THE OFFICIAL BLOG
I am working on putting together a chicken coop kit today (there will be blog posts to come on that topic) to serve as a new and inevitably great grow-out pen for our young chickens, but it's too hot to stay out there the whole time uninterrupted. I decided that while I am here in the air conditioning with a laptop in front of me, this would be a good time to introduce our readers to our donkey, Fatima.
I have mentioned it before - maybe here on the blog - but I always wanted a donkey. I have no idea why. I had absolutely no experience with donkeys. I am not even sure that I had ever even seen one in person before the day we brought our first donkey home. The only childhood donkey memory I have is that there was a book called "Donkey Donkey' among those in my book collection. I believe it had belonged to my sisters before me, as it was missing pages and had scribble marks. I don't recall ever having read it as, even as a child, I was a bit of a stickler and the missing pages rendered the book unappealing. I remember the cover pretty well though. So maybe that was all it took to leave me with a lifelong desire to own a donkey? Are we humans really so simple?
Once in Oklahoma permanently, we immediately began our search for a donkey. We scoured Craigslist daily and I even checked newspaper classifieds. At that point, we had no idea how to find what we were looking for. It isn't like you can head on down to the donkey department in Target or order one on Amazon. We slowly learned about small animal swaps and auctions and began attending the ones we discovered just to get a feel for the area and how things worked. Of course, there are not any donkeys at small animal swaps, but there are people. Dave managed to get a number from a nice stranger at a swap for a man in Inola who sold mini-donkeys... and we were finally off.
It was October, 2015 when we finally made the trip to Inola to meet some donkeys. We were led to a pasture around the back of the house that seemed to be full - at least to my memory - of little donkeys in an assortment of colors. They all pushed in close and crowded around us, sniffing our pockets and our hands looking for a treat or a pat. All of them except one, that is. There was a young spotted donkey, smaller than the rest, who spent her time maneuvering around the edge of the pasture in such a way as to always be at least 300 feet from us and the rest of the donkeys.
I had already told Dave on the drive home that he could pick our donkey for us. And so I knew what was going to happen. Scratching a fluffy, friendly baby donkey under the chin, Dave signaled with his other hand toward the wild donkey and said: "I want that one." The nice man with the donkeys took care to inform both of us that the little spotted donkey had not been handled at all and would take some time to tame down. This seemed only to encourage Dave. And so it began.
Did I mention that we did not have a livestock trailer... or any kind of trailer at all for that matter? We had a brand new 2015 Jeep Wrangler and a tarp. And an untamed and highly irritated baby donkey. Armed only with sheer determination and a measure of exhaustion, Dave managed to lift the spotted donkey into the back of the Jeep and close the tailgate. I crawled into the front seat and grabbed her lead before she jumped out through one of the open front windows and we headed home.
I don't remember how we got her out of the Jeep once we got home. I do remember asking Dave why he had to pick the one untamed donkey in the pasture. Somehow we got her into one of our small barn stalls where I noticed that her fuzzy baby belly was tangled with stickers and bits of bramble. Of course.. she had never been handled. I managed to brush it all out that day - something which I still hold dear as one of my greatest farm achievements - although she was much less than cooperative.
It was October 13, 2015 - the feast of Our Lady of Fatima and so our little anti-social donkey got her name (and we got our donkey naming convention for the future).
We knew that we had already broken the golden rule of donkey ownership by bringing a single donkey home. We had planned on immediately finding her a donkey companion. However, given her disposition we decided we needed a little more one-on-one time with her before we added a new donkey to the mix. And training began.
After a few days of being totally snubbed when offering hand-held treats, I led her out of the barn to a quarter acre paddock where we kept goats. Okay, I did not lead her exactly. I sort of miraculously steered her through the open gate one of the many times she was dragging me past it. I unclipped the lead and she bolted for the farthest corner from me on the back side of the paddock. And there she stayed.
Every daylight hour of each day I would go out into her paddock with a little bucket containing a handful of grain. I would sit down on a stump, place the bucket at my feet, and read a book. I spent no less than fifteen minutes on the stump during each session -- rain or shine -- before quietly gathering my things and going back inside. At the end of the last visit each evening, I would dump the grain into her feed pan as I was leaving.
Weeks passed and there was no significant progress. She carefully watched me as I entered and exited, but came no nearer. I had begun to panic at the thought of her still wearing the halter I had released her in -- having visions of her tangled in a fence or tree -- and decided that I had to catch her as soon as possible for her own good. So I upped my game.
I continued the hourly visits sitting on my stump with the grain bucket, but now I began reading out loud the entire time. Sometimes I would recite poetry. Sometimes I even sang little songs. All the while, I made no eye contact. I just sat on my stump and talked to myself like a crazy person. After a couple of days, she began coming closer. I could see her out of the corner of my eye with her ears pricked forward and an expression on her face which meant something like she was pretty sure there was something wrong with me.
I refused to lose the progress we had made by acting too soon, so I began turning away from her when she came close. This inevitably brought her closer. And closer. And closer. Until one day - she put her nose in the grain bucket at my feet.
Once she was consistently coming up to check out the grain bucket, I began reading to her or speaking directly to her as she approached. When she continued to approach without apprehension, I began placing the grain bucket between my feet so that she would have to brush against my leg to reach into the bucket. Eventually I held the bucket so that she would likewise have to touch my hands in order to get to the grain. After only a few days of this, she was waiting for me at the gate when I came for my hourly visits. And I was able to remove the halter.
It was six months from the day we brought her home before I was able to put a halter on her without protest. I taught her to lead. I taught her to stand tied. I taught her to lift her feet for me (though she still doesn't care much for farriers). And she became my best buddy.
In the fall of the next year, we made good on our promise to provide Fatima with a donkey companion and brought home Guadalupe and, a few months later the infamous Loreto. This year we completed our herd with the much-anticipated arrival of LaSalette and Fatima's first foal, Iago.
Fatima is still our most cautious and contemplative donkey. She is never the first to approach a stranger and provides a challenge to anyone new wanting to become friends. She is not the kind of donkey to be bribed with a handful of treats. But once she trusts someone she is rock solid dependable and can, in turn, be trusted in any situation. She is registered with the American Council of Spotted Asses and her registration with the American Donkey & Mule Society is pending. Sometimes I still sit out in the barn and read to her.
I love all of our donkeys, but to this day I am not ashamed to admit that Fatima is still my favorite. She and I both had to work really hard at our relationship and I know for certain that neither of us take it for granted. That little spotted donkey taught me a lot about friendship and patience - and I will be forever grateful that she was the one that Dave picked that day.
In the works.
Did you know? We will be starting a blog exclusively for the donkeys -- and maybe even by the donkeys sometime within the next month. We will make an announcement when the first post is up, but in the meantime you can bookmark the page here: https://www.lcnfarm.com/donkeyblog
Posted by Anita
Friend to Fatima. Collector of mini-donkeys. Bard to asses.