So you think you might want to learn how to milk a donkey? Donkeys are very wonderful creatures that offer many uses for humans but learning to manage them for milk is different from other dairy animals.
Think of your reasons for why you want to milk a donkey. Health problems? Dairy allergy? Boost nutrition? Skincare?
Throughout history, people have used donkey milk to drink for healing and for orphaned newborns. It’s also been a prized ingredient for the beautification of the skin.
Uses for Donkeys
I have written a more complete article on this subject if you want to read it here What Are Donkeys Used For? but here is a quick break down.
- They can be great livestock guardians on the right farm.
- They can be pack animals
- pull a wagon
- be used for riding
- They add lots of fast composting manure to my gardens. In fact, I never had enough compost until I got donkeys!
- And yes, they can give amazing healing milk that is helpful to people with certain health issues or milk casein allergies.
It’s a wonderful dairy option on the farm for those reasons! A multipurpose animal that gives milk! Sounds awesome, doesn’t it? It is, but let’s talk about what makes them so different from other common dairy animals in the USA. All animals used for milk are not the same.
How are Donkeys Different From Other Dairy Animals
They are very unlike our other popular dairy animals here in the USA. Here are a few reasons why they haven’t been used for commercial production.
- First, they are very inefficient producers of milk so do not be shocked to find donkey milk sells for $10 a cup or more if you wish to buy it. There are many reasons for this…
- It takes a whole year, sometimes 13 months for a Jennet to have a foal. Compared to a goat or sheep which only takes 5 months. A big cow only takes 10 months.
- Most standard and mammoth donkeys give an average of a quart a day. I’ve heard a few people get a little more and I’ve talked to a few who got much less. Under my careful dairy management and planning, I do get a quart from a small standard (not much bigger than a mini!) and a quart and a half from a standard with is more than some mammoths.
- The donkey has not been trait bred in this country for dairy production so what they will milk isn’t going to be as predictable as a well-bred dairy goat with extensive DHI records and intensive line breeding on that trait.
- A large dairy goat needs around 7 pounds of higher quality hay and feeds a day but many can give a gallon of milk a day for 10 months or more. Yes, now you can see why goat milk is $10 a gallon and donkey milk is $10 a cup!
But there’s more!
Managing the Donkey Foal
- Once the foal is here you need to wait about 6 weeks before you can start milking.
- No taking the baby donkey away to bottle feed it cheap milk replacer so you can have all the milk like with a goat, cow or sheep!
- The jennet needs to have her baby around nursing or she will dry up. You must share the milk with the foal throughout lactation in order for her to give milk. This also means if something horrible happens and the baby dies, she will dry up and you’re out a lot of time and feed cost with no milk.
- Once the foal is eating solids and can be taken away it can only be taken for 4 to 5 hours. Donkeys do not have huge cisterns to hold lots of milk. She will be in peak production at this time. Taking the foal away for too long may decrease production and possibly hurt the Jennets udder. So. No being greedy with the donkey milk.
- The foal will need to be trained. This means taking time to halter and lead train. You will need to be able to lead the foal away from his mother and you will need a holding area where they can see each other. This is important so as not to stress them out. You will need to commit to training the foal other basics manners so he will be able to get along in the domestic world and have a good home. You want to take responsibility and help ensure he doesn’t end up in a kill pen. Any foal from my farm is always welcome back if the owner can no longer take care of them. This is just part of being a responsible breeder.
As the foal ages, the Jennets production will decrease like with any mammal. Mine usually milk for 6 to 8 months. Sometimes longer but production will be much less and not as nutritious at this later point in lactation. If she’s been bred back it’s a good idea to let her recover and get in shape for the next foal too.
You also must keep a jack. An intact jack is no small thing to deal with! He can be dangerous at times. A jack needs a pasture and shelter of his own when the foals come to ensure they aren’t hurt. He may bust through fences to get to Jennets in the heat before you want them bred. No jack I’ve ever had has done this but we have good fencing and he has a nice area with other friends.
This is a shortlist from what is known as The Jack Files keeping a stud should not be taken lightly. If possible you can use a stud of a nearby farm.
He will also be eating 1.5% of his body weight a day. I have pasture and browse for my donkeys so they only get hay around 5 or 6 months of the year. Which also makes my cost per year on a donkey extra economical.
The jack below has never given me a reason to think he’s anything but a sweetheart but he’s still a strong donkey that could hurt me or kill me in a hormone rage.
So, how do you milk a donkey?
Well, that’s the simple part. You milk a donkey just like any other dairy animal. They are no different that way. Squeeze the milk from the teats into a bucket, filter, and chill. Enjoy!
It’s the management that’s different and possibly more or less difficult depending on your schedule.
I’ve managed and milked goats and sheep. Neither dairy animal is what I consider low input or easy to manage. They are more efficient at producing milk and easier to manage in many ways than a donkey. Certainly, kid goats and lambs are easier to manage than a donkey foal. Sheep and goats are also very multipurpose in their own ways and very useful on a farm.
But for people who can not have casein proteins or have very special health needs, I can not express how amazing donkey milk is. This article is proof of what an amazing effect donkey milk can have on a life Family Discovers Major Health Benefits from Donkey Milk
I certainly didn’t go out looking to add dairy donkeys to my farm. I was totally lead to this special animal through several events and I have been greatly blessed by this healing milk. The milk has been an amazing blessing to me. It’s healed my digestive problems as well as many food allergies I had developed. It’s light and sweet. The best-tasting milk I’ve ever tasted. I’m comparing it to cow, goat, sheep and camel milk.
Is Milking a Donkey For You?
Food can and does heal. Here’s an article from the BBC about its healing benefits Donkey Milk can help
I love getting the word out about Donkey Milk because it can really benefit so many people if they take time to research and prepare. One of the best things about having your own small farm if you can grow things you can’t easily buy!
Something else to consider, you will need to take extra effort to make sure your milk is organic. Many chemicals used for equine are not approved as safe for humans to use in an animal providing food. I make my own donkey care products and use essential oils. You can read all about that in my essential oils for donkeys’ book. It was the #1 new release in its category when I released it. Click the picture to check it out on Amazon.
Other Mentions for Donkey Milk
In 2017 I was mentioned in the book Homegrown and Handmade, Second Edition for my adventures in milking donkeys! You can check out the authors’ blog and read an exert from her book here Milking Donkeys- The Thrifty Homesteader
And also in 2017, I was a guest presenter for the Homegrown Food network on Milking Donkeys.
Donkey Milk Skin Care
God gives us healing foods. I believe this because I have lived it. So no matter the complexities of managing a milking donkey it’s been worth it for me.