rescue a donkey

Rescue a Donkey

To rescue a donkey straight from a kill pen, meat pen or feedlot (whatever it’s called in your area) can be a wonderful thing. You are giving a donkey a chance to live!

This article is about getting a rescue donkey straight from the holding or shipping facility that ships donkeys to Mexico for slaughter. Whether you go to the facility yourself or buy from the lot online, there are things you should be prepared for. *I’ve done it both ways. 

Rehabilitating a rescue donkey isn’t easy. It can be expensive and stressful. Rescue donkeys are often traumatized, untrained and unhealthy.

Being ripped away from herd buddies, shoved in trailers, hit by loud men and chased into areas with other stressed equine is hard on these sensitive creatures.

Many rescue donkeys have been neglected for years. I’m not against donkeys as guards but I admit a lot of the rescue donkeys in the feedlots or kill pens are former cattle guards in my area. Thrown in the pastures and forgot about until they start having health problems from lack of correct diet and hoof care. 

Often untouched by humans and scared, they are chased into trailers, hauled to the auction and thrown into the running stock pen.  Running stock is the ‘meat pen’. Donkeys and horses are weighed and their fee is based on what the going meat prices rate is. For donkeys, this price is higher than its ever been due to China’s greed for donkey hides. Article on that here: Chinese Trade in Hides

For more information on using a guard donkey successfully read this article Using a Guardian Donkey

Not all of them are cases like this. Some are well-trained donkeys that were sold to someone who didn’t understand them. Frustrated, the owners dump them in the auction to try and recover some of their investment. Since donkeys tend to sell for more in the meat pen by the pound than by the head, that’s where they end up. If you can’t find a donkey in your area, it’s most likely because you have a horse auction nearby that is visited by meat buyers.

No matter how a donkey ends up in the kill pen or feedlot, the donkey is now in need of help. But are you the right person for the rehabilitation process?

Some of the following links may be affiliates from Amazon. If you use one of the affiliate links I could make a small commission at no extra cost to you. This helps me pay for resources like this website so I can keep information out there to help donkeys and their people.

Rescue Donkey Considerations

How to rescue a donkey
Jeb was a bag of bones with the worst hooves I ever had seen when I got him out of the meat pen. You would never know it today though. I have a wonderful bond with this guy.

I read in a popular donkey care book one time that the easiest way to get a healthy donkey is to buy a healthy donkey. True, but finding a completely healthy donkey is rare even from an individual seller sometimes. It’s almost impossible to get a slaughter-bound rescue donkey in a healthy condition. I have done it, maybe one time out of a dozen.

This article is in NO way trying to discourage anyone from taking in a rescue donkey from a slaughter-bound situation. I mean it to prepare you. Help you make an informed decision about whether this is something you can take on. 

What you need to be prepared for if you rescue a donkey from a feedlot/meat pen situation:

  1. A quarantine area. Some donkeys may have something contagious, so it’s best to keep them away from other equines for 3 weeks. 
  2. Have extra funds set aside for health care. To rescue a donkey is not a cheap endeavor. Be prepared for possible vet costs and be prepared for loss if something is wrong that can not be helped. I’ve rescued many donkeys without issue, then I’ve rescued some that needed lots of health care. I’ve got a rescue right now, and I’m not sure she will make it. It’s just part of it.
  3. If it’s winter, they are usually infested with lice. Know how you want to treat this. They will also need to be dewormed for internal parasites.
  4. Have a vet on call that knows donkeys. Not all vets understand donkeys. They may be sick and need health care.
  5. If you’re getting a jack, line up a gelding appointment again with a vet that knows how to castrate a donkey. They differ from horse castrations. There are programs in some states to help with the cost of gelding surgeries. In my area, a gelding runs typically runs $200 to $300 depending on how much sedation they use. BUT I have had a gelding surgery cost me $750 because of complications. It was worth every penny, and he’s an amazing saddle donkey now. Jacks are most at risk for slaughter. Please GELD! Geldings make amazing companions.
  6. If you’re getting a jennet, you need to be prepared because you may get an extra donkey in the deal. Even if the jennet wasn’t running with a jack when she came in, there will be a chance she gets pregnant in the feedlot. Most horse traders and meat buyers do not separate the donkeys by sex like they do the horses. I’ve witnessed many breedings take place right in the pen. 
  7. A rescue donkey from the lot will more than likely need hoof care, and they will more than likely not stand to get their feet done. Have a farrier that understands this. One that won’t be mean to the donkey and do more damage. I hate it, but a lot of donkeys in these situations may need to be sedated for the first session or more. Know if your farrier can sedate them or if you need to acquire something from your vet. Many will need complete hoof rehabilitation. Which may mean more frequent trims for several months and possible medications to treat common hoof problems. To learn more about hoof care, handling feet and what to look for in a farrier for donkeys, check out the links in the resource list below!!
  8. Most rescue donkeys are untrained. Some are even feral. Be prepared to have a training area and a plan for training. There may be a trainer in your area or there are resources online. Rehabilitation without getting basic training isn’t much of a rehabilitation for the donkey. It lessens the chance the donkey will get a good long time or permanent home. Even if you plan to keep the donkey yourself please plan to train the basics. It can get frustrating and sometimes dangerous handling an untrained donkey. All donkeys need basic training! Without basic training, your farrier or vet may stop returning your calls after a while. That may seem harsh, but they need to be safe too. Please do not underestimate the need for proper donkey training. 
  9. Believe nothing the horse trader, auctioneer, feedlot guy, meat man says about the donkey in the video or at the auction. NEVER! Now please read that again. I will post personal experiences and case studies in an article next week. Just when I think I’ve heard all the lies, they come up with a few more!
  10. Have TONS of patience. It took me 3 years to pick up my rescue donkey Jeb’s feet without him trying to kick me. It can take months before you can halter them easily. Even if the donkey has some good experiences with humans or some training, you may not see it for weeks. The rescue donkey from the feedlot has often been highly traumatized. Even if the donkey looks nice and calm in the video or auction be aware, they may be in freeze mode or they could be sedated. Once they have space they may become defensive to humans until they get over their trauma and realize they are safe.

Helpful Resources to Rescue a Donkey

I think it goes without saying that you need to understand what a proper donkey diet is. And yes, if you ask 12 different donkey owners, you might get 12 different answers. A lot depends on what part of the country (world) you are in too. But no matter where you are, we cannot feed donkeys like a horse. 

I feed mixed grass hay (no legumes) to most all my donkeys. Many donkeys will need to be fed with slow feeder hay bags, especially if they are overweight. You can read about them here Hay Bags {The best and the worst!}

Here are some of my favorite resources for donkey care:

  1. The Clinical Companion of Donkeys This book is on the technical side, but it’s an amazing reference to have on hand if you have a donkey. Parasites, foot trimming, and structure, feeding, medications, diseases that can affect donkeys and everything donkey. I highly recommend this book to anyone with donkeys.
  2. Paddock Paradise I really like this book! Providing donkeys with shelter, food, and movement. How to set up your own donkey habitat. Here in TN, my climate and terrain isn’t anything like the donkey’s natural habitat, but I can make it more natural and healthy for them with some adjustments and creativity. If you’ve read a donkey needs to be on a dry lot, read this, please! There is a better way. 
  3. Founder Prevention and Care the Natural Way  Lots of donkeys in rescues situations are foundered or have in the past. It’s important to understand how to prevent and heal. This book is written with horses in mind, but the information applies to donkeys. I found it very informative.
  4. The Healthy Donkey   I LOVE this book! It’s got behavior information, gentle training techniques based on TTouch and more. Fantastic book. Some of my favorite training techniques come from this book. I recently sat in on a zoom call with one of the authors, Trudy Affleck, and she is so full of knowledge about donkeys. Highly recommended. 
  5. Holistic Hooves By The Donkey Farrier All donkeys need proper hoof care! Please, please educate yourself about donkey hooves and how to keep them healthy. Megan has helped many donkeys and their people. Including me and my donkeys. Thanks to her advice in her group, my mammoth J-Donk’s hoof health has improved. I had a vet and two farrier look at him, and neither helped. I tried a mineral Megan recommends for hoof health it has helped.  
  6. The Donkey Listener Youtube Channel, of course, I’ve got to mention the resources I’m building to help donkeys and their people. This website, my Donkey Lovers List (sign up below) my youtube channel and I have a Donkey Training membership group on Patreon. I want people to be successful with their donkeys! I also have a couple of books on Amazon So check out my other resources if you haven’t.
  7. Matching Wits with a Donkey DVD This is a great video to watch if you find yourself with a completely feral, untouchable and even aggressive donkey. One of the first donkeys I brought in was straight up feral! I was way in over my head. He wasn’t even a rescue I got him from a cattle farmer/horse trader! I didn’t know any better and it was a disaster for the donkey and me. I couldn’t even catch him to have his feet done or get him gelded (he’s one of the many reasons I started this website and other resources to help people with donkeys). This video helped me get that guy to the point I could have him gelded. No one else had DVDs or books that helped with that guy! I still feel sorry for that donkey having to put up with my ignorance for so long. I’ve added many other techniques to my training methods over the years but I’ll always love this video for helping me with that first feral donkey. 

There are other resources, but these will cover you and get you ready for a rescue donkey or any donkey!!

Donkeys Need Love

I hope you have found this article helpful if you have been thinking about helping a donkey out of a bad situation. Above all, you need to love that donkey and have empathy. See the world through the donkeys eyes. Think about what the donkey has been through and how stressful the situation is to a rescue donkey in the meat pen. 

This is the first of a 3 part series on rescue donkeys. The 2nd article will be about my own case studies, taking in donkeys right from the feedlot and meat pen. Including a current donkey, I just got in from a feedlot for my birthday.  Rescuing a slaughter-bound donkey for my birthday is the best present I could probably get. Even if things don’t go well and she doesn’t make it, at least I saved her from the horrible trip to Mexico to meet with a painful death. 

How to rescue a donkey. Be prepared

The 3rd article in the series will be the places you can get a slaughter-bound donkey and a technique I use in the meat pen to pick out a donkey I think I can help faster and without as much risk of injury. This was a technique I came up with to match the skills, facilities and time I could devote to a rescue donkey at that time early in my donkey ventures. I had a lot of success with this technique. It’s not as risky as buying online. If possible, I do prefer to go to the pens myself since the auction guys and horse traders typically lie so much.

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