Donkeys find home in farmers' hearts

Staff writer

Carol Duerksen and Maynard Knepp are typical Marion County farmers with a herd of 30 cattle and a flock of near 50 head of sheep at their rural Hillsboro farm. What is not so typical about their operation however, is the small herd of seven donkeys that grew in number by one last week.

“We just have them,” Duerksen said on Sunday. “Maynard dreams of having a team of donkeys pull a cart someday, but we haven’t got that far yet. They are sweet animals, as long as you let them have their way.”

Donkeys have a reputation for being stubborn, and while Duerksen admits that is very true, she said they are also very loyal and protective of the other animals on the farm.

“A lot of horse people won’t even look at a donkey,” Duerksen said. “They are very difficult to train or lead. It takes several of us to move them from one place to another. But our donkeys have earned their place here. They are so loyal.”

One of Duerksen and Knepp’s donkeys, named Donkey, has earned a permanent place on the farm because of that loyalty, even though he has been crippled from birth and often requires assistance to get up.

“Donkey was given to us several years ago because his owner didn’t want to deal with him,” Duerksen said. “He was a twin and born with defective rear legs. They just don’t work the way they are supposed to.”

Despite the hindrance, Donkey’s owners credit him for saving lost lambs, providing companionship to an old horse, and serving as a role model for a young colt.

Duerksen said he takes his role as farm guardian very seriously, even to the point of putting himself in danger to provide a barrier between ewes and baby lambs and ever-present coyotes trying to get them.

“There are times we’ve had to rescue Donkey from the creek or from wherever he went to watch over the sheep,” Duerksen said. “He gets stuck in the mud and just can’t get out because his hind legs are weak.”

Duerksen and Knepp currently keep Donkey closer to the yard in a paddock adjoining the lambing sheep pen. He sleeps next to the sheep fence, always on the alert for strange movement or predators. In the paddock with Donkey is his latest charge, a weaning age colt, learning how to trust humans and live apart from his mother, a small draft mare.

“Donkey is a good influence on Huchley Joe (the colt),” Duerksen said. “He keeps him company and teaches him the rules of life around here.”

Donkey will soon help take care of the newest donkey at the Duerksen/Knepp farm, a baby miniature donkey born last Friday named Silverbelle.

Silverbelle is the third in a long line of “belles” born at the farm, offspring of Isabelle and Jack Douglas.

“I just happened to check on her and see that she was having some trouble,” Duerksen said. “The baby’s head and shoulders were out but her hips were stuck. She was grunting and distressed, but once I helped pull her baby out, but she was fine.”

On Sunday, the newest donkey zipped ever-widening circles around her mother, Isabelle.

“We will need to move her out to the bigger pen with Donkey, so she has more room to run,” Duerksen said. “She will be safe with him.”

Other miniature donkeys at the farm include Paco-bell and Jingle Bell. Larger resident Mammoth donkeys at the farm, like Donkey, include Monty and Elsie.

Since Duerksen and Knepp both work at other full time jobs, they depend on all of their donkeys to keep an eye on things when they are gone, but especially rely on Donkey.

“We know from experience that he will be the best protector for the new baby,” Duerksen said. “Her mother is great, but Donkey’s loyalty is just unmatched.”

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