|Breeding your Donkeys|
|Two of the most frequently asked questions we get are, "Should I buy a jack and a jennet and let them grow up together?" and "How old should the jennet be before we breed her?"
Unfortunately, we sometimes DON'T get asked this question before the fact, and owners end up with unexpected foals from under-age donkey parents.
The Gestation period of a donkey (how long she is pregnant) is 12 months (give or take some, we have reports of 13 1/2 months). When the foal is born, it will be on it's feet within the first hour. Equines are relatively developed at birth - in that the baby can walk, and run on it's first day. Human babies are very undeveloped at birth - they cannot crawl for several months and are 100% dependent on the parents.
An equine foal (horse, donkey, mule or zebra) is usually able to eat adult food (ie grain or grass) at a month old, although they don't get much value from it. By 4 months, they are nearly ready to switch off mother's milk and start eating grain or grass. This is the EARLIEST they should be weaned, unless it is medically necessary for the health of baby and mother BOTH. They should be weaned by no later than 9 months old (mother's milk drops off in content before this, and it's harder to separate the bond if you wait longer) but they are still very immature in body.
By age 1 (12 months, where they are called yearlings) they are independent, and can be compared to a human teenager. Some are more mature than others, but they are still "kids".
By age 2, the young equine has assumed more adult proportion in body and leg, but their brains are still young, and their training sessions should be kept short. Their muscles and bone are still developing - most equines are not fully PHYSICALLY and MENTALLY mature untill age 3-5. Some of the larger animals (Jackstock, Draft horses, Zebras) are not mature and filled out until age 5.
Horses usually live to be 25-30 years old, donkeys average 30-40, Miniature donkeys average 25 years, and Mules can live into their 40's. (Yes, there are verified instances of donkeys living to be over 40, into their 50s, the same for mules.)
Most horse breeders will not breed mares until they are a full 2 years old, and most wait until they are 3. Why then, do we see the disturbing trend of having yearling (yes, 12 month old) miniature jennets bred, giving birth to their first foal at age 24 month?
If she is not even finished growing in HEIGHT (much less filling out in muscle and bone) until age 2, or even 3, why breed before she is two? This is like letting an 11-year-old girl have a baby. Sure, her body can sustain a pregnancy, sure, she can give birth - but she's a kid herself. She hasn't had time to play, be a kid, or grow up. Same goes for the donkey. She'll be rowdy until she's 2, or even older. She wants to be a foal and play with the other donkeys - she doesn't need her own foal at side. (Her mother just carried her for 12 months. She has lived 12 months. Is she ready to repeat that cycle?)
There is some evidence that early pregnancy in jennets may have an effect on their growth. (Just remember that breeding a yearling who will mature out at 34" may make her only 32" tall, but it WON'T AFFECT THE GENETIC INFORMATION she passes to her foal - for height of 34".)
PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE - DO NOT BREED YOUR JENNETS BEFORE they are 24 MONTHS OF AGE at the very least!!!! If she is small, needs some time to grow or mature - WAIT EVEN LONGER! THREE YEARS OLD for a first breeding is BEST.
She could have a foal every year (Give or take) for the next 15 years - or even more. Give her a chance to be a baby herself before she's a baby producer!!!
Now, we haven't forgotten about those jacks. The jack is a rowdy teenager, no matter his size. (They have no idea they are less than 3 feet tall if they are Minis - they are still the King of the World). They also start becoming fertile around their first birthday. Not all, but many can sire foals by 14 months. There have also been rare cases where jacks as young as 6 months old have impregnated jennets. 8-10 months is usually the earliest, but it's a good arguement for separating jack and jennet foals at weaning.
(We have had more cases than we care to count about new donkey owners purchasing a yearling jennet, who was in a pen with her Mom and weanling brother. They get Miss Teen home, and notice she's getting a hay-belly - SUPRISE - hay-belly is actually a foal, frisking around his mom one morning. Or - even worse, the yearling jennet is in foal to her sire, who is left in the pasture.....)
Most jacks can be started with a gentle, experienced jennet around 18 months. He will need to be taught manners, and not to maul his jennets. He might even settle one or two at that age, but he should be limited to 5-6 jennets until he is over age 2. A mature jack might be able to cover 30 jennets/mares in a season. Remember, the bigger ones aren't mature until 4 or 5.
Another point - If you are going to own only 1 jennet, you probably don't need a jack. Jacks require special handling and special housing. This usually means you don't keep the jack and jennet together. Some people do - but how will the jack react to the newborn foal? Some jacks (and horse stallions,, and zebra stallions - we're not laying any blame on donkeys) will savage and even kill newborn foals, even their own. Will the jack defend the jennet from anyone who comes into the pasture - even you? Are you sure he can't get out and get at the neighbor's horses, donkeys or other livestock (to breed, chase, or just pester in general).
Do you have the facilities for handling a jack? Do you have the experience to work with a jack? Mini jacks ARE cute, and most ARE gentle, but they are still stallions, and they run on testosterone.
If you want to have just pets, purchase whichever donkeys' personality appeal to you - but have jack colts gelded. If you are going to start serious breeding, buy mature jennets, and the best, proven breeding jack you can find. Raise a foal crop, keep the good daughters, and later rotate in a young jack to breed into the herd. GELD any jack colts that are not absolutely top quality.
If you are going to breed for fun, we seriously recommend that you have at least 3 jennets before owning a jack. Talk to breeders who know about keeping jacks - visit facilities that have several jacks - study the books, the fencing, and learn the up and downsides of having a stallion - any stallion - on your place. Please do not buy a jack and jennet foal pair to raise together and have babies for fun - it will be 3-4 years before you have breeding age donkeys, and the two will need separate facilities. There are books available to help you!
Above all, do what is RIGHT FOR THE DONKEYS, and keep yourself and your family safe.
Have specific questions? We'd be glad to answer them! firstname.lastname@example.org
|The information provided on this page and website is copyrighted (c) by the ADMS. Permission is granted to copy for educational purposes (ie school papers, 4-H work, general education websites, fairs, expos) provided that the work is sited as provided courtesy of the American Donkey and Mule Society. (c) 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011.|
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