Surely when I get the donkey in his field, life will calm down a bit, I thought? I’ll head over a few times a day to say hi and try out bits of kit on him as they arrive in the post, and we’ll go for practice walks, and in between I’ll do lots of money work to ensure a couple of cheques arrive in a month or so, to offset the financial panic once I’m on the road and failing to resist pub meals…
But nay. The two days of donkey ownership have so far been fraught with worry – the opportunity to kill him by mistake seems to lie at every turn. And worse still, at inaction too (which is a shame, because I was hoping for a little inaction. I thought I might cultivate in myself a donkey’s reaction to uncertainty, which is to stand very still, eyes wide, and take its own sweet time in assessing the situation). But no – action has been foisted upon me, and I’ve been running about in a state of new-parent terror.
To tie him up, or to electrocute him?
First off, it’s the tethering vs corralling debate. I was intending to work through this slowly, but it’s all crashed in on me because of worry about the quality of lush green grass in the field Chico is in. He’s been in a stamped down field with dozens of other donkeys for six long wintery months, and to go from that to this super-sugary spanking new May grass is a problem – potentially a big one. In fact, he COULD DIE. They can get colic and inflate (Mum’s sweetheart Harry tells me he’s had to let his horses down with a colic spike in the past, which is as bad as it sounds, unless he’s having me on). Or there’s laminitis on the menu too – grim hoof damage which would be a problem considering the intended activity in the near future. I don’t have anything to tell you about laminitis and I refuse to google it – I’ve spent enough time with new parents to know that sometimes it’s best not to know all the details of potential neglect-related catastrophe.
Evil grass and the poo test
It doesn’t help that the sun shines over the sloping field in such a way to back-light each blade of grass, making it look aggressively, psychadelically green. After he’d been in the field for 24 hours an online-electric-fence-vendor called Nick put the wind up me and I leaped in the car, bought a rope, and raced to the field to tie him to something, anything, to restrict his gorging. But Chico looked so chilled out. He was eating reeds and gorse as well as the Haribo grass, was the same size as before, and passed the poo test.
Chico’s poo began as round lumps, went briefly somewhat damper, and has returned to lumps again (more comparison with new parenting: relief derived from stools). Green and pungent is the poo we are to be concerned about – Mum has walked the field a few times, but none has been spotted yet. So the rope remained in the bag and Chico continued as before, perfecting his proprietorial stag impression.
Why tethering makes people, and donkeys, nervous
Tethering needs to be introduced gingerly, I am told. A donkey derives its sense of safety from being able to move away from danger, and they get stressed if their ‘behavioural choices’ are limited. If he freaked out about something (and we know from the cows and his previous owner who couldn’t catch him that he is a bit jumpy) he could really hurt himself on a tether. In fact, he COULD DIE. He could twist his head right off against the tether collar (a fearsome and heavy leather strap that has surely come straight from an electric chair), or roll on the spike that the rope is tied to. He could get his legs all knotted together. Bad things could happen.
In comparison, an electric fence is no bother at all. But I just don’t like the idea of messing about with electricity. Perhaps because as a very little girl (although unfortuately out of nappies), I grabbed hold of an electric fence and – as the family tale goes – evacuated considerably. Or perhaps because, as I’m looking for a method that we can use when camping wild on the walk, I feel uneasy about fencing off someone else’s land – it seems symbolically (and perhaps legally) quite different to just pegging a donkey to the ground.
Abort! Abort! Don’t shoe the donkey!
I was doing all this tethering/corralling research while waiting for the farrier to arrive. The shoes have been made – two sets – and the man was coming to fit them. He admitted on the phone that he’s only shod two donkeys (rather less experience than his apprentices had suggested he had), and so I left messages with my donkey godmothers. At the eleventh hour they responded in terror – don’t shoe the donkey! It can be done, and still is done in other countries, but so rarely in the UK that no-one has the skills any more, and farriers who say they do are stretching the truth. A donkey’s hoof is not just a small version of a horse’s hoof – it’s got a much narrower wall, and the shape of it leaves very little margin for error. A slightly mis-angled nail can easily pierce the laminae (where the hoof meets the flesh, I think), and damage the hoof so badly that the donkey would have to be put down. The donkey COULD DIE!
Why do farriers say they can shoe donkeys? Ego, perhaps. As a breed farriers are predominantly male, and spend half of their time at the scary end of powerful animals, and the other half hammering hot metal – it’s hardly surprising. Perhaps it would have been fine, but I’m happy to have chickened out – instead we’ll go back to plan A: taking things slowly, getting a set of donkey sandles made to help with long tarmac days, and choosing grassy paths wherever possible.
48 hours in and Chico’s still alive. In fact, nothing has changed except for my blood pressure…