Why We Decided to Buy a Donkey

How a love of camping — and a hatred of hauling camping gear themselves — led this couple to buy a donkey.

| May/June 1983

  • buy a donkey - man with donkey equipped with assorted tack
    Once you've found (and properly schooled) a healthy trail mate, you'll need to gear up with a good sawbuck saddle, a pad, a sturdy halter, and a strong rope.
    Lorena Hillis
  • buy a donkey - loading the beast
    Load your critter with a well-made pair of panniers.
    Lorena Hillis
  • buy a donkey - tethered in camp
    When you make camp, just tie your donkey nearby and let it graze.
    Lorena Hillis
  • buy a donkey - head and shoulders of donkey at fence rail
    If you buy a donkey, give it proper care and treatment. The animal will not be ornery or stubborn as many people believe.
    Photo by Lorena Hillis
  • buy a donkey - on the trail
    With a trained donkey you'll be all set for many pleasant hours of hiking, with your own load substantially lightened.
    Lorena Hillis

  • buy a donkey - man with donkey equipped with assorted tack
  • buy a donkey - loading the beast
  • buy a donkey - tethered in camp
  • buy a donkey - head and shoulders of donkey at fence rail
  • buy a donkey - on the trail

I've always enjoyed almost everything about camping except having to tote a cumbersome pack on my back. In fact, the mere thought of one of those aluminum-tubed nylon muscle strainers —stuffed, as usual, with my favorite backpacking luxuries — a bottle of wine, a cast-iron pan, or a bag of fresh oranges — really used to put a damper on my enthusiasm for taking to the trails.

Once, in an attempt to lighten my pack, my husband and I loaded our faithful yellow dog with the small amount of gear we felt she could handle. The pooch did fine too, until we got to the woods and she proceeded to lie down in every stream we came across (leaving us with soggy matches and rapidly "rehydrating" dehydrated soup)!

After that fiasco, we began to consider the possibility of purchasing a "low-maintenance" beast of burden that wouldn't be prone to cooling off in creeks. The high cost of feeding a horse or mule eventually led us to investigate whether it would be practical to buy a donkey. We were told the long eared critters were supposed to have terrific endurance, good trail sense, the ability to handle reasonably heavy loads, and excellent dispositions to boot.

All things considered, it seemed that a burro might be perfect for us — except that there was still a lot we didn't know about this "desert dweller." For example, where could we even locate one of the beasts in our northwestern state of Montana? And then, when we did come across a donkey, could we be sure it'd be able to withstand our harsh winters? Well, after a little more research and a lot of looking, we did finally manage to find a burro. And I'm pleased to say it not only survives our sub-zero weather and lives up to all our expectations, it's as easy to keep around the farm as it is helpful on our camping ventures!



Back Up a Bit

Actually, finding our beast of burden wasn't all that hard, once we got on the right track. Not knowing where else to look, at first we ransacked the local library for information, talked to some of the horse dealers in our area, and even let our friends know about our search in hopes that they could help. However, we didn't turn up much of value until we contacted The American Donkey and Mule Society. The folks there sent us a list of donkey breeders across the country and a catalog of all the publications their organization has to offer.

Finally, after carefully studying the tips on how to purchase a donkey (the society's book, The Donkey and Mule as a Backyard Hobby was our go-to source), we felt we were ready to do some educated shopping on our own. In no time we found and bought a two-year-old, standard sized — about 48 inches from the ground to the top of the shoulders or withers — female burro (jenny or jennet). She was friendly but green (untrained), and cost less than $100.






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