No, she’s not riding a mule! That’s Donkey Whisperer Melody Johnson riding her Mammoth Donkey Rio. (Karen Griffiths/For Peninsula Daily News)

No, she’s not riding a mule! That’s Donkey Whisperer Melody Johnson riding her Mammoth Donkey Rio. (Karen Griffiths/For Peninsula Daily News)

HORSEPLAY: Want a donkey? A beginners guide to donkey care

GOT THE URGE to bring home a cute, adorable miniature donkey? I’ve been resisting that impulse myself since visiting Melody Johnson and her herd at her Donkey Whisperer Farm while interviewing her for my Jan. 27 column, HORSEPLAY: The magical and musical world of training donkeys | Peninsula Daily News.

In it, I wrote how Melody Johnson began her journey into the wonderful world of long ears to donkey ownership 17 years ago, and how it’s evolved. Melody opened her business in 2013 Donkey Whisperer Farm, advocating for the precious donkey. Teaching how donkeys should always have another donkey to live with. Geldings (cannot breed) with geldings and jennies (female) with female along with similar size. There are four main breeds of donkeys in the USA, miniature, standard, burro, and mammoth.

What beautiful long ears and adorable eyes he has. Meet Rio, a mammoth donkey who grew to 16’2 hands tall. (Karen Griffiths/For Peninsula Daily News)

What beautiful long ears and adorable eyes he has. Meet Rio, a mammoth donkey who grew to 16’2 hands tall. (Karen Griffiths/For Peninsula Daily News)

Did you know, burro and standard donkeys were used as the main means of transporting goods for more than 2,000 years, today they remain a vital source of transportation to millions of people around the globe?

Bible readers are familiar with the fulfillment of prophecies, such as Zechariah 9:9 and John 12:14 when God’s Anointed One, the Messiah (Jesus) rides into Jerusalem on a ‘lowly beast of burden,’ a donkey.


Donkeys evolved from the desert, one of their gifts is their unique metabolism built to survive and thrive on low sugar and protein forage eating desert shrubs and dead dry desert grasses, digging for roots, and eating tree bark. Donkeys need low sugar and protein hay (10 percent or lower) with portion control, lose free salt with minerals and clean water. Warm clean water during freezing temperatures. Feed more hay during freezing and sub-zero temperatures.

Donkeys living in the wet, green parts of the world like the Pacific Northwest need their owners to create a desert-like dry paddock connected to a paddock paradise track set up around the perimeter of their pasture like Melody has created.

Donkeys gain weight quickly, a fat neck, fat pockets on their body, fat in the blood, laminitis, hoof abscesses, white line disease, insulin resistance are a few of the side effects from too rich of a diet or over feeding.

What not to feed a donkey

You shouldn’t give a donkey alfalfa, oats, sweet feed, breads, cookies, grass clippings, green brush, weeds, leaves, vitamins or allow grazing on pasture.

Shelter gates and fences

Donkeys are not as hardy as horses; the donkeys fur coat are not waterproof; shelter is a must when caring for donkeys. Donkeys’ hooves are pointy made to walk on rocks and desert, donkeys cannot stand in mud and wet without having serious hoof issues. Add your hay, water, and loose free salt with minerals inside the shelter. Melody highly recommends using the Hay Pillow, a slow feeder to slow down eating, reduce waste and help prevent colic from eating too fast. Donkeys are visual learners, you must provide excellent fences, gates and locks or your donkeys will get out.

Veterinarian Care

Donkeys are stoic, meaning donkeys will hide pain and not show pain until in many cases it is too late. Donkeys metabolize drugs different from a horse be sure and get a vet who has experience with donkeys. Melody uses Sound Equine’s Dr. Smith in Poulsbo.

The Donkey Whisperer Farm’s adorable miniatures are front- right grey donkey Rocket Man (who came as a bonded pair with the Mammoth Rio, left is Maximus and behind him is Roy. (Submitted by Melody Johnson)

The Donkey Whisperer Farm’s adorable miniatures are front- right grey donkey Rocket Man (who came as a bonded pair with the Mammoth Rio, left is Maximus and behind him is Roy. (Submitted by Melody Johnson)

Donkeys can live up to 35 to 40 years when given a healthy life. Thus, said Melody, Preventative care is vital to keeping donkeys healthy. Donkeys require a vet visit at least once a year, and shots for rabies, West Nile and tetanus are highly recommended. Teeth and gums should be looked at by a vet at least once a year. Submit a fecal sample in the spring and fall before worming. She said your vet will tell you if you have worms or do not and what to worm. Over worming causes resistant parasites and sadly can make it impossible to get rid of the worms. Find a farrier familiar with donkeys’ hooves and get on a regular schedule at least every seven weeks for a trim.

Donkey Training

Donkeys are not horses with long ears. Donkeys are as intelligent as the dolphin, and some dogs, donkeys are chess players, deep thinkers, donkey have excellent memories forget nothing good or bad ever. Donkeys study their environment and humans and learn quickly if the human is a treat dispenser, abuser or bully or a fair leader. The donkey will follow the fair leader, making it really important owners learn how to train a donkey and stay consistent.

Donkeys are not flight equine; donkeys can spook but stop much faster than the horse. Donkeys need to trust their human before they can learn. Purchasing a trained donkey will not always work as donkeys train humans to do only what the donkey wants to do. Melody trains the owner or caretaker worldwide via Donkey 101 & 102 video on demand sold with an E-book, Take Melody to the Farm With You. She teaches how to stay On Donkey Time, meaning slow down, learn how to control your emotions and energy to be in the moment. Each video exercise last no more than twenty minutes, then let the donkey(s), go back to their normal routine. Tomorrow check to see what they learned.


Donkeys cannot handle the cold as well as horses. In severe cold climates they are prone to frostbite and hypothermia their fur coat is not waterproof. Donkeys need shelter to get out of the rain, wind, sun. A blanket is like a fire extinguisher for a donkey. Desensitizing the donkey to wear the blanket before the severe cold temperatures arrive is very important. Donkeys that are shivering and blowing diarrhea need a warm blanket quickly. Donkeys do not require a blanket in rainy weather, providing shelter is sufficient. Waterproofing wears off after washing must reapply. A wet blanket is worse than having no blanket at all. It is best to have two blankets for each donkey, this way you can dry a blanket as needed until the weather breaks to rain.

Livestock guarding

Thinking of getting a donkey to guard your sheep, goats, chickens from predators like coyotes or mountain lion? Melody suggests getting a Great Pyrenees, or the like, to be a stock guardian dog. Miniature donkeys are too small to protect themselves, or anyone else, from predators. Donkeys grab the neck of another donkey in play and in battle, donkeys will grab the neck of a smaller animal and can quickly kill it. Donkeys naturally perceive dogs as a threat as they resemble the coyote or wolf.

Keep your dogs out of the donkey’s world. Use hot wire low to the ground to keep your dogs and predators from entering the donkey’s space. Her dogs are trained to not chase or nip at her donkeys and horses when she brings them into the farm area where her dogs are.

“If you cannot control your dogs, put them away before bringing the donkeys out amongst your dogs,” she suggests. “Why? If the dog starts nipping or chasing them the donkey will in most cases defend itself. Because they have peripheral vision their kick is more lethal and more accurate than a horse.”

Remember: Any animal you bring into your home is a lifetime commitment. Prior to bringing any new animal home first do your research, then prepare their living space. As Melody said, “You must have a plan to set your farm up for success, and then put it in motion, prior to bringing your donkey’s home. Melody suggests watching her free YouTube Video Bringing Your Donkey Home before bringing donkeys into your life.

The Donkey Whisperer Farm website Donkey sells handmade in the U.S.A. adjustable premium soft yacht rope donkey tack, Donkey E-Training, offers personal coaching and consulting, hay, and artwork. Melody is on social media, YouTube Donkeywhisperer, Facebook page Donkey Whisperer Farm and her FB training group On Donkey Time.

Readers may remember Carcare, the horse rescued from a Ukraine war zone featured in my Nov. 11 column, Here is the beautiful boy, just three months later,


Karen Griffiths’ column, Peninsula Horseplay, appears the second and fourth Saturday of each month.

If you have a horse event, clinic or seminar you would like listed, please email Griffiths at at least two weeks in advance. You can also call her at 360-460-6299.

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OPEN’s Spring Tack Sale is Saturday, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., 251 Roupe Road (off Hooker Road). Proceeds benefit rescued horses, minis, ponies (such as the one pictured with grossly overgrown hooves) and donkeys. Western and English saddles, saddle pads, halters, sheets, bits, bridles; western jewelry, clothes, boots and more. (photo by Valerie Jackson)
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