Many of you have written and asked me about Sue Ellen, the Mammoth Donkey, who no longer lives at The Farmstead. In our focus on the Creamery I have been very up front with the fact that we are re-honing our priorities. Basically, if it doesn’t support the goats then it’s not a priority. But that’s not why we don’t have donkeys at The Farmstead anymore.
First, some backstory.
We rescued Viola, our standard donkey, with the very specific purpose of becoming a livestock guardian. The rescue she came from told us that she lived quite happily with a flock of llamas, alpacas and sheep. Indeed, when we went to pick her up, there she was, living with her flock. Excellent we thought. Our excitement at finding a donkey to rescue (they’re not as common as you might think around here) led us to glaze over the fact that she had spent the first two years of her life with no human contact. She then spent the next two years at the rescue, living with the flock. In those two years she never once got close to people. We looked past that, rationalizing to ourselves that rescues are overworked and understaffed and just didn’t have the time to put towards gentling her.
On the day we brought her home we corralled her into a chute and she was given a tranquilizer. It was while tranquilized the rescue did her feet and loaded her into the trailer. Again, we didn’t think anything of this. We buttoned up the trailer and we were on our way.
Back at The Farmstead we unloaded Viola into her paddock and shelter area (a place that we had pre-approved by the rescue). The area was set up so that our goats could walk up to her and see her though the fence and touch noses.
And then we waited. I had read that donkeys take six weeks to adjust to their flocks and so we patiently spent the 6 weeks working with Viola—trying to get her to let us touch her, spending a lot of time sitting in her paddock, reading books, singing songs, just letting her get used to us. Those six week passed and we said to ourselves, it’s time! Let’s let her become one with her flock. The goats had taken a liking to Viola and spent most of their lounging time on the other side of her fence. We figured it would be an easy transition.
Viola got ahold of our oldest, sweetest goat and attacked her. Full on attack.
TEETH. STOMPING. SCREAMING. HORROR.
We re-separated. We re-evaluated. We spent more time with her. We waited six more weeks. We tried introducing her to smaller flock, she turned on them too. Viola had made it very clear. She would not be living with any goats.
And so we started thinking, how do we not let this donkey down? As people who rescue we take our commitments to rescues VERY seriously. When I tell a rescue I am going to be that animal’s forever home I MEAN IT.
That’s where Sue Ellen came in. I have always wanted a horse. ALWAYS. But we can’t afford one. And so, we looked into Mammoth Donkeys, which, are just like donkeys, but, you can ride them!
I contacted a breeder in our area and asked her if she had any for sale. She had one that would fit my needs perfectly. We drove out there and surprisingly, Nick fell in love before I did. We gave her our money for a deposit and made plans for delivery to our farm.
I was giddy. I was overjoyed. I WAS GETTING MY HORSE REPLACEMENT.
I WAS STUPID.
I didn’t even process when we got to the breeders to look at the donkeys that Sue Ellen was laying down. Instead I fell in love with the fact that I could sit on her and that I could touch her (Viola was still untouchable after 6 months of day-to-day work on our part). I saw visions of riding around our farm. I saw a steadfast, bombproof donkey that my daughter could ride. I didn’t even think about how bad her hooves were.
Apparently the breeder had rescued her from a bad situation where her hooves had gotten overgrown. The breeder, also a farrier, had been working on them and assured me she would be rideable as long as we continued to do her hooves this special way.
We got Sue Ellen home and Viola was happy as a lark. Well, let me rephrase. Viola was okay with sharing her area with Sue Ellen. I thought, surely, now that Sue Ellen is here Viola will see that people are okay and she too will warm up to us.
Fast forward 6 more months. I had been working with Viola on a daily basis. I still couldn’t touch her but I felt like we were making progress.
And then she attacked me.
TEETH. STOMPING. SCREAMING. HORROR.
Lucky for me I’m fast and rolled out of her way before dodging under the electric fence. I stayed there, curled in a ball for an hour, staring at her, crying, watching as she paced back and forth in front of me, pinning me in her corner.
I was done.
We are so proud of our farm and love having the public come visit. Beyond that, we have a young daughter who I need to know can go on adventures all by herself without having to worry about her getting in with the donkeys. I cannot have an animal that I can’t trust.
After more than a year of working with Viola I finally admitted to myself that we weren’t her forever home. The rescue took her back. I actually don’t think they were all that surprised. In hindsight I now see the warning signs…after two years at the rescue she should have gentled just a little. I’m not passing judgment. PLEASE DON’T THINK THAT. If I had been the right owner for her maybe I would have been able to gentle her. I don’t think she failed us. We failed her. Unfortunately we had reached the extent of our knowledge and resources.
Those of you who have been to the farm can attest to this: We don’t separate animals. Our pigs are continually grazing right alongside our goats. Chickens go wherever they want and the dogs patrol the entire farm, making their way through all animals with comfort and ease.
The year that we had Viola on the farm was stressful. We were continually making sure that other animals couldn’t get in with her. I didn’t realize until she was gone just how tense she had made it here. We don’t farm in confinement. Unfortunately, Viola was only ever safe when confined.
And so, with Viola gone we moved Sue Ellen into the flock. She was fine with them, didn’t even mind the dogs. The problem is, she got depressed. I think she missed having another donkey around. And, believe it or not, her feet had never gotten good enough to make her rideable. Even with my every three weeks foot schedule she was nowhere near close to being sound. My barefoot trimmer so kindly informed me that she was pretty sure I had bought a lemon. I had basically paid a lot of money for a sitting donkey, one that I was in constant communication with the breeder to get her registration paperwork for (I never did get her paperwork).
Finally, we decided we needed to do what was best for Sue Ellen.
She went back to the breeder where she could live with other Mammoth Donkeys. I doubt she will ever be rideable. I’m sure she will spend the rest of her days out to pasture. The breeder truly did love her and was happy to have her back.
I was devastated about losing Sue Ellen. She really did fill a horse sized void in my heart.
But, we needed to do what was best for her. And unfortunately she wasn’t all that interested in becoming a livestock guardian.
This was a tough lesson for me to learn. Viola is the first animal I have ever re-homed back to a rescue. We have rescued over 15 animals (dogs, cats and goats) in our lives and NEVER ONCE have we re-homed. But my safety, and the safety of my family and farmies is non-negotiable.
I will forever carry the guilt of letting these animals down. But the guilt of losing my own child to a dangerous donkey…that’s not something I’m willing to gamble on.