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Frequently asked questions about Burros!

  • What’s the difference between a burro and a donkey? The short answer? Nothing! They’re both “equus asinus.” The word “burro” is the Spanish word for “donkey”. Commonly, in the Southwestern United States, the word “burro” is used for feral and formerly feral donkeys while the word donkey is reserved for domestically bred animals (miniatures, standards, and mammoths), however this is simply a regional colloquialism and is not a hard and fast rule. You can spot the wild-gathered BLM donkeys by the freeze brand on the left side of their neck. 
  • What is “BLM” that everyone keeps mentioning? BLM is an acronym (government agencies love an acronym!) for the Bureau of Land Management. The Bureau of Land Management is charged with the management of the herds of mustangs and burros on federal land. While there are feral donkeys on state land that may be gathered by the Forest Service, most people don’t make that distinction and use BLM as a catch-all. BLM donkeys will be easy to spot, as they have a freeze brand on the left side of their neck.
  • Are donkeys good for livestock guardians? No. Donkeys are generally ill-suited to being livestock guardians or horse companions. Donkeys prefer to live with other donkeys. People may recommend donkeys as livestock guardians due to their tendency to be territorial and stand their ground rather than flee predators. However, donkeys are not *only* territorial to predators. Many a farmer has arrived in their pasture to see that their donkey has killed their goats, sheep, chickens, dogs, or calves, even if the donkey had previously been living peacefully amongst the herd or flock. Donkeys also tend to become obese and unhealthy on feed meant for other livestock (even grass!)
  • What is a mule? What is a Hinny? Mules and hinnys are donkey hybrid animals. This means that one parent was a donkey and the other was a horse. Which animal is the sire (father) and which is the dam (mother) is what determines the name of the hybrid. A mule is a donkey sire (father) and horse dam (mother). A hinny is a horse sire (father) and donkey dam (mother).All of the hybrids are typically sterile, though there have been a few instances of female mules being able to reproduce. This is due to the number of chromosomes of the hybrid. Horses have 64 chromosomes, donkeys have 62, Mules and hinnys receive 32 chromosomes from their horse parent and 31 chromosomes from their donkey parent, resulting in 63 chromosomes.
  • Is a donkey less expensive to own than a horse? Yes and No. Yes, donkeys are typically cheaper to acquire than horses. Unhandled donkeys can be adopted from the Bureau of Land Management for $125, or purchased from a breeder or private owner for anywhere from a few hundred dollars to around $5,000 for a fully trained animal. Donkeys also eat slightly less than a horse of comparable size. However, that is where the savings end. Donkeys require the same veterinary, hoof, and dental care as a horse, as well as sturdy fencing, plenty of room to move around, a trailer if you plan to take them anywhere, and often custom tack, as there are very limited choices for donkey-specific items (and they do need donkey-specific tack.)
  • Why are the donkeys all different sizes? Donkeys range in size from “miniature”, or less than 36 inches, to “mammoth”, or over 56 inches, with everything in between being referred to as “standard.” “Standard” is, of course, the default, the size donkeys evolved to on their own in Africa. Miniatures are bred from Mediterranean miniatures, a breed naturally smaller than their standard African counterparts, and American mammoths were first developed by George Washington to sire plow mules. He used stock gifted to him from the Spanish King to create particularly tall, sturdy donkeys. 
  • How long does a donkey live? A well cared for donkey can live up to 40-50 years, with some being recorded as old as their mid 60’s .
  • Do you feed a donkey like a horse? No. Unlike a horse, who evolved to live on grasslands, donkeys evolved to live in deserts. Their digestive system functions slightly differently than a horse, allowing them to extract nutrition from poorer quality food sources like woody sticks and shrubs. While a horse should be fed around 2% of its bodyweight in forage a day, a donkey does well on 1-15% of it’s bodyweight, and will thrive with the addition of low-nutrition forage such as barley straw and tree bark. Donkeys do not do well on grass pasture. 
  • Can you ride a donkey? That depends! General guidance states that a riding animal should carry no more than 20% of its ideal body weight. Most standard donkeys weigh between 350 and 450 lbs. Meaning they should only carry between 70 and 90 lbs, tack included. 
  • Are donkeys stubborn? No! Donkeys are highly intelligent and very good at self-preservation. A donkey who is unsure is likely to plant its feet and consider a situation before proceeding. If the donkey doesn’t feel the situation is safe, or a good use of its resources, it will typically not proceed. 
  • How do you train a donkey? Because donkeys are highly intelligent, and like to conserve their resources (since they evolved in the deserts where resources are scarce) they must think that an activity is safe, and a good use of their previously consumed calories and water before proceeding. The best way to convince a donkey of this is with more resources! That’s just a fancy way of saying positive reinforcement training, or, less scientifically, food rewards. If an activity nets them more food than it expends, that’s a good trade from a donkey’s perspective!
  • Do donkeys wear shoes? They can, although they typically do not. Donkeys evolved to traverse rocky terrain for up to 20 miles a day in search of food and water  and consequently typically have fairly rugged hooves. However in some situations it may be beneficial to offer them some additional protection or traction. This can come in the form of typical metal shoes, but increasingly owners are using either hoof boots (like your hiking boots!) or glue-on composite shoes. 
  • Do you have to trim a donkey’s feet, like a horse? Yes. Donkeys need their hooves trimmed every 5-8 weeks, just like a horse. Although a donkey who is doing a lot of hiking may wear their hooves down naturally, it’s still important to keep an eye on them in cases of uneven wear. A donkey who wears their hooves unevenly will benefit from a light rasping to keep them balanced. 
  • I see that donkey has stripes on its legs, is it part zebra? Probably not. Although zedonks do exist, donkeys also have what’s referred to as “primitive markings” which can include a dorsal stripe, shoulder barring (the cross), and leg barring (striped on the legs). These can be expressed with varying patterns, with some even having “lacey” markings on their legs, like fishnet stockings (seek out Coco if you’d like to see an example of this). Some horses also have primitive markings!
  • Don’t be a drag! If you want your donkey to go forward, adding too much rope pressure is likely to get you nowhere, except frustrated. Pulling on a donkey’s lead tends to result in them simply pulling back in opposition to the lead. Instead, target training using food rewards is a great way to ensure your donkey thinks the activity is fun, and maybe even their idea. 
  • What breed are the donkeys? In the United States very few people have purebred donkeys. Typically, even if the animal is registered it’s registered to a size-based registration such as American Mammoth Jackstock Association or American Miniature Donkey Society. Purebred donkeys and breed registries are much more common in Europe. 
  • Can my dog meet your donkey? My dog is friendly! No, donkeys, especially wild-gathered donkeys, often see dogs as predators and may attack or even kill your dog. If your dog is friendly it is of little to no consequence to a donkey, it will simply be more unfortunate for you if the donkey squishes them.

Donkey History and mythology, Greece

  • Dionysus, sometimes called Bacchus, is the Greek god of  wine-making, orchards and fruit, vegetation, fertility, festivity, insanity, ritual madness, religious ecstasy, and theater. Dionysus is often depicted as riding on the back of a donkey. In one story of Dionysus he is depicted as gifting a donkey with human speech. In the Disney movie “Fantasia” Bacchus is depicted as having a donkey companion, aptly named Jacchus.
  • Hephaestus is the Greek god of smiths and metalworkers. Much like the prodigal son, he was said to have been cast out of Olympus by Hera, only to return with the help of Dionysus, riding on the back of a donkey and accompanied by revelers. This return astride a donkey is often shown on pottery from Attica and Corinth.
  • Donkeys were found in the works of Homer, Aesop and Apuleius, where they were generally portrayed as stupid and stubborn, or servile at best, and generally represented the lower class. Western culture still maintains many of these ideas about donkeys, but we know better! 


Donkey History, Colorado

  • Donkeys, a miner’s best friend? While this phrase is often used describing donkeys during the colonization of the American west, it was actually prospectors who typically were accompanied by a trusty donkey as they traversed the countryside in search of precious metals. Miners would typically have little use for a donkey, as they were underground in close quarters (they did use mules to pull ore carts, though!)
  • What is the saddle they wear? Most donkeys who are wearing tack at BurroFest  are wearing a pack saddle. In present-day America these typically come in two types: a sawbuck (the ones with the x-shaped forks) and a decker (these will have semi-circles on the top). A packer will then hang panniers, sometimes pronounced “pan-yers”, on the saddle to carry their cargo. A person would be unwise and uncomfortable if they attempted to ride in a pack saddle, although hybrid saddles do exist, and were often historically used by the cavalry. 

Fun Facts: Olympic History

  • At the Paris olympics in 1900, 124 people gathered to compete in the sport of poodle clipping. The goal was to see who could shear the most hair from a poodle in two hours. They must not have had many shepherds in Paris!
  • Pistol dueling debuted at the 1908 Olympics in London. Participants wore protective clothing and shot each other with wax bullets. Yee Haw!
  • The first Olympics took place in 776 BCE, in celebration of Zeus, the god of the sky and weather. Perhaps that’s why BurroFest has kicked off monsoon season the past few years! 
  • The ancient Olympic games ended in 393 CE and restarted again 1896 as the Modern Olympics
  • The olympic torch was originally a flame that burned throughout the games on an altar to Hestia, goddess of hearth and home.
  • From 1921-1948 artists participated in the olympics. Painters, sculptors, archetacts, and writers all competed for medals. 
  • Until 1912, medals were made of solid gold, which is why it is tradition for winners to pose while biting their medal: solid gold is quite soft and one could actually leave bite marks on the medal
  • While the ancient olympics could last up to six months, modern olympics only last 16 days.