Drinking Beer & Building Shit: Donkey Shelters

First, a warning: Sad farm shit ahead. 

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About this time last year, I walked out to the barn one morning and found the older of my two donkeys, Doc, laying unresponsive on the ground. He was alive, but barely. The vet lives just down the road and was able to make it out to us quickly–so I didn’t have to wait long for help and a diagnosis–but it wasn’t good news. Doc had some kind of stroke or other neurological event in the early hours of the morning. He was blind, unable to stand up, not responsive to outside stimuli, and very clearly suffering. 

I’m not a person who puts down an animal easily or lightly, but in this case, there was no question about whether or not it was the right decision. And it still really sucked. 

My only consolation is that it was the best case scenario in a shitty situation. If the stroke happened in the middle of the night and I came out to find a dead donkey in the barn in the morning, I never would have known what caused it (and then would have been in a full-on panic about whether or not he got into something toxic, or if there was some kind of electrical hazard, or all of the million other scenarios I would blame myself for.) Or if the symptoms had been less severe, I might have held on longer than I should have and he would have suffered needlessly. 

And he was, in fact, an old donkey. An old donkey who had a good life here causing trouble and escaping fences, and generally giving me a run for my money in the “who can be the grumpiest old man on the farm” contest. 

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So, losing him was fucking sad. 

It was two hours of pure crisis, adrenaline, sorrow, and then, when it was over and the vet was driving away, I turned back to the barn and realized… it was not actually over. Because there was a 300lb dead donkey in the barn. In December (When the ground is typically frozen… i.e not ideal for farm burials.) 

Let me say again, for the record, how fucking sad this was. And, also, a completely different set of logistics than when, say, a beloved family pet like a dog or cat dies. 

Anyway, my mom showed up with a case of beer and we got the thing done, but, let me just say… not the most fun part of farm life. (Possibly related note: I own a set of bucket forks and have access to a backhoe tractor attachment now.) 

So, that is the very sad part of this story. 

It’s also relevant to note that at this point in time I was just maxed the fuck out on “tasks”. There was almost a whole year of life there that just felt like a neverending set of tasks that sucked the life out of me and brought me no joy or energy. (Probably worth analyzing, but not in this post.) Finding a new donkey to integrate into the farm was an endeavour fraught with tasks, when my tank was already running on empty. 

At the same time, donkeys are social animals (you can’t just have a single donkey in a pasture by itself… that’s torture.) 

So–ignoring everything else going on in the world in early 2020–even just on the farm, both Parker and I were struggling. 

Initially the way we handled this was just by opening the gates to the pasture and letting Parks hang out wherever he pleased… 

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When it was Parker and Doc together, the pasture escapes invariably ended up with me chasing both of them back from down the road like a crazy person (and, on one memorable occasion, getting dragged through a field by a donkey on the run, true story) … but Parker alone just wanted to hang out and be closer to the “action”. (i.e. whatever I had going on) 

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(In another life I would definitely have a pasture closer to the house and more integrated with the back yard. Donkeys like being a part of stuff.) 

But, come summer, I couldn’t ignore that Parker needed more donkey friends (and that getting him donkey friends was going to mean a lot more work for me.) 

One of my good (human) friends found a donkey rescue about an hour away, and the director of that donkey rescue convinced me to adopt 3 new bonded donkeys. 

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That’s a mom (Marianne), her boyfriend (Guy), and her daughter (Zoey.) 

Parker was super excited to meet them at first. But they had been spending most of their time in a pasture with 20 other donkeys, so they were actually more excited for wide open spaces and grass, than to hang out with Parker.  

Also, Parker took a liking to Marianne, and Guy took exception to a dude hitting on his girlfriend… and I had a regular donkey love triangle on my hands. 

It became clear, quickly, that all of them could not share a pasture. Also, there was a fencing shortage in 2020 because… reasons. I guess everyone was building fences and using a lot of toilet paper in quarantine? 

I rigged up two different versions of a “fence” that the donkeys basically just laughed at and jumped over about 30 seconds after I thought I was done. (Did not know donkeys were jumpers before this… fun fact for me.) Then my mom took over with the help of my neighbor and rigged up, well, this thing… 

And I’m going to say it was 67% effective, because one third of the donkeys figured out how to do this… 

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You really have to watch that thing to the end… it is astounding.

(If this post is starting to feel like an epic saga, imagine what it was like to live the thing.) 

Anyway, efficacy of the fence notwithstanding, I needed another shelter (aka run-in) for the donkeys, since they all couldn’t share space in the barn without a lot of aggression. Which meant this mess had to go… 

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I built this addition/annex to the chicken run back in 2017 when my chickens were being mysteriously killed. (By, it turned out, a dog that lives down the road, and was slipping the fence when the batteries on his electric collar went out.)It looked a lot better then. 

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For the most part, since the dog was secured, the chicken run (and annex) have only been used periodically. And, in the meantime, have collected a lot of weeds. So… 

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Goodbye chicken run annex. 

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So many “helpers” on the farm.

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There’s some old barn foundation in this area so I used tapcons and the sheer force of my will to hold the posts in place for this build. Then tied it in to the existing barn “framing”. (I use that term loosely because that barn is older than all of us.) 

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Still holds up though. 

The roofing I used on the chicken run was basically corrugated asphalt, which I know, sounds weird…but it’s cheap, easy to install, and good for scrappy farm structures. For these purposes I want general shelter, but nothing needs to be weatherproof obviously. 

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Not going to lie, it takes a soft (and accurate) touch with a hammer to install this stuff, because if you miss the nail it’s super easy to put a hole in.)  Perhaps best installed sans beer? I wouldn’t know. 

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Fun fact about corrugated asphalt roofing… I guess it’s delicious? 

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I wouldn’t know, BUT THE DONKEYS WOULD. 

Generally I have no complaints about this roofing except for one thing… between the time I built the chicken run and the time I built the addition, they changed the size of their sheets from 4×6 to 3×6 (and also were straight out of the color gray this summer.) So I ended up short a panel and also now I have a multi-colored barn roof. 

Normally this shit would drive me nuts, but honestly… 2020 was exhausting. 

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This run-in has one wall open to the north, and the west side was finished off with pine planks. 

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While the intent was to provide shade and shelter in late summer and fall, it’s not appropriate for an all-season shelter in Michigan. 

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So while that was a good weekend project last summer, I also had to do some modifications in the barn to have a split stall. 

This was the existing set-up: 

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Although just for reference, this was the setup back in 2013 when I first decided to adopt donkeys

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So, marked improvement. 

But it was not enough space for ALL the donkeys, particularly ALL the donkeys that did not get along. So. 

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The back wall came out, and I created a flexible “stall” by adding a fence gate (so the barn can be one stall or two, with a second entry through an old man-door on the north side of the barn.) 

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Let me just say, it required a lot of “creative” engineering… (creative = beer, just FYI.) 

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So, good news, it kind of worked, in that all of this effort did manage to keep my one lonely donkey separated from the three larger donkeys who wanted to bully him. But it didn’t work in that the whole point of this endeavor was for Parker not to be One Lonely Donkey. 

Marianne, Zoe, and Guy would be incredible donkeys for anyone who either had an established herd or were just adopting those three alone (they were super friendly and great with people… also, hilarious) but, in this case, were not good friends for Parker, and also (if it wasn’t clear) a metric fuckton of work for me. 

Honestly, the thing that is obvious now (and really should have been obvious then) is that you can’t bring 3 bonded donkeys into a space with one single donkey and expect everyone to be friends. After two months with only increased aggression toward Parker I decided I couldn’t foster the 3 larger donkeys any longer, and instead sent my mom on a mission to find one other lonely male donkey that might be less aggressive and more likely to bond with Parker. 

So… 

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Meet Nigel. 

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Nigel and Parker spent 3 weeks in separate pastures, but are now living together on the farm like a couple of grumpy old men. (Which makes three of us.) 

And listen, dealing with donkey drama really was the least of anyone’s concerns (including mine) in 2020, but still, it was exhausting.

Anway, we got through it…

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Welcome to the farm, buddy. 

22 Responses

  1. I LOVE a happy ending! And a donkey named Nigel is just perfection…so all the jerry-rigging separate stall areas is now unnecessary/undone? Good work…stay healthy…

    1. Bascially! But it was necessary for the first 3-4 weeks where we kept Parker and Nigel separate (like we should have done with the other 3 at the outset).

  2. I used the corrugated asphalt roofing on my carport ( in the brown) and they packed it with a spare piece of the gray for protection. Not wanting that to go to waste, I used it for a dog bed roof (I am in Arizona and we get A LOT of sun/heat and it was nice to provide shade). Anyway the point is the grey didn’t go with my house/ yard, so I painted it brown using exterior brown eggshell paint. It has held up for 8 years and is going strong. Hasn’t peeled or anything. So in the future when you are less exhausted and that shit starts to bug you, know that you can paint it grey when you have the inclination. Cheers.

  3. This is a very happy ending! I read touching obituary for a dog in the newspaper and it kind of sums things up by saying “Remember that grief is a small price to pay for the wonderful gift that animals give you; the priceless treasure of their unconditional love.”

  4. So sorry for the loss of Doc – what a messed up year! I’m glad you’re back to writing, I love your story telling 🙂

    Welcome Nigel, you’re adorable!

  5. Oh thank you so much for this!!! May Parker and Nigel have a wonderful life on your farm!!! *LMAO and now a shit eating grin of happiness*

  6. Damn. I’ve been hoping for a donkey update but this isn’t what I was hoping for. What a sweet boy your Doc was. I’m sorry for your loss. ❤️

  7. It is so nice to see you’re back.

    I’m sorry that you lost Doc. Losing a beloved animal is really hard. I still keep expecting to see my cat when I turn a corner.

  8. I’m so glad you’re back. I missed reading about your life and projects. I’m so sorry about Doc, but happy you found a way to help Parker.

  9. Wow! I’m so glad I found your blog! I hope you keep writing. I love your storytelling style, and the animals are super cute! 🙂

  10. Glad you are back. Do you still do a celebratory walk around the farm each year? I am coming up to 7 years on my little 3.6 acre piece of heaven looking forward to retiring next month so I have more time for projects. I have the same railing at eye level problem as your lake house deck, and it annoys me.

  11. Hi there, keep looking for a new post…hope you and your entourage are doing well, finding joy and “kicking ass”…it must be looking beautiful at your house and your Mom’s…take care of yourself…

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