Methods of Breeding Donkeys
By Sybil E. Sewell
Breeding donkeys may seem as simple as the equation of one jennet plus one jack will produce a fuzzy, longeared foal next year. However, donkeys are part of the equine family and as such the breeder has a choice of three basic breeding methods.
1. Pasture breeding occurs when the jack is turned out with a group of jennets. The advantage is a natural breeding situation.
- If the jack is not excellent condition he may not be able to successfully breed all the jennets.
- Risk of injury to the jack by aggressive jennets, or vice versa.
- Risk of injury to foals in the herd. The jack may try to kill any jack foal born.
- Risk of infection being spread in an uncontrolled situation.
- Unless closely observed, it is difficult to determine dates of breeding, and hence foaling dates the following year.
2. In Hand breeding occurs when the jennet is placed in a breeding chute or stall and the jack is controlled by his handler. Disadvantages to this method are the requirement of extra care, handling, and facilities during regular teasing and breeding of the jennets. Some jacks are very slow breeders.
- Controlled situation for breeding with minimal risk of injury to either jack or jennet. The foal can be placed close by so the jennet is not worried about her offspring.
- The jack's energy can be conserved and is not wasted chasing jennets.
- Risk of infection is minimized in that both jack and jennet can be disinfected before and after breeding.
- Exact dates for breeding can be recorded and more accurate dates for foaling can be predicted.
3. Equine Artificial Insemination occurs when semen is collected from the jack and used to inseminate one or more jennets ready for breeding. The disadvantages to many small breeders would be the costs involved for a trained technician, or the courses and purchase of equipment to establish them in Equine A.I. The advantages are the lowered risk of infection, and the breeding of a larger quantity of jennets at the same time than could be possible by in hand breeding.
Jacks can be very precocious at an early age, and young jennets often show their first heat cycles early in the yearling year. Since the donkey is a very slow maturing animal it is unwise to allow breeding prior to the age of three years old. Pregnancy in the immature jennet can produce congenital malformations in the foal. The lengthy gestation period, which can very from 11 to 14 months, can produce permanent damage to skeletal and muscular systems of the immature dam. Physically immature jennets may lack the mental maturity to be good mothers.
Careful choice of both jack and jennet, as well as the method of breeding, can indeed yield a fuzzy, longeared foal next year, which will make the long wait worth it!
To Breed or Not to Breed that Jennet?
By Sybil E. Sewell
As spring approaches, thoughts of breeding that jennet who has been a faithful friend for several years run through the mind. But be aware that as the cliché goes there is more to breeding than meets the eye. The owner is responsible that everything possible has been done to ensure the safety and careful breeding of the jennet to an appropriate jack.
1. Using the CDMA Handbook, take a critical look at your jennet, or have an equine vet do so, to determine her conformation faults. Better yet, have her inspected at four years old or over to know whether she is of sufficient quality to enter the stud book. If she does not pass with 65% or higher, it is probably not wise to breed from her.
2.If she is an older jennet, age ten or over, with no known previous breeding history, discuss with your vet the merits and problems likely to arise from breeding such an older animal. Foal rejection is one problem that can often occur in older mares or jennets who have never previously produced a live foal.
3. Have a vet examine the jennet's reproductive tract to see if it is normal and healthy. There are recorded cases of jennets that look perfectly normal on the exterior, and even cycled normally, but never conceived a foal. Internal examinations proved that there was no connection between the vagina and the uterus. The abnormality left the vagina as a blind pouch and semen could never ever reach its destination!
4. For the sake and sanity of both jack and jennet owner, consider the jennet's education. Is she halter trained and easy to catch? Does she stand willingly to have her hooves trimmed? Does she load and travel in a trailer with no problems? While this type of basic education may seem irrelevant to the breeding process, it is vital should the jennet need to be removed from the pasture in case of accident, at the time of farrier work, or if the jack owner uses in-hand breeding methods or equine artificial insemination. Should the jack owner utilize the ultrasound technology of the local vet to verify pregnancy, the jennet may need to be trailered to the vet clinic.
If the jack owner is expected to give the jennet the basic education she should have received at home, don't be surprised if a training fee is added to the bill? Basic training should already have been completed at home before sending the jennet away for breeding.
5. Visit the owner of the jack to whom you plan to send your jennet. Talk extensively with the owner about methods of breeding (in-hand, pasture or artificial insemination), take a tour of the facilities, and discuss feeding and management of the donkeys there and any special needs your jennet may have. For example, at Windy Ridge Farm, our breeding contract states that no jennet will be unloaded without negative Coggins test papers and a clean veterinarian's health certificate particularly with reference to the reproductive tract. Jennets are also requested to be dewormed, have hooves trimmed, and 4-way shots prior to coming to our farm for breeding.
If you are comfortable with the facilities and management, then meet the jack. Is he CDMA registered and inspected? What was his grade at inspection? Does he have a show record at halter or performance? If he is a large Standard or Mammoth, ask if he is a jennet jack or a mule jack.
6. Does it matter if the jack is a jennet jack or a mule jack? Nothing really, at least not on the exterior, but behaviorally speaking there can be a HUGE difference! A jennet jack has been raised to breed jennets and will readily accept them. Even so, if pasture breeding is used there can be considerable hassle of the jennet and chasing around. A few jacks will breed both horse mares or jennets, but most develop a strong preference depending on how they were raised.
A mule jack however, has been raised with horses with the goal in mind that he breeds horse mares for mule production. He looks like a donkey on the outside but he thinks like a horse on the inside. Because he doesn't think he is a donkey then he will behave more like a horse stallion and he may attack and savage any jennet presented to him for breeding. If a jennet is turned loose with such a jack she can be badly bitten and beaten, and it may take four or five grown men to drive him off and rescue her. The consequence of such traumatization can be that the jennet is terrified of being approached, never mind bred, by any jack in the future.
7. Take a critical look at the jack to whom your jennet will be bred. Evaluate his disposition, conformation and have him walked and trotted in front of you to evaluate his movement. What are his faults? Will his conformation compensate for the faults in your jennet? Check his height compared to that of the jennet you plan to have bred. I would seriously question breeding a 50" jennet to a tall Mammoth jack, especially a jennet with no previous breeding history. The general rule of thumb is to breed plus or minus four to six inches in height. The same consideration needs to be given to Miniature donkeys where breeding very small jennets (under 32") may be cause for future birthing problems.
8. Seriously question any thought of breeding a donkey in the fall or winter months in Canada unless a heated barn is available for cold weather foaling. Donkeys can foal after gestation periods of 11-14 months so it is easy for all but the most vigilant owner to miss the right time. Winter foaling in a snow bank can be fatal, or at the very least result in frozen ears, tails, or limbs. Generally foals produced in April - August, depending on the provincial location, do best because they have the advantage of sunshine and fresh grass. Jennets may cycle erratically throughout a sunny winter, but may not ovulate because like all equines this time of year is a period of anestrus which gives them a reproductive rest.
With careful selection of both parents, and time of year for breeding, the resulting offspring should surpass both parents in quality and arrive at the best time of year for optimum growth and development.
Carl and Sybil Sewell have bred and raised donkeys for overt thirty years. Windy Ridge Farm is located near Leslieville, Alberta.
Foaling out the Donkey Jennet
Spring is almost here and with the change of seasons comes foaling time for equine breeders. The mule producer's horse mares waddle around the barnyard and those of us with donkeys view hairy versions of the "Goodyear Blimp" trailing out to the hay feeders. During the last quarter of pregnancy we all play this annual waiting game.
Throughout pregnancy the jennets have maintained a quiet lifestyle with regular exercise, but no hard or fast work, up until the last quarter of pregnancy (3 months). The last quarter should involve some exercise at liberty, but no riding or driving. A program of regular hoof care (every 6-8 weeks) and deworming have prepared the jennet to be in good condition for foaling. However, it is wise to check with the vet before any deworming medication is given during the last quarter of gestation.
Changes in feed are usually not required until the last quarter of gestation when the fetus makes the greatest growth. Excessive feed early in pregnancy can create obesity and potential foaling problems. Increased feed for the jennet should be maintained from the final quarter of pregnancy throughout the first three months of foaling. The latter is the period of maximum milk production. This is the time when protein, vitamin and mineral levels such as Calcium and Phosphorus need to be increased to accommodate the great physical drain on the jennet during this six months of hard work. It is wise to seek an advice from an equine nutritionist or veterinarian regards the important dietary changes during this period.
Having the previous year's breeding date on the jennet greatly assists in establishing a foaling date for this year. Therefore it is crucial to know every jennet in the herd well, and keep good records for the signs shown with each foaling. We attend every foaling it is rare that a jennet sneaks a foal out by herself at Windy Ridge Farm. That being said, in our almost thirty years’ experience as donkey breeders, we have found that the average donkey gestation period lasts twelve months plus/or minus one week. Then there are those jennets who choose to foal anywhere from 11 months to 14 months - all within the normal range of gestation for donkeys! And the same jennet is rarely consistent in the length of gestation time from one pregnancy to the next!
Jennets are also rarely consistent in showing the same signs of impending birth from one pregnancy to the next. However, generally a jennet will show some or all of the following signs:
- Gradual enlargement of the udder from about 30 days prior to birth. As the birth date approaches the udder becomes enlarged and remains enlarged.
- Enlargement of the teats to the very trip occurs several days prior to birth.
- A waxy secretion that forms a cap over the end of each teat may form up to 48 hours prior to birth. Some jennets actually drip milk in the last 24-48 hours. Under no circumstances milk the jennet at this stage.
- Softening of the pelvic ligaments creates a groove along either side of the spinal column in the loin area towards the tail head. This sign may go unnoticed in a maiden jennet or one with a thick winter coat.
- Vulva becomes very soft and loose during the last week or two, and gradually elongates as birth approaches. Birth is usually in a matter of hours when the lips of the vulva are swollen out to be flush with the hindquarters.
- Jennet may show an unfriendly attitude towards other animals and prefer to stand by herself. This attitude is usually prevalent during the last two weeks prior to foaling.
- The jennet will show restlessness as the foal turns and prepares to move into the birth passage. At this stage she may look thinner, walk around the stall and get up and down a number of times. Sometimes birth occurs immediately after the foal has turned, or sometimes the jennet will wait for another day or so.
- Just prior to birth the jennet's tail will be carried out away from the body, lifted and usually kinked to one side. She may frequently pass small amounts of soft manure, or urinate.
Jennets not only show various combinations of signs prior to foaling, but unlike horse mares, they can and do foal at any time of the day or night, so close observation is important. In general we have found that if the jennet shows no signs of foaling by midnight, then she will often wait until the four to six am time frame. But she may also choose to foal at noon, suppertime or while you are doing morning chores! A clean, safely fenced corral or special large clean box stall are ideal for foaling. Foaling out where barbed wire fences surround the pasture, near streams or sloughs or among the rest of the herd can invite disaster.
Where the foal program has the jennet foal out in a large foaling box stall, it is preferable to get the jennet in to her foaling box at night starting a week or two before her due date. The foaling box should have been thoroughly cleaned, disinfected and deeply bedded with oat or barley straw prior to her being allowed access. Such stalls should receive thorough daily cleaning and be thoroughly disinfected between one jennet and the next.
The jennet will sometimes go "off her feed" a few days prior to foaling. This often causes great stress for the owner who assumes she should be eating heartily in order to keep her strength up for the great event. The jennet however, instinctively knows it is time to clean out the whole digestive system prior to foaling, and by this stage there really isn't too much room in there for food anyway!
When the jennet does finally get down to the business of producing the long awaited foal, she will usually show signs of restlessness, pace the box stall or corral, and repeatedly lay down and get up again. When the cervix is fully dilated, the 'water bag' protrudes into the vagina and ruptures releasing amniotic fluid which lubricates the passageway for the foal.
The jennet will now start to strain hard and soon a pair of tiny forefeet will appear. Normally the feed point downward as in a diving position, and as more of the front legs emerge the foal's nose will be seen resting on the front legs. This is the normal birth position. Do not hurry the jennet and do not pull on the foal's feet. Unless there is a problem in the presentation of the foal, the jennet will handle the birth herself, without interference, in 15 to 30 minutes. As the birth process proceeds the jennet will often show the licking reflex long before foaling is complete.
If the jennet has been straining hard for 15 to 20 minutes and no foal appears, or the front feet appear but no nose, only one foot shows, the soles of the small feet face upward or the dark red of the placental mass appears prior to the birth of the foal, then call the vet without delay. These signs of malpresentation show the jennet will need expert assistance if both she and the foal are to come through the birth process alive and well.
As the neck is born, the head may start to move and break the membrane that encloses the foal. If it does not, tear the membrane open and wipe the foal's nostrils clear of mucus to help it breathe. Many a foal has died of asphyxiation due to lack of assistance at birth to remove tough fetal membranes. The nostrils of a live foal will often flare as he takes his first few breaths, and he may show a sucking reflex at this time even tough birth is not yet completed.
Once birth is completed, do not cut the navel cord - the jennet will break the cord when she gets up, or it will snap as the foal struggles to his feet. This is the time when the owner with a good relationship with the jennet can go through the steps of imprinting the foal. This procedure is another whole other story in itself which is described step by step in Dr. Robert Miller's excellent book "Imprint Training of the Newborn Foal".
Once the jennet has risen to her feet, she will then lick her foal dry. This licking action is very important, especially with maiden jennets, for it stimulates the motherhood instinct of the jennet, consequent milk production and prevents chilling of the newborn. The jennet will usually rise, and within half an hour expel the afterbirth (placenta). If the afterbirth has not been expelled within 6-8 hours call for veterinary assistance. Complications from the retained placenta can involve infection and or laminitis (founder).
Once the umbilical cord has broken, dip the foal's navel stump in a five percent iodine solution or Hibitane teat dip to prevent umbilical infection. We dip the navel at birth and daily for the next 4-5 consecutive days as a precaution. The jennet and foal should be watched to make sure the foal stands and nurses. It is vital to the foal's health that he drinks the colostrum or first milk which is rich in antibodies. If the foal is the jennets first, she may not want him to nurse and it may be necessary to hold or tie the jennet while helping the foal to nurse for the first few times.
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