miniature donkey, Pepi, from August Busch, Jr. of St. Louis, MO, as a pet for their daughter who had cerebral palsy. The Langfelds established the Danby Farm in Omaha, Nebraska where they raised show quality Miniature donkeys. They were the first professional breeders of miniature donkeys in the USA, eventually having as many as 60 to 225 miniature donkeys in their herd. Bea Langfeld established the original registry, The Miniature Donkey Registry of the United States in 1958. She turned the registry over to the stewardship of the American Donkey and Mule Society in Denton, Texas in 1987.
The most prevalent colour for Miniature Donkeys is gray-dun which consists of a gray coloured body, light coloured nose - or dark coloured nose, light coloured belly and inside legs, with a dark colour dorsal stripe down the back and over the shoulders. The dorsal stripe is known as the donkeys cross. There are variations of this gray-dun from dark to light. As with most animals, donkeys can range in colour from black to white and everything in between. True blacks are rare with black/browns (not quite black) being more common. There are chestnut/sorrels which are various shades of reddish brown. There are also white donkeys and "spotted" donkeys. Some people refer to spotted as "pinto" and this really boils down to semantics. Spotted or pintos are generally gray or brown and white. There are also various colours of roans. Roan colouring is black, brown, gray hairs intermingled with white hairs. Donkeys do not breed true to colour. Since gray-dun is by far the predominant gene, you can breed black to black and get gray-dun, spotted to spotted and get gray-dun, etc. Never knowing what colour foal will be produced is part of the excitement of having foals. Colours other than the typical gray-dun make the donkey more exotic looking therefore increases their price.
The first and foremost attraction to Miniature Donkeys is their loving personalities. They demand attention! They form close attachments to their owners and to other donkeys. Because of their laid-back, easy going personalities, they make wonderful pets for children, the handicapped and the elderly. As with Irish donkeys – Jack’s are not pets.
Every breeder has their own idea of what they want to breed for. This is their privilege and their right as a breeder. There are miniature donkeys that are compact with a draft type build and other donkeys with slender more leggy builds. The International Miniature Donkey Registry has Breed Standards© for Miniature Donkeys which are well worth reading.
Reproduced with permission from the “Miniature Donkey Talk Magazine” and “The International Miniature Donkey Registry”, Wikipedia & Encyclopaedia Britannia
Further Information Regarding Miniature Mediterranean Donkeys Can be Found At
The International Donkey Registry
American Donkey and Mule Society
What is an Irish Donkey?
The utility of the donkey declined somewhat during the industrial Revolution in the late 1700's and early 1800's, with a resultant drop in numbers. They remained popular however with poor peasant farmers and small landowners. They also found new roles as pets for children, and the popular "beach donkeys" at English seaside resorts. Queen Victoria was a keen donkey owner and this boosted their popularity with the British aristocracy.
The advent of the motor car further reduced the requirement for the donkey as a hauling animal or mode of transport. By World War II, the donkey in the UK was in rapid decline.
In 1967 the Donkey Breed Society was formed in the UK by a group of donkey owners keen to preserve the breed and today is one of the largest donkey societies in the world - ensuring the future for this humble servant of man.
The donkey first arrived in Australia with the arrival of 3 donkeys of unknown origin first mentioned in the colony records of 1794, only 6 years after the arrival of the First Fleet. Many donkeys were subsequently imported to work the fledgling farms and for breeding mules. Most of these donkeys were large Andalusian or Spanish donkeys.
The first true recorded importation of Irish donkeys was the arrival of donkeys at Geelong, Victoria from Spanish Point Stud, Ireland in 1972.
Since then the Irish donkey has grown in popularity, and consequently in numbers. There are now Irish donkeys in nearly every state in Australia. The Irish donkey in Australia is a little different to its British and Irish cousins due to the climate and feed available in Australia. There has also been the imputation of small wild donkeys into the bloodlines in the early days of Irish donkey breeding in Australia. This was in an effort to diversify bloodlines and avoid in breeding. Today the Irish donkey in Australia has been bred back to "pure" bloodlines as a result of years of careful dedication and commitment by Irish donkey breeders. Breeders like Ashington Park Stud are dedicated to supporting and advocating the unique and useful friend of man.
Irish donkeys are renowned for their versatility, endurance, pleasant demeanour and ability to form close bonds with people. The Irish Donkey's history can be traced back to 400 BC when the invading Roman Legions carried their stores and equipment on small sturdy Donkeys bred from stock originating in the Mediterranean and the Middle East across the English Channel from Gaul into Britain. The donkeys quickly adapted and were adopted for use by the Britons and traveled into Ireland with traders. When the Romans withdrew from Britain in 44 AD the donkeys were well entrenched into the social fabric and had become an important asset to farmers and merchants alike. They remained so for the next 1800 years.
Queen Victoria was a donkey owner and regularly used them in her country estates for work and companionship. The donkey is the oldest domesticated animal in the world and has faithfully served man for over 5 000 years.
The Irish Donkey adapted to the colder, damper conditions in the British Isles by growing a thick, long coat, which sheds in the warmer months. They also remained fairly small - typically ranging from 36 inches to 44 inches at the shoulder.
Ashington Park is committed to the conservation of the Irish Donkey in Australia. Unfortunately Irish Donkeys with pure bloodlines are getting scarce. We will still be breeding a couple of pure Irish foal a year - if you are wanting a Irish Donkey specifically please contact us. It is still our aim to ensure that this endearing, loyal and useful animal and it contribution to Australian History is not forgotten.