Sunday, October 23, 2016

The Complexity of managing a donkey for milk

So you think you might want a dairy donkey? 
Donkeys are very wonderful creatures. 
Throughout history people have used donkey milk to drink for healing and for orphaned newborns.
 It's also been a prized ingredient for beautification of the skin.
They can be great livestock guardians on the right farm.
They can be pack animals, pull a wagon or even rode. 
And yes, they can give an amazing healing milk that is helpful to people with certain health issues or milk casin allergies. 
It's a wonderful dairy option on the farm for those reasons!
A multipurpose animal that gives milk! Sounds awesome, doesn't it? 
And It is, but let's talk about what makes them so different and possibly difficult to manage. All animals used for milk are not the same! 

They are very unlike our other popular dairy animals here in the USA.
First ,They are very inefficient producers of milk so do not be shocked to find donkey milk sells for $10 a cup if you wish to buy it. There are many reasons for this...

It takes a whole year , sometimes 13 months for a Jennet to have a foal.
Compared to a goat or sheep which only takes 5 months. A big cow only takes 10 months.
Most standard and mammoth donkeys give an average of a quart a day .. I've heard a few people get a little more and I've talked to a few who got much less. 
The donkey has not been trait bred in this country for dairy production so what they will milk isn't going to be as predictable as a well bred dairy goat with extensive DHI records and intensive line breeding on that trait. 

Donkeys don't need expensive high protein , fancy alfalfa hay or rich pasture. But they do eat a lot! The average donkey will eat 1.5 to 2% of its body weight a day. So an 800 pound standard breeding jennet donkey will need approximately 16 pounds of grass hay or pasture a day!
Compared to a large dairy goat that needs around 7 pounds of hay and feed a day and many can give a gallon of milk a day for 10 months or more. Yes, now you can see why goat milk is $10 a gallon and donkey milk is $10 a cup!
But there's more!
Once baby is here you need to wait 6 weeks before you can start milking. 
No taking the baby donkey away to bottle feed it cheap milk replacer so you can have all the milk like with a goat,cow or sheep!
The jennet needs to have her baby around nursing or she will dry up. You must share the milk with the foal throughout lactation in order for her to give milk.
Which also means if something horrible happens and the baby dies , yes she will dry up and you're out a lot of time and feed cost with no milk. 
Once the foal is eating solids and can be taken away it can only be taken for 4 to 6 hours at first. Donkeys do not have huge cisterns to hold lots of milk. She will be in peak production at this time. Taking the foal away for to long may decrease production and possibly hurt the Jennets udder.
The foal still needs a lot of milk itself at this point also!! 
So.. No being greedy with the donkey milk.
As the foal ages the Jennets production will decrease like with any mammal. 
They will usually milk for 6 to 8 months. 
Sometimes longer but production will be much less and not as nutritious at this point. If she's been bred back it's a good idea to let her recover and get in shape for the next foal too.
Keeping a jennet and gelding as guardians is easier to me than keeping a livestock guardian dog. As long as the sheds and pastures are big enough and you have a good source for hay they are the best depending on what you are having them guard. They are no more expensive than keeping a couple livestock guardian dogs but they do tend to need more room or they will turn areas into dry lots.
 However when you bring breeding into the program you have the added expenses of feeding more food to the jennet when she is heavy in foal and throughout lactation to get really good milk production. You also have the foal to feed. Which will be on the farm for atleast 8 months for lactation.
You also must keep a jack. An intact jack is no small thing to deal with! He can be dangerous at times.
He needs a pasture and shelter of his own when the foals come to insure they aren't hurt. He may bust through fences to get to Jennets in heat before you want them bred.
He will also be eating 1.5% of his body weight a day!
My jack above. He's a sweet boy , easy to work with but never for one minute do I forget he's a raging ball of hormones if the mood strikes!

The milk has been an amazing blessing to me. It's healed my digestive problems as well as many food allergies I had developed. It's light and sweet. The best tasting milk I've ever drank! I've used it in many dessert recipes and for iced lattes it's great!

But it's probably not going to fill all your families wants for dairy products.
There will be no thick yogurts or butter from this especially low in solids milk.
It's very difficult to make cheese from donkey milk. It must be mixed with another milk or you must have a special enzyme from a camel for it to coagulate. Then it's very very low yielding. Which is why it's the most expensive cheese in the world! Inefficient milk producers and low cheese yields!

It makes wonderful chocolate truffles, ice creams and fudge though for people who can't have regular dairy!
Below a picture of donkey milk fudge sauce I made to go over baked apples.
Donkey milks natural sweetness makes it perfect for desserts. I often add our high quality lard to the desserts to for texture and creaminess if needed. 

At the end of lactation when the donkey milk may not be as helpful to health issues it's a valuable ingredient in cosmetics and makes wonderful soaps and lotions! 
I've managed and milked goats and sheep. Neither dairy animal is what I consider low input or easy to manage.
They are more efficient at producing milk and easier to manage in many ways than a donkey. They are also very multipurpose in their own ways and very useful on a farm.
But for people who can not have casin proteins or have very special health needs I can not express how amazing donkey milk is. 
I certainly didn't go out looking to add dairy donkeys to my farm! 
I was totally lead to this special animal through several events and I have been greatly blessed by this healing milk.
Food can and does heal. 
God gives us healing foods. I believe this because I have lived it.
So no matter the complexities of managing a milking donkey it's been worth it for me. Completely worth it.
And I am so thankful I was lead down this not so easy road! 

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